Lighter, Faster, Stronger

Technology Amplifies Bowhunting Market

Image: TenPoint Crossbow Technologies

The dog days of summer seem an unlikely time to be thinking about hunting season. Sitting in a deer stand or stalking an elk would be utter misery on one of the hot, sticky days of high summer. But you can bet bowhunters are already thinking about fall. By mid-to-late summer, they’re already tuning up their equipment and practicing for the opening day of archery season.

It’s not an insignificant market. According to the Archery Trade Association (ATA), the nation had 3.7 million bowhunters during the 2021–2022 hunting season. Pennsylvania topped the list with more than 331,000 hunters who took to the woods during archery season; even Hawaii had more than 1,300 bowhunters during that span.

“I’ve sold more bows to date this year than I did in the same period last year. I’ve also seen a real big spike in crossbows.”

Arlie Fortner, Archery Manager
Shotgun Sports and Outdoors Anniston, Ala.

A Crossbow Sales Surge

Arlie Fortner manages the archery department at Shotgun Sports and Outdoors in Anniston, Ala. According to Fortner, firearms make up about 60% of the store’s sales, while archery represents approximately 40%.

During COVID, Fortner saw a big pick up in the archery side of the business.

“I think people were looking for something to do,” he suggested. “A lot of people weren’t working at the time or were working at home and wanted to get out.”

Sales have yet to return to pre-COVID levels, remaining high.

“I’ve sold more bows to date this year than I did in the same period last year,” he noted. “I’ve also seen a real big spike in crossbows.”

One reason Fortner thinks crossbows are hot is the age of many hunters.

“I’m speaking from experience now,” he said. “I’m about to turn 65 and I have a shoulder problem. I have a real hard time shooting a vertical bow without having another shoulder surgery. If it comes down to shooting a vertical bow or a crossbow, I’m going home with the crossbow so I can still shoot 400 fps and kill something at 60 yards. The crossbow just makes sense.” (And this will be the case with many older hunters today, Fortner added.)

Most of the bow sales at Shotgun Sports and Outdoors are from June through into fall.

“We do archery year round, but June is when sales ramp up,” he shared. “I see people buying earlier now instead of waiting until three weeks before hunting season. It really increases in July and August, and when you get to September, I’m just trying to keep up.”

Fortner said archery season in Alabama starts in October, so customers need to be set up by the middle of September — giving them ample time to practice.

“They need that time to get familiar with the bow and the range they’re going to be shooting,” he reasoned. “If they have their bow in September, they have four to six weeks to get ready and get it sighted in. They need to get the archery end done early so they have time to set up stands and do what else they need to do to be ready to hunt.”

The technology of bows also is changing, Fortner observed.

“Manufacturers are making bows quieter, faster and smoother,” he said. “Both Mathews and Hoyt have new draw cycles that are tremendous, and Mathews is always on the cutting edge with their technologies.”

Fortner thinks strong archery sales will continue through 2023.

“I think we’re going to have a banner year,” he predicted. “I feel more than confident about that.”

“The biggest change I’ve seen has been the increased speed of bows. They also are more compact and lightweight.”

John Tognetti , Owner
The Sport Center Lewiston, Mont.

Adding New Lines Contributes To Momentum

John Tognetti is one of the owners of The Sport Center in Lewiston, Mont. He shared the store’s inventory is about 30% guns and ammo and about 15% bows and other archery equipment. The store only started the archery side of the business in 2018, and then it was hit with COVID, so they haven’t been in archery terribly long.

“During COVID, getting product was a challenge,” he recalled. “But now it’s over with and we can get product.”

Tognetti experienced a spike in sales during COVID. 

“It wasn’t just in archery; it was in everything,” he said. “Fishing was really big.”

For 2023, Tognetti thinks customers are maintaining an interest in archery.

“This year, bow sales are going to be about the same they were last year,” he presumed. “We added two lines; we were just Mathews but we added PSE and Hoyt. So, our sales are up because we added two more lines of bows; there’s no way to separate how much is because of those new lines or for other reasons.”Tognetti agreed bow technology is changing.

“The biggest change I’ve seen has been the increased speed of bows,” he shared. “They also are more compact and lightweight.”

Over the past couple of years, Tognetti has seen a lot of experienced customers stepping up to those new bows.

“They come in with a five- to seven-year-old bow and buy a new one,” he said. “They want faster and lighter bows.”

Most of his bow sales are for hunting.

“Bowhunting has grown tremendously in Montana,” he stated. “The weather is good, and the elk are in rut during bow season. Our bowhunters are primarily elk hunting. Everybody wants to chase that big bull around.”

Tognetti sees very little demand for crossbows. 

“We’ve sold two or three in two years,” he informed. “They’re not legal to hunt with in Montana except during rifle season, even for the disabled. It’s been discussed, and they do have some accessories you can add to your compound bow for the disabled. But not for a crossbow.”

Tognetti said the Montana legislature has kicked some ideas around about crossbows, but they haven’t done anything substantive yet.

During the rest of 2023, Tognetti expects bow sales to stay strong.

“We’ve got good elk herds and good moisture this spring, so there’s going to be grass for them,” he observed. “I think the opportunities are going to be there for people to hunt and they’ll take advantage of that.” 

He said about 80% of hunters who hunt elk in Montana are residents; only about 20% come from out of state.

Bowhunting is a segment of the hunting market firearms retailers shouldn’t overlook. Many bowhunters already are your customers — adding archery equipment to your mix will help capture the dollars they’re spending elsewhere. 

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