April 01, 2021
By Lynn Burkhead
In days gone by, gathering around a warm campfire was one of bowhunting’s most time honored traditions, bringing together stick-and-string enthusiasts for a mixture of food, drink, laughter, and the telling of hunting yarns that seemed to grow larger and larger with the passage of time.
The late traditional archer Jay Massey understood this phenomena well, giving it a nod in the beginning pages of his book, A Thousand Campfires. In that bowhunting volume, Massey wrote: “A campfire also seems to bring out the storyteller in us. It opens up our imagination and allows our thoughts to flow freely, unhampered by the strictures that govern our thinking in everyday life.”
Unfortunately, that collective experience around the campfire — and perhaps the voice and identity that such experiences have forged through time in bowhunting camps across America — seems to be diminishing in this high-tech age that is sometimes fueled by the shadow of hunting spot secrecy and the quest for social media fame.
But the winds of change are blowing as a new group seeks to build upon the enduring passion that bowhunters feel about their pursuits in the wild and their desires to share such experiences in a collective and unified way. Such sentiment has helped foster the birth of a national organization for bowhunters, the new Bowhunters United. Whether one enjoys bowhunting with traditional gear, modern compound bows, or crossbows, there is room at the BU campfire for all who enjoy any version of the stick-and-string hunting experience.
Put simply, the new group is a national organization that aims to make a difference both now and in the future, helping members mentor other bowhunters, being powerful advocates and ambassadors for the bowhunting pastime, and being conservation-minded and public-land stewards who help secure the traditions that have defined us, as well as pushing bowhunting into the future where it can be enjoyed and accessed by all.
“The idea for Bowhunters United really started a long time ago, when we realized that there was not a national bowhunter’s organization,” said Allison Jasper, marketing and communications director for the Archery Trade Association, the host organization of the annual ATA Trade Show.
Jasper said that for someone who gets a record-book animal, there’s the Pope and Young Club and the Boone and Crockett Club. For those who enjoy hunting elk, there’s the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. For those who hunt ducks and geese, there’s Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl. And for hunters who enjoy chasing pheasants and quail, there is Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever.
“But if you like to bowhunt, there hasn’t been a national, member-driven bowhunting organization,” she said.
Until now, that is. Approaching its six-month anniversary, Jasper said that the initial steps in creating BU this past year came after a consumer feasibility study that looked to see if the nation’s bowhunters had an appetite for such a group.
“We said ‘We’ll stop when the data doesn’t come back favorable,’” said Jasper. “But we never got to that point. So, in January 2020 at our last in-person board meeting at the ATA Show, we were at the point that all of the information we were getting was telling us that it was all systems go. So, we got the okay from the board to put this thing into motion.”
With the green light in place, the ball began rolling to create Bowhunters United. But little did anyone known in January 2020 that the whole world was about to change with the COVID-19 pandemic descending upon the globe.
But while Jasper admits that forming a new group through Zoom meetings, phone calls, and e-mails wasn’t what anyone had envisioned, it actually helped in some ways as many in the bowhunting and archery industries actually saw unanticipated growth.
Jasper says that some of that growth came about thanks to lockdown-related shortages that — early on in the pandemic, at least — left some people searching for new ways to put food on their tables. Others looked into bowhunting as they fought cabin fever and sought new ways to enjoy the outdoors. And some took what had been a fledgling interest and did a deeper dive into the bowhunting pastime thanks to a sudden surplus of unused time that many found themselves with last year.
But while the new growth was a positive for the bowhunting industry, there were also unanticipated challenges that the surge in numbers brought.
“Some people went out and bought some equipment but weren’t able to get training and the education that they should have,” said Jasper. “We’re trying to provide that education. Probably 99 percent of those who have gotten into bowhunting take this very seriously — things like shot placement, hunter safety, etc. But we know that there are some people who are entering this (who may not have someone to mentor them), so we need to provide all of the resources for them to be successful.”
That idea — or need, really — is one of the driving forces behind the new organization as it seeks to build around the three pillars of advocacy, membership, and conservation.
