The ATA Show (Archery Trade Association) is the biggest gathering of the bowhunting industry in the world. Last year in Louisville, my first in attendance, I was mesmerized by the gear, the glitz, the bowhunting celebrities, including some of my heroes. This year in Indianapolis, I knew what to expect and it still didn't disappoint. But I have a little different perspective on it this year.
Partly, that has to do with my decision to switch from a compound bow to a traditional bow this year. Part of my decision is for the challenge of the bow, to use a simple weapon which requires great proficiency to achieve success. It is necessarily less about the gear, because you're relying less on gear, gadgets and gizmos and more on your practice, form and focus. The ATA Show, of course, is all about the latest gear, gadgets and gizmos, of course, that outdoor stores can sell to hunters who want more results with less effort, whereas I'm purposely switching to a form of hunting where I know it will take significantly more effort, but that's how I want to "hunt my hunt."
My favorite new products are those that used a simple design that made you wonder why no one ever did that before. Bite Spike tent stakes, for instance, which comes from a small Michigan-based company that I met in September and had a chance to test out. The spikes stick firmly in most soils and have little teeth which grab the paracord I tie off my tarp to so my clumsy fingers don't have to mess with knots. For backcountry bowhunting, it's a simple thing that saves me some time when I'm pitching and packing up camp.
I also like new takes on very old concepts. Paleoarcheologists estimate that humans have been bowhunting for over 71,000 years, so how much truly new innovation is left? There are always a few new flagship compound bows that shoot a few feet per second faster and weigh a few ounces less and have a little more let-off. Gearheads geek out on that, and that's okay, but my honest take on that is "to what end?" Was 330 feet per second too slow to kill a deer so I need to drop $1,000 on 340 feet per second? And another $1,000 next year on 350 feet per second? Probably not. What I'm drawn to are some of the new machined-riser recurve bows that would probably last me decades. Hoyt introduces a new one called the Satori, and Tribe has a great one called the Halo. In my limited but growing experience shooting a traditional bow, those felt good.
In shooting both, I had help from new friends that I've met through our mutual interests in bowhunting over the last year. For some reason I started leaning forward like Fred Bear to get my cant in my form, and "Longbow Dan," who does the Longbow Theory YouTube Channel and who I met in October at a Cabela's store, asked me why. I didn't have a good answer, which immediately struck me with the realization that if I didn't know why I was doing it, I probably shouldn't. He corrected my form and emphasized maintaining straight lines in my form. I applied his advice at the Tribe Archery target booth, which was manned by my friend Ben Steiger, who competed with me at the Pennsylvania Train To Hunt Challenge last July. I put 4 out of 5 in the ten ring (at only about 10 yards, though), and Ben actually complimented my new form. So now I'm doing my best to practice that form as often as I can.
The cool thing for me about coming back to ATA, though, wasn't celebrity-sightings. It was reconnecting with some of my friends in the hunting world and meeting new ones. Having real conversations about hunting and life with people who share your interests. Learning from hunters more experienced than me. I ran into Derek "Tex" Grebner, who has a popular YouTube Channel and won the trad division at Train To Hunt Nationals, but who I got to know by shooting in our small group during the 3D course at the Pennsylvania Train To Hunt. My first night in town I was wondering where I would eat dinner when I sat down at the bar at a microbrewery/restaurant. From two seats down, I hear, "Hey, Drew," and it's my friend Jared from Outdoor Devotion. Didn't even see him when I sat down! So we hung out and talked, and two guys across the bar asked about my Michigan Hunt to Eat t-shirt, as they were from Alpena: Paul and Chad Harvey. So they came over to our side and we all ate and hung out for the rest of the night. We had fun, had great conversations, and I feel like I have some new friends.
The next morning, I joined a group workout hosted by Josh and Sarah Bowmar at the Naptown Fitness Swift CrossFit box. We were in the same group workout hosted the year before by Cameron Hanes. I don't know them well but they were nice, positive and welcoming. Best of all, I reconnected with Travis Johnson of Texas, who was my workout partner the year before and helped convince me that I should try CrossFit. Joining us in our group for the workout was Kenton Clairmont and Jesse Wise, founder/owner and former champ of Train To Hunt, respectively, and Brian Call of Gritty Bowmen. For me, that was like meeting Dave Castro and Rich Fronig for you CrossFitters. But they were totally down to earth and being in their group gave me that extra motivation to really push it in the workout. It was cool to see some guys who were in the workout last year, too, as we've all been following each other on Instagram since, like Andrew Steck, "Huntlete" and "Whitetail Fit."
I went to the Badlands Film Fest that night and watched it with Travis and Jared. I went because Ben Steiger had a film in it that I wanted to see, and he did a great job with it showing how hunting fits in the context of life, and even how Train To Hunt fits in the context of Hunting. It's called "MORE." Right after that, a film from the "Born and Raised Outdoors" crew was played, and there on screen was our fearless chapter coordinator from Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Ty Stubblefield! I got to hang out with Ty this past summer with my Michigan BHA friends Bob Busch and Jason Meekhof after the Full Draw Film Tour that Ty helped us set up at Jay's Sporting Goods. I'm convinced that Ty is the lynchpin of the bowhunting and conservation world; the dude knows everyone and everyone loves him, basically because he's just a great guy with an unflappable conservation ethic.
And that's where the real benefit of an event like the ATA Show resides for me. There is no doubt that the purpose of the show is to boost the bowhunting industry and place archery products in stores where they will be bought by bowhunters. But even in that purely economic motive, 11% of most of those sales goes into the federal Pittman-Robertson fund that gets distributed to states for wildlife habitat and other conservation measures. I was lucky to hang out with - and maybe I'm just drawn to - like-minded hunters who seem to genuinely care about conservation and keeping public lands public. There is no shortage of egos at the ATA, people trying to make a name for themselves and get famous, or trying to hold on to the prominence they currently enjoy, but there are also very genuine outdoorsmen and women who are there to promote conservation within the bowhunting industry.
Ty and his podcast partner Josh Keller invited me to be a guest on their Shoot'n The Bull podcast, and we discussed this a little along with how to get involved with conservation groups like BHA and MUCC in your state to help protect public land, as well as tell some hunting stories. I'll link the episode when it's posted. While my work took me there to promote new archery products from Michigan companies, and hopefully make some connections which could lead to conservation partnerships or magazine ads down the line, the most important benefit was expanding that network of conservation-minded hunters who will use that network to tackle the big issues we will all face as an outdoor community.
And, let's face it: as an average bowhunter, it was cool just be let in the door. I don't take that for granted. Bowhunting dates back to our earliest origins as a species, and to see from the inside where the future of the discipline is going is truly humbling. And the end of the day, though, beyond all the big displays, celebrity signings, engineered components, IBO speeds, pro staffs and money, it still comes down to shooting a stick off a string at a target. And whether you're in an occupation that takes you to ATA or not, as long as you're shooting a stick off a string, you're as much a part of the archery community as anyone at ATA.
Drew YoungeDyke is an award-winning freelance outdoor writer and a Director of Conservation Partnerships for the National Wildlife Federation, a board member of the Northern Michigan Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers, and the Michigan Outdoor Writers Association.
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