As the bowhunting and archery industry descend upon the Midwest, it's time for the 2018 ATA Show this week in downtown Indianapolis. Can't make it? Don't worry, tune in for OSG's daily live-stream from the show floor!
Hunting seasons are in the books — or soon will be — as nearly all big game and whitetail deer campaigns are finished until next fall.
But that hardly means that bowhunters across the country are putting their gear away into mothballs for a few months. In fact, the race to next fall is already underway with plenty of new gear and gadgets being front and center this week as the 2018 ATA Show kicks off in downtown Indianapolis at the Indiana Convention Center.
Scheduled for a Jan. 11-13 run, the Archery Trade Association predicts that this year's show will bring an estimated 9,500 attendees into town to see products from 650 exhibitors. All told, some 239,000-square feet of booth space is expected to be filled with new bows, arrows, broadheads, releases, accessories, blinds, treestands, clothing, footwear, and much more.
The show will also serve as the biggest gathering of outdoors writers, TV celebrities, and hunting personalities, the same people that write dozens of stories for Outdoor Sportsman Group publications each year as well as producing dozens of bowhunting related shows that air on Sportsman Channel, Outdoor Channel, and MOTV.
Throughout the coming week, you'll be able to find continuing coverage of the show on several different Outdoor Sportsman Group platforms including the Petersen's Bowhunting, Bowhunter, North American Whitetail, Petersen's Hunting and Game & Fish websites.
In addition to editorial first looks at new and innovative products on the show floor, viewers can tune in daily at 1 p.m. ET for an exclusive OSG live stream that will give a real-time look at many of these products.
The live-stream will also feature visits with various industry personnel as well as show pulse-interviews with OSG editors including Christian Berg, Curt Wells, John Geiger and Haynes Shelton.
Part of the pulse of this year's event is that it's the first time in 17 years that Jay McAninch isn't at the helm of the organization after his retirement last fall.
That means that for the first time since the 2000 show — known as the Archery Manufacturers and Merchants Organization (AMO) Show — there will be someone new at the helm as Mark Kormann takes over as the organization's CEO.
In a Dec. 22, 2017 blog post on the ATA website, Kormann said it recently dawned on him that this show is unlike any of the others he has attended in his professional past.
"This isn't anything like those trade shows I've visited," stated Kormann.
"The archer in me thinks about the people I'll meet, the new products I'll see, and the buzz I'll feel on the floor," he continued. "In those moments, it feels much like a slow-motion Christmas Eve."
"The CEO in me is chomping at the bit. I can't wait for the pre-Show meetings that start early in the week. I'm excited to see those first hours of registration. As exhibitors arrive, receive credentials, and move into their spaces on the exhibit floor, I'll be in my element."
One bow shop owner who knows that exact feeling is Orvie Cantrell, Jr., owner of Big O's Archery Shop in Sherman, Texas.
Cantrell, who has been in business since the 1980s and has attended the show since it began in 1997, says that attending ATA is one of the first things he makes plans for each year.
"There's several reasons for that," said Cantrell. "One reasons is being able to see all of the new products, sometimes even some prototypes that aren't yet in production.
"Like everyone else, I already know about the new bows from folks like Mathews, Hoyt, and Bowtech. In fact, I've already got their new 2018 models in my shop. But there is also a lot of innovative stuff and new products that I don't know about. And maybe even a few new companies too."
If new products are one draw, people are another.
"Coming to the show gives me contact with the actual people who are from the factories," said Cantrell. "You'll get to meet guys that you might not normally get to meet or talk to.
"That helps me out when a customer has an issue or I need certain technical information because now I have a face to put with a name. That helps me to do my job a little bit better as a pro shop owner."
There's also a third reason, important to the shop owner's bottom line.
"If I'm willing to commit to enough orders at the show, I can get show-only specials and the best price a company will have all year," said Cantrell. "That helps me be competitive in the changing marketplace."
While there are plenty of reasons for attending, Cantrell admits that January travel to the Midwest isn't always easy. And since the ATA Show rarely ventures south (Atlanta and Nashville have been occasional stops), getting to the show, seeing the show, and getting home can all be challenging in some years.
"It can be a struggle, weather-wise," said Cantrell. "I note that every year on my comment card. But there are evidently enough shop owners up there in that part of the world because they typically have the show in the Midwest."
With snow and cold already in the Indianapolis weather forecast around the time the 2018 show ends, Cantrell's is already thinking about his return home.
"It seems like getting back is always the main issue," said Cantrell. "In some years, we've had to try and decide whether or not to give up our hotel room and get an earlier flight out.
"One year, the whole airport was like a ghost town as bad weather struck," he added. "There was only one little coffee shop open. I remember sitting at the gate talking to a dealer friend of mine before we took off.
"We took off and he told me the next week that my flight was the last flight out of Indianapolis that day and that he was stranded for another two days. Because of that, I now only take nonstop flights back — if I can get on the plane and they point it south, I know I'll at least get back to Dallas/Fort Worth."
How has the ATA Show changed from Cantrell's perspective?
"It's certainly gotten a lot bigger," he said. "The makeup of the crowd is different too with more non-shop owners, so it's a lot more crowded and harder to do business.
"What I mean by that is that because the show is so big, it's hard to get into a booth sometimes to talk with someone. And that means that it's also harder to see all of the new products, to evaluate them, and to determine if I need to place an order to get that item into my shop."
Some of that is mitigated now by longer show hours and pre-show dealer events — Cantrell smiles and says that he once won a brand-new Hoyt carbon bow at one such event.
Even so, the tight schedule makes for a fluid few days that can quickly pass by.
"My wife Lynette is pretty invaluable to me," said Cantrell. "There's so much to see there, but she keeps me going on a straight line and gets me where I need to be. When we make orders, she makes sure we've got all of the paperwork and that we've talked to the right people."
In two decades of attending, the Texas archery shop owner has seen the continued evolution of the compound bow, the transition from aluminum to graphite in arrow construction, and a broadhead market now composed of both fixed-blade and mechanical heads.
But Cantrell said those aren't the innovations that he remembers most.
"I'd have to say one of the bigger ones to me was when laser rangefinders first came out," he said. "When I first saw one, I had no idea what it was, what it could do, or what a gamechanger it would be. Back then, a rangefinder was a double-mirror device that focused two images together. Now, laser rangefinders are indispensable.
"And so are drop-away arrow rests. I was skeptical at first and concerned about reliability issues, which truthfully, some of those first models did have. But I thought the idea had merit and today, they dominate my shop sales."
The bottom line as Cantrell and thousands of others head to Indy this week for the 2018 ATA Show is that crowded aisles and potential winter weather aside, the annual get-together is a certainly worth the effort to attend.
"Yeah, you've simply got to be there," he said. "When January rolls around, I can't imagine starting the year off any other way."