It was springtime in Louisville, Kentucky, when the world record was broken. The setting was the 2013 NASP National Tournament, held May 9-11, 2013, and the venue was an indoor archery range that stretches an echoing 1,350 feet in length.
Thousand of targets, thousands of bows, tens of thousands of arrows, and — here’s the Guinness World Record part — a total of 9,426 archers lined up and standing feet sprawled sideways and zinging arrows down-range.
The event, billed as the largest-ever gathering of archers in one spot, was visual evidence to statistical data that shows target archery as one of the fastest-growing activities in the outdoors world, especially with youth.
An industry group, the Archery Trade Association, released the results of a new survey that reveals staggering growth. Participation in 2012 of youth and adults who shot an arrow at a target was cited at 10.4 million Americans — that’s about 4.4 percent of the entire population of the United States.
The Archery Trade Association further notes that a high percentage of target archery enthusiasts are under age 34, many of them high school students and younger. About one-third of all archers are female.
At GearJunkie this past fall we were introduced to the activity of target archery, which is not to be confused with bow hunting, via an industry connection. He arranged a meeting with a representative from Genesis Bow, a Sparta, Wis., brand and the makers of a particular youth-oriented bow that has sold by the hundreds of thousands of units over the past five years.
“It’s bigger than Little League Baseball now,” said Todd Bahnub of Genesis, referring to kids involved in target archery via a project called the National Archery in the Schools Program, or NASP.
I didn’t believe the “bigger than Little League” claim at first. But the NASP organization, which is entering its 13th year, has impressive data, including citing more than 12,000 schools involved and 30,000 teachers who run the local clubs. More than 12 million students, NASP claims, have tried archery through the program.
Beyond the youth market, USA Archery, the national governing body, released a report citing “overwhelmingly positive growth” in the past year. The organization’s individual membership numbers grew from about 4,000 members in 2011 to 8,589 as of last month, more than doubling its size.
Pop culture has only helped increase the ranks. See the “Hunger Games” franchise of books and movies as Exhibit A in the phenomenon.
The animated Disney Pixar movie “Brave” helped, too. And, further, a whole nebula of archery-based Internet memes, games, activities, and events have cropped up around the U.S. in recent years.
There’s a summer camp in Florida that mimics the Hunger Games competition. Bow and arrow jewelry is commonly sold to archery enthusiasts.
Archery Tag, a paintball-like sport, has venues around the country. It is advertised to combine “the intensity and excitement of dodge-ball while using the skill-set of archery” with foam-tipped arrows in open playing fields.
The GearJunkie connection with Genesis resulted in a couple target archery bows in the office. Soon, we found ourselves at a municipal range, a Genesis Bow in hand, and aiming at a hay bale.
I wrote about the experience last month on our blog. In short, we found shooting to be fun, and the Genesis bows, which have a unique single-cam design, were easy to use. They allowed a couple people on the GearJunkie staff to get up to speed and proficient after not handling a bow in many years.
My eight-year-old daughter was intrigued. She joined me at the target range and found it thrilling to pull back the string, aim, and fire.
As I noted in the first article, Genesis has a tag line about its flagship product, calling it “the bow that fits everyone,” kids and adults alike. This is because there is no set draw length. Pull back the string any amount — a few inches for a kid, up to a full draw for an experienced adult — and the arrow flies straight and strong.
Business has been good for Genesis and the whole archery industry. After “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” film hit theaters on November 22 (and broke box office records) stores across the country were citing shortages of archery gear.
Said Jay McAninch, president at the Archery Trade Association, “Clearly, 2012 gave archery a marketing boost unlike anything enjoyed by other sports.”
From a look at the initial stats, 2013 and beyond are looking even better for an activity that has “caught fire” already and continues to stay ablaze.