Art Lander’s Outdoors: Youth movement likely behind strong archery growth in Kentucky and U.S.
Youth participation in archery is thought to be a major factor in the growth of target archery and bow hunting in Kentucky, and across the country.
The National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) has introduced millions of kids in elementary, middle school and high school to archery across the U.S., since the program started here in 2002.
Many of the youngsters who were involved in NASP through the 14 years of the program are now adults and there’s mounting evidence that some of them have continued shooting bows and arrows, becoming involved in field archery, three-dimensional (3-D) target shooting, and/or bow hunting for deer.
“Schools in 47 states are now in NASP, and each school day 2.4 million kids shoot target archery at school,” said Lisa Frye, state NASP coordinator, at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Today, we have 185 Kentucky schools in the program, and this year 10,945 kids took part in regional tournaments across Kentucky.”
Delaware, Rhode Island and Vermont are the only states that don’t have schools involved in NASP.
A 2015 survey commissioned by the Archery Trade Association (ATA) found that archery participation in the U.S. climbed about 14 percent from 2012 to 2014.
Nationwide, an estimated 21.6 million persons shoot bows and arrows. The next survey is planned for 2017.
Groups within the archery industry are finding out that involvement in target shooting at an early age leads many boys and girls into bow hunting.
The International Bowhunting Organization (IBO), based in Vermillion, Ohio, has partnered with NASP, by offering youth shooters at the NASP national tournament in Louisville, the opportunity to shoot 3-D animal targets.
“Our goal as a bowhunting organization is to create a bridge between the classroom experience and the outdoors,” said Bryan Marcum, IBO president. “We are an advocate for all things bowhunting.
Participation in the IBO 3-D Challenge at the NASP national tournament has grown by 62 percent since 2014. “This year we had 3,416 youth archers take part in our event,” said Marcum.
Founded in 1984, IBO pioneered the tournament concept of archers shooting at 3-D animal targets at unknown distances. Two national IBO tournaments are held in Kentucky annually.
Kentucky Bow Hunters
It’s unknown exactly how many people hunt with bows and arrows in Kentucky.
That’s because there is no bow hunting permit, per se. Both archery and firearms hunters need only buy a hunting license and deer permit, to hunt deer, so it’s an educated guess how many license holders are hunting with bows and arrows.
“Archery participation is increasing, but we are still a gun hunting dominated state,” said Gabe Jenkins, deer and elk program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “But we do know that many of our deer hunters take part in archery, muzzleloader and modern gun season.”
Jenkins said his best guess is that Kentucky has about 50,000 bow hunters.
The majority of deer taken each season are harvested during Kentucky’s five firearms seasons — two youth seasons, two seasons restricted to muzzleloading firearms, and modern gun season for deer.
During the past five seasons, the number of deer taken with firearms has climbed steadily, from 83,363 during the 2011 season, to 109,179, in 2015. That’s a 30.96 percent increase. The number of deer taken during modern gun season for deer accounts for about 70 percent of the overall harvest.
To gauge the impact of NASP on bow hunting participation would require an indepth bow hunter survey, that would answer such questions as how bow hunters under the age of 25 were introduced to the sport, and how many boys and girls became interested in hunting with bows and arrows, after shooting targets at school.
Archery Deer Harvest in Kentucky
One fact that may be a clue to NASP’s impact on bow hunting participation in Kentucky is the big increase in deer harvest by archers in recent years.
Since NASP started in 2002, the deer harvest by archers in Kentucky has grown by 80.2 percent. Last year bow hunters took a record 23,323 deer.
Other factors may also be helping to drive the archery deer harvest in Kentucky: growing deer herds throughout most of the state, high density deer herds in the Zone 1 counties, liberal bag limits and a 4 1/2-month archery season statewide, and advances in archery equipment that have helped archery hunters be more successful at taking deer.
Of the top five counties in terms of archery deer harvest last season: Crittenden 574; Hopkins, 540; Christian, 460; Breckinridge, 438, and Webster and Owen (tie), 403, all are Zone 1 counties this season, except for Breckinridge, which is a Zone 2.
But, year to year, weather and the amount of mast available to deer often has more of an impact on the overall deer harvest, than the number of hunters afield. This season is a prime example.
On the opening three days (Labor Day weekend) of archery season, bow hunters took a record 1,746 deer. “The weather was unseasonably cool and hunters took advantage of (good hunting conditions),” said Jenkins. “Then it turned dry and hot across the state (for the remainder of the month), and the deer harvest for September declined back to numbers similar to 2011 and 2012 (5,009 deer).”
The deer harvest for the two-day early muzzleloader season (October 15-16) was just 2,988, a 63.8 percent decline from the 8,262 deer taken during the 2015 season. “High winds, 80 degree day time temperatures, nearly a bumper crop of acorns hitting the ground and a full moon all played into account for the sharp decline in the harvest,” said Jenkins.
National Archery Survey Findings
Here’s some other findings from the 2015 national archery survey:
* The increase in archery/bow hunting participation mirrors a growth in federal excise taxes collected from the sales of bows and arrows between 2012 and 2014. These funds are sent back to the states through the Pittman-Robertson Act (Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act), for wildlife management programs.
Taxes on archery gear rose from $44.38 million in 2012 to $55.13 million in 2014.
* The study found 78 percent of archery participants were male (16.85 million) and 22 percent were female (4.75 million). Archers were typically younger than non-archers, more often rural than urban, typically from homes with firearms, and more common in the Midwest.
*Of the 21.6 million American archers, about 45 percent shoot target archery only, while 24 percent identified themselves as strictly bow hunters. The other 31 percent said they bow hunt and shoot target archery.
Therefore, 55 percent of archers, about 11.9 million Americans, bow hunted the previous year, which is up from the 8.4 million reported bowhunters in 2012.
* The survey also shed some light on participation levels between archers.
Among target-only archers: 34 percent participated no more than five days the previous year; 24 percent shot 21 or more days; 32 percent shot six to 20 days.
For bow hunters, 25 percent hunted no more than five days; 42 percent hunted six to 20 days, and 22 percent hunted 21 or more days.
* The study zeroed in on archery’s “fun factor.” It found that 93 percent of all archery participants shoot casually or just for the fun of it, 48 percent shoot in preparation to bow hunt, and 9 percent shoot in preparation to compete in leagues or tournaments.
* The survey provided a snapshot of gear preferences for target archers and bow hunters, many of whom shoot more than one type of bow.
Among target archers: 71 percent shoot compound bows; 25 percent shoot recurves, and 15 percent shoot crossbows.
Among bow hunters: 83 percent shoot compound bows, 23 percent shoot crossbows, and 11 percent shoot recurves.
Another newsworthy finding from the study was that of all U.S. hunters, 29.9 percent shoot firearms and bows, while 5.8 percent bow hunt exclusively.
Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.