With the New Year being barely a week old, there are still several months to go before the run for the roses this May in the annual Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
Even so, don’t be surprised to hear the familiar sound of the Derby’s famed “Call to Post” as a red-coated trumpeter kicks off the 2019 Archery Trade Association’s annual archery trade show. This year’s show — known to most simply as the ATA Show — runs from Jan. 10-12 at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville.
This year's show is expected to bring more than 9,000 total attendees, including more than 3,000 buyers, 400+ media representatives, and nearly 659 exhibitors, all occupying more than 528,000-square feet of total exhibit space.
For the most part, the show is about new archery and bowhunting products along with the writing of yearly orders. There are also elements of industry networking, hands on experience through the shooting lanes at the show, and even the seeds planted for future industry and sport growth.
For Petersen’s BOWHUNTING editor Christian Berg, the annual January trip to the Midwest is a pilgrimage that he looks forward to every year, thanks in part to the view he gets to take in from the summit of the bowhunting industry.
“I believe this is my 14th or 15th ATA Show, though it’s getting hard to remember exactly,” said Berg. “I am certain this will be my 11th ATA serving as editor of Petersen’s BOWHUNTING, and I attended at least two or three shows as a freelance outdoor writer prior to that. So, I guess you can say I am reaching veteran status in the archery industry.”
With such experience in his back pocket, Berg thinks back fondly on some of the early days.
“Honestly, my best memories from the early shows I attended, before I was editor at BOWHUNTING, was how much I enjoyed the freedom to roam the aisles and really take in all the unique products various manufacturers had to offer, shoot the latest bows and really hunt for those hidden gems and innovative items that weren’t on everyone’s radar heading into the show but would be sure to make a splash in the archery community over the year ahead,” said the veteran magazine editor for the Outdoor Sportsman Group publication.
One such memory stands out to Berg almost every day as he walks through a portion of his house in Pennsylvania.
“Back in 2009 – my first year as BOWHUNTING editor — I recall shooting Bowtech’s new Admiral and remembering just how smooth the binary cam system was and how forgiving the company’s Center Pivot riser design was,” said Berg. “That fall, I went on my first big hunt representing the magazine and killed two bull caribou in northern Quebec with the Admiral. To this day, that Admiral still hangs in my basement and remains one of my favorite bows of all time, and I fell in love with it in the shooting lanes at ATA.”
While each show varies in attendance figures, memories, and industry importance — from the standpoint of new products being unveiled, that is — Berg says that the ATA Show remains as important as ever for anyone interested in the sport of bowhunting.
“ATA is important for several reasons,” he said. “First and foremost, it is really the only time all year when the entire industry — manufacturers, outdoor media, wholesalers, retailers, pro shooters, etc. — gather in one place at one time.
“If you want to get a general sense of archery trends, there is no better place to do it than ATA,” he continued. “For example, this year if you look at the top-end hunting bows from major manufacturers, you can clearly see a trend toward slightly longer, more stable axle-to-axle lengths, smoother draw cycles and other features designed to maximize forgiveness and boost accuracy. This stands in somewhat stark contrast from years past when it seemed maximum speed the No. 1 consideration.”
In some respects, each version of the ATA Show has a unique flavor thanks to what is being introduced by manufacturers. And that flavor also influences what does and does not happen in the years that follow.
“It is always interesting to see how design and manufacturing philosophies changes over time, and any good idea or innovation developed by one manufacturer eventually spurs all the others to examine their own product lines and respond with future innovations of their own,” said Berg. “As competing manufacturers vie for consumer attention and market share, it is we bowhunters who ultimately benefit via the increasingly effective equipment we wield in the field.”
Berg does caution anyone attending the annual ATA Show to avoid the yearly expectation of something revolutionary happening.
“The wheel is rarely reinvented,” stresses Berg. “In fact, I wrote about this very topic in my editorial for our 2019 New Gear Guide. Sometimes, I think consumers — the bowhunting public — have unrealistic expectations of manufacturers. Sure, every few years there are breakthroughs in technology that really take a significant step forward from the previous standard, but truth be told, most advancements in bows and related archery gear is incremental.
“That said, incremental improvements are EXTREMELY important,” he added. “Although a particular company’s 2019 bow may not seem THAT MUCH different than the 2018 bow in many cases, the truth is products generally get better year after year. And if you look back over a decade, or even five years, the impact of those incremental improvements becomes much more obvious.
“Now, don’t get me wrong; that doesn’t mean we might not see some products at this year’s show that have a real “wow factor,” but I just mean we should be careful not to dismiss the value of incremental improvements. After all, bowhunting is literally a game of inches, so I can find a small advantage that helps me be just an inch or two more accurate on my next shot in the field, that could literally be the difference between success and failure.”
As a host of new products are unveiled over the next several days in northern Kentucky, Berg has a specific example in mind.
“For example, this year Hoyt is introducing a new, adjustable grip on its flagship hunting bows,” he said. “At first, that might not seem like that big of a deal or a real “sexy” improvement. But when you consider how much custom-tuning the grip for your hand and style of shooting the bow could reduce riser torque, it could result in a dramatic reduction in your group sizes.
“So, I’d say that if you look closely at all the new products around the show floor this week, you’ll find literally thousands of seemingly “little” innovations that can make a big difference in the success rate of bowhunters.”
Whatever happens at this year’s 2019 ATA Show not too far from the banks of the Ohio River, Berg says that Petersen’s BOWHUNTING will be there to cover it all, from his presence walking the aisles to the presence of new magazine associate editor Taylor Pardue to a host of other OSG staff all preparing to tell the bowhunting community what’s new from the Louisville show floor.
Even though most archery seasons are already over or winding down as this is written, Berg is convinced that there are numerous topics for bowhunters to pay attention to this week in northern Kentucky. Those include, among others, the state of the industry and the future of our great sport.
“It’s no secret that hunter numbers are declining nationwide; this has been the subject of considerable news coverage nationwide in recent years, and certainly the archery industry is not immune from the impacts of that downward trend,” said Berg. “It is telling that one well-known bow manufacturer — Parker — closed its doors just prior to this year’s ATA Show.
“That said, there is still a vibrant bowhunting community in America, and we still have plenty of great manufacturers that continue to invest the time and money required to bring top-notch products to market,” he added. “Although the overall retail environment in bowhunting can probably be best described as “soft,” I continue to see a lot of innovation in new products.
“Furthermore, the archery industry is somewhat unique in the fact that it is not just a business for these manufacturers, but a passion. It is that passion shared by equipment makers, retailers and consumers alike that makes the bowhunting community so awesome to be a part of, and despite the current difficulties, it is that passion that makes me believe we still have a very vibrant future.”
That future starts getting unveiled to some degree beginning on Thursday morning with the show’s unique call to the ATA post in Northern Kentucky. Stay tuned to Petersen’s BOWHUNTING all week long to see what some of that future is!