Once a year, I like to sit down and review all data available about archery and bowhunting to see if I can make sense of where our industry is going. Unfortunately, we don’t have major surveys to use and there aren’t readily available retail sales figures to review. Thus I’ve simply considered all the information, developed some thoughts about those data and assembled what follows as the best status report on the archery and bowhunting industry I can offer.
First and foremost, bowhunting drives our industry so addressing participation data is an important starting point in assessing the industry. Although studies and surveys vary, the trend toward bowhunting growth that began back in the mid-1980s continued in 2011. But in my opinion, the years of double-digit annual gains ended around 2000. In many states, bowhunting numbers can be characterized as “stable” to “slightly increasing,” with all increases less than 5 percent.
Many publications continue to show increasing bowhunter numbers based on license data from the states. Unfortunately, these data are often compromised by duplicate licensing, which can result from myriad antlerless deer tags, combination tags, and multiple species-specific tags. Further complications arise with some youth licenses, and with states that sell only a general hunting license and therefore must estimate archery license sales. Recent estimates of 3.5 million-plus bowhunters are definitely high, in my opinion, as a result of the problems mentioned earlier. The best data I have, and which I can substantiate, suggest bowhunter numbers are much closer to 3.2 to 3.3 million rather than the recent estimates of 3.5 million. Therefore, the trend I’ve shown in Bullet 1 is accurate.
Now, let’s look at some of the more recent surveys and reports.
1. A national survey of American households by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA) found the declining trend in bowhunter numbers continued in 2011. Their data (which have a 95 percent confidence interval of +/-4 percent) show a 15.6 percent decline from 2000 to 2010, with a peak in 2002 of 5.34 million bowhunters and a low of 3.72 bowhunters in 2008. As a percentage of the U.S. population during that 10-year period, the participation rate declined 0.4 percent. The current estimate is that 1.4 percent of Americans bowhunt.
2. From the SGMA survey, bowhunters are 87 percent male, 53 percent are 35 years or older, 40 percent have a household income of at least $75,000, 28 percent live in an area with 2 million or more residents, and 36 percent have a college degree. Slightly less than 3 million bowhunters were considered “core participants,” meaning they made eight or more hunting trips per year. The survey found 69 percent of bowhunters fish in freshwater and 46 percent enjoy target shooting with rifles.
3. Bowhunter numbers continue to be linked to hunters being attracted by the sport’s longer seasons, chance to hunt during the rut, liberal bag limits and the sport’s inherent challenges. Surveys continue to show that up to 90 percent of bowhunters also hunt with guns, so it’s a myth that bowhunters are a different class of hunters than firearms hunters.
4. Based on manufacturing data since 2006, we’ve seen a 70 to 80 percent rise nationwide in crossbow sales, which represent more than 20 percent of all bow sales. The sales are driven largely by the addition of crossbows for all or part of the archery seasons, or reduced age limits in Michigan, Texas, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Kentucky and other states. During the past four quarters, crossbow sales made up slightly more than 25 percent of all bow sales.
States like Wisconsin have shown that reducing the age limit for crossbows can hold onto or bring back older archery hunters. Bowhunting data typically show a slow decline in bowhunter participation as bowhunters reach their 40s, and then steeper declines in their 50s. In Wisconsin, this trend continues until age 65, when crossbow use is legal, and then bowhunting participation jumps for hunters up into their 70s.
5. Nationally, since 2006, compound sales -- which have represented more than 70 percent of bow sales -- were up 0.1 percent, or simply steady. As a percentage of all bow sales over the past four quarters, compound bows fell to 65 percent of the market, but that decline was more about growth in crossbow sales than a decline in compound bow sales.
6. At the same time, recurve sales -- which consistently represent less than 10 percent of bow sales -- were down 19 percent. During the past four quarters, recurve sales made up 8 percent of total bow sales and continue to be strong everywhere except North America.
The Archery Federal Excise Tax (FET) collections are another good source of archery and bowhunting data. We not only monitor total FET collections, we also monitor the two types of archery FET. The tax is levied on sales in the United States at two rates on different equipment: 1) Gear taxed at an 11 percent rate include broadheads, bows with 30 pounds or more of draw weight, and all accessories attached to a bow; and, 2) arrow shafts (except for wooden shafts for youths) are subject to a flat tax that increases based on the CPI, which has been between 42 and 45 cents per shaft. Even so, FET data on bows, broadheads and all accessories attached to bows are difficult to interpret because the diversity of products, and the wide range in quality and pricing make purchasing patterns complex. The FET on arrow shafts only reflects arrow shafts sold, so these trends are easier to interpret. All FET are reported quarterly after the federal fiscal year, which runs October 1 to September 30.
7. The past five years of FET total collection data reflect the pattern seen in much of the U.S. economy. From a high of $36.5 million in 2006-07, collections dipped to $34.8 million in 2007-08 and to $32.2 million in 2008-09 before rebounding to $35.9 in 2009-10. This year collections soared to a high of $44.1 million, which is a one year gain of 23 percent, erasing the old peak set in 2006-07. The increase overall in FET collections isn’t matched by other data and there doesn’t appear to be similar increases on participation. Thus, the increase could be tied to archers and bowhunters buying new product after a few years in a bad economy of making do with older equipment. Perhaps the FET data are a sign the archery and bowhunting industry is emerging from recession.
8. In reviewing the collections on bows and accessories, records were set in all quarters except the 2nd quarter. The final total represented a one-year increase of 22 percent. This growth is likely linked to crossbows and crossbow accessories, but otherwise looks like an across-the-board increase in nearly all products.
9. Total FET collections on arrow shafts for 2006-07 were $8.3 million, and then they rose slightly in 2007-08, dipped to $6.3 million in 2008-09, and returned to $8.24 million in 2009-10. This year, collections were at record levels in all four quarters and ended at $10.2 million, a 24 percent one-year increase. That would be about a 22 percent increase over the five years from 2006-07 to 2010-11.
10. Meanwhile, national surveys by the National Sporting Goods Manufacturers (NSGM) found archery equipment sales were down 2.1 percent in 2009 from 2008, which mirrors some national data on general archery participation. This slight downward trend isn’t bad given the economy, unemployment, home foreclosures and retail spending.
11. The National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA) painted a slightly different picture of archery equipment sales. Their data showed an 8 percent increase from 2009-10, and they’re forecasting a 2 percent increase by the end of 2011. But in reviewing these data, it’s clear the NSGA doesn’t have a deep database to draw from because they report on lower end bows, arrows in three-packs and a few accessories. Therefore, I’m not sure how much confidence to place in their trend numbers.