In addition to mentoring those who have already entered the sport in recent months or for those who are considering a first step into bowhunting, BU hopes to bridge the gap between recreational archers and bowhunters, to educate non-hunters on how bowhunting contributes to wildlife conservation and management efforts, to provide archery range and program grants that will help grow the sport, and to address hot-topic issues involving legislation, public-access concerns, and bowhunting regulations.
Like most other hunting and wildlife conservation groups on the national landscape today, Bowhunters United is also all about the R3 movement of hunter recruitment, hunter retention, and hunter reactivation as the outdoors industry battles declining numbers and, in some instances, waning cultural influence.
To some degree, how those various things play out in the coming months will be dependent upon what the growing membership of Bowhunters United wants to pursue.
“Part of our messaging to Bowhunters United members is that we care about the issues that mean the most to them,” said Jasper. “We can talk about what our next moves are regionally and working on national issues is great, but we also want to meet the bowhunter where the proverbial rubber meets the road. We want to hear from them, understand what matters to them, and do what they want us to work on.”
While Jasper admits that the coronavirus outbreak has brought challenges for an organization that is only a half-year-old at this point, there is also plenty of positive traction and forward momentum. Thanks to digital marketing campaigns and advertising, not to mention the involvement of key hunting industry members and influencers, the new group is off and running and growth is taking place.
And with more and more in-person activities and events happening in 2021, Jasper anticipates that the forward motion will continue to pick up even more steam in the months ahead as the recovery from the pandemic continues.
“Just a few days ago, we were a part of the Open Season Expo, formerly the Field and Stream Expo, up in Wisconsin,” she said. “And we plan on being at a few more large, in-person events this year including the Ducks Unlimited Expo in June at the Texas Motor Speedway.”
Jasper says that the overall aim — through promotion by hunting industry experts and influencers, via digital marketing, or by way of in-person events — is to get people to join the organization and help it grow.
Membership in Bowhunters United is $25 annually and those who join receive a branded member gift, an official Bowhunters United membership card, and a BU logo decal for the vehicle and another logo decal for your cooler, bow case, or hunting tote.
There is also a monthly Bowhunters United e-newsletter, access to bowhunting content at online spots like bowhunting360.com, tips and how-to information from bowhunting experts and industry influencers, a free subscription to one of several bowhunting publications, and access to an online store that features BU branded hats, shirts, and other gear.
But even more than the impressive lineup of goodies and gear mentioned above, it’s the chance to be a part of a national bowhunter’s organization that is likely to prove to be the biggest lure to join Bowhunters United — a chance to be a part of a national campfire of bowhunters.
“So much of this is all about the camaraderie, being a part of something that is bigger than yourself,” said Jasper. “With Bowhunters United, we’re giving bowhunters a club, yes, but we’re also working to provide an overall atmosphere and a national community that they can all be a part of. I can’t encourage anyone enough to become a member and help extend the traditions that we all love so much.”
As I closed my interview time with Jasper, I posed a final question and asked what she thought the godfather of bowhunting, the late and great Fred Bear, might have thought about all of this and whether or not he would have been an enthusiastic member of Bowhunters United.
“I would hope so,” she said, after pausing for a moment of thought. “I would hope that we’re making Fred Bear proud. We’re not trying to do anything fancy, just trying to create a community of bowhunters who love this sport.
“There are certainly things like giving stickers away and celebrating the warm and good feelings that people get when they go on an epic hunt or enjoy a quiet morning in the woods. But in addition to all of the nostalgic feelings that so many of us have about our great sport, we’re also about conservation needs and doing what is necessary to drive the sport forward into the future and grow it in the process.”
From what I know of Fred Bear, those are the kinds of values he believed in, the kind of values he built his business upon, and the kind of values that he tried to instill in others as he and other bowhunting legends grew our sport.
And somewhere, if you close your eyes and listen closely enough, you can almost hear the crackle of a campfire. And if Fred Bear and his bowhunting pals are around that heavenly campfire, you can bet that they are smiling as the sport they loved and built from the ground up takes another positive step forward into the future.