While attending the Quality Deer Management Association’s North American Whitetail Summit in early March, Jay McAninch, ATA’s CEO/president, discussed archery growth with Rob Keck, host of “Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World” radio show.
The interview took place at Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Mo., and originally aired on RURAL RADIO’S SiriusXM channel 80. Listen to Jay’s full interview or read the highlights below.
Rob Keck: Why was it important for you to attend this summit?
Jay McAninch: These kinds of summits are critical for our industry, and any industry folks who make products, sell products, worry about customers, and worry about their business’s bottom line. This summit brought together folks from across the deer spectrum. We’re avid participants and we’re learning a heck of a lot that’s important to our industry.
RK: How did your experiences growing up shape you today as you lead a tremendous industry effort?
JM: I grew up in a small, rural town in Iowa. I learned hunting a little differently than some of my friends. My dad loved the outdoors, but didn’t know much about it, so I learned hunting from friends, from neighbors and other folks in our community because it was a way of life in the ’60s and ’70s. I had the unique experience of learning as much with my dad as I did from my dad. Dad went hunting with me because I hunted before he did. He would’ve never hunted with a bow and arrow.
RK: Who were your mentors and outdoor heroes growing up?
JM: They were important to me but, again, may have been different than some. We didn’t have TV until I got midway through high school. By that time I had learned about hunting from “Outdoor Life,” “Sports Afield” and magazines like that. I only had one grandfather and one grandmother because of premature deaths. My grandfather taught me so much about fishing, the outdoors and conservation, and putting back and taking care of things because he came from a time of extreme scarcity. He lived into his 90s and still enjoyed the outdoors. My grandmother was the same way. She lost her husband in the Great Depression, but she always loved the outdoors. They were my real heroes until I got older and started following the hunters we know today.
RK: Give us a thumbnail of your professional life.
JM: I was lucky in that my interest in the outdoors took me to Iowa State University and I got into a curriculum that was a great fit. I earned a master’s degree in wildlife biology and enjoyed a career in deer research and management. I met a lot of fantastic people who are still friends. In ’98 I had a chance to run the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. I would still be there today had I not had the chance to work at the ATA and do a lot of what I was doing at CSF while working with my lifelong passions of archery and bowhunting. I’ve been with ATA the last 14 years.
RK: Many bowhunters haven’t heard of ATA. What does ATA do?
JM: If bowhunters don’t know about ATA, that’s OK. The people who need to know about us are the storefront businesses that sell archery and bowhunting products, all our manufacturers, and distributers. We support all those business in every way, shape or form, whether it’s fighting for better tax situations, regulations, or working with the states. We do everything we can to make it easier for them to do business.
RK: Tell me about ATA’s accomplishments.
JM: One thing we’re most proud of is that we have done everything we can do to make sure businesses in the archery industry can do business without interference, too many regulations or undue obstacles. That’s a big task, especially with federal and state legislative bodies that are all too eager to get involved in our lives. We also help our companies reach out and work at meetings and summits like this to make their voices heard.
RK: How would a shop owner join the ATA?
JM: The ATA welcomes all retailers, distributers, sales reps and manufacturers of all sorts and sizes. We don’t have individual members other than media people. If you have a business, we can help in more ways than you can imagine. We have a basic retailer program that, for three years, we’ll do everything we can to help you at almost no cost to get started and elbow your way in to having fun.
RK: Tell us about the ATA Trade Show.
JM: Ours is the largest archery and bowhunting trade show in the world. We make it strictly for retailers, press, buyers, distributers and folks in the industry. We don’t allow consumers in. We give the industry three full days to do strictly business.
RK: What’s the biggest challenge ATA faces, and the biggest challenge to archery and bowhunting?
JM: My list of challenges has shrunk to one issue, and it’s a fantastic opportunity. In recent years we’ve benefited from many movies and TV shows that are getting young people interested in archery. Our challenge is this: How do we take advantage of the buzz? Our business used to be built on 25- to 70-year-old males who love to hunt, and sometimes brought along their wives and families. We started a campaign [called Release Your Wild] on Nov. 5, 2013, and in two months 11.8 million people got engaged and fired up about it. And get this: 90 percent were under age 18, and 65 percent were girls.
RK: Tell us if NASP has led to the buzz.
JM: The National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) was the product of a strategic planning session in 2001. Soon after, Mathews created a bow and worked with Kentucky to create what’s become a fantastic nationwide program. It’s in 47 states now. Our 2012 survey found it’s in 18 percent of schools across the country. The challenge now is following up with kids who had a chance to shoot archery in school. We’ve created programs and are pushing hard to get them out there and operating. Explore Archery, Explore Bowhunting and Explore Bowfishing build more opportunities, just like other recreational sports do. Our industry must capitalize on these opportunities. Even if NASP students don’t shoot archery forever, they might like conservation, they may appreciate us, and when it’s time for them to vote and raise kids, they may be better for it.
RK: How are you going after teens and tweens for archery? JM: The [Release Your Wild] campaign is geared to teens and lives on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. RK: Tell us about Archery360.
JM: Archery360 is a website we tailored to make sure all the folks who are Tweeting and on social media have a place to go to find an instructor and learn more about getting into archery.
RK: Where do you see bowhunting and conservation headed? What’s your vision for the next 25 years?
JM: Bowhunting is the youngest of the hunting communities. It really took off in the ’70s and ’80s with the advent of compound bows and portable tree stands. And, of course, white-tailed deer not only cooperated, but gave bowhunters the greatest, most plentiful big-game animal to pursue. We’re now at a mature point, and so is the conservation community. Conservation has the three legs of the stool so critical for success: state agencies, conservation groups and our industry. We must come together to deal with issues like disease, small-land ownership, urbanization and all those issues, but the future looks bright. If organizations and leaders emerge, and they will, we’ll deal with these challenges and thrive.
RK: Talk to me about partnerships.
JM: Partnerships are everything. We’re lucky that people in our industry are involved in many organizations because they hunt ducks, deer, quail and more. I believe the future of hunting and bowhunting is strong because of a group called the Council for the Advancement of Bowhunting and the Shooting Sports. It has three sectors: state agencies, industry and non-government organizations represented by CEOs. We gather regularly, and we’ve hired a strong leader, a former leader of a state agency. We’re working to stay on top of everything possible to ensure that shooting sports and hunting have a rich future.
RK: How can someone get NASP into their school?
JM: Contact your state wildlife agency and find out who runs NASP in your state. It also helps to let your school leaders know you want this program.
RK: How important is the whitetail to the future of hunting?
JM: It’s very important. White-tailed deer are probably hunting’s most important asset because everyone wants to hunt them.
Note: Some portions are paraphrased.