John "Junior'' Larsen and John Schaffer have been drawing back bows and shooting arrows since they were young kids.
In the interviews below, Larsen, 56, owner of Bwana Archery in Little Canada, and Schaffer, 49, owner of Schaffer Performance Archery in Burnsville, discuss archery participation and equipment trends.
The peak of young people joining the ranks of archers occurred perhaps six years ago, Schaffer and Larsen say.
Yet archery, and particularly bow hunting for deer, remain popular in Minnesota.
Last year, for example, 89,292 resident deer archery licenses were sold, down from the all-time high of 95,259 in 2012.
In the same period, firearms deer license sales fell from 393,822 to 360,873.
About 20% of Minnesota bow hunters killed deer last year, compared to about a third of firearms hunters.
Q: Who's into archery now, and who's not?
Larsen: We struggle more now getting youth into the sport than we did in the past. But we work hard at it, with various programs, including lessons, and I would say we're pretty successful.
Also, there are a lot more women involved in archery today than in the past. Modern equipment and clothing are manufactured specifically for women, and they've responded.
Schaffer: Our business is almost entirely dominated by hunters. Back in the 1980s, when we started developing and manufacturing archery equipment, it was extremely difficult to get women involved. There was no equipment available for them.
Today, in our shop, we have days when we sell more bows to women than to men. Slightly more than half of the women are hunters, or they plan to hunt. The others shoot for recreation, or to spend time shooting with family members.
Q: Why are fewer kids getting into archery?
Schaffer: We had an influx of kids that peaked around 2013. That spike was the result of two developments. One: For the first time, manufacturers built bows that were extremely adjustable, from 10- to 70-pound pull and from 19- to 30-inch draw lengths. We could legitimately tell parents these would be the last bows their kids would need, at least for a while. Secondly, kids respond positively to movies, and in "The Hunger Games" and other films of that time, archery played a prominent role.
Larsen: It's not just archery that is seeing fewer kids joining. Fewer are getting involved in outdoor activities across the board. Some of it is because of electronics — cell phones, computers and so forth. But we've found that kids who try archery usually follow through and get interested.
Additionally, if a youngster shows any interest at all, many parents seem willing to do whatever it takes to outfit their son or daughter, just to get them involved in something other than their phones.
Q: Can you generalize about first-timers who come into your shops?
Larsen: I don't think there is a "typical'' first-timer. We see all age groups, young to much older. And women, as I mentioned before, as well as men. In the future we hope also to tap into people living in retirement communities. Many have shown an interest in getting off the couch, so to speak, to shoot some of today's lightweight bows.
Schaffer: Our first-timers could be anybody. Younger, older, women. Common to each is that, while they are often very intimidated by the sport initially, they're shocked how proficient they can be with today's equipment, and how quickly. They might say, "I tried this when I was a kid, but I couldn't pull my buddy's bow back and gave up.'' They're amazed that with today's gear how well they can shoot.''
Q: How much practice do you recommend before an archer hunts?
Schaffer: We like to see a person shoot 6-inch groups at whatever distance they think will be their maximum range. If they can do that with 10 out of 10 arrows, they're getting proficient. If only eight out of 10 arrows are grouped and the other two are a foot or more outside the group, more practice is in order
Larsen: You can get reasonably accurate at 20 yards in a couple of weeks. Shooting for a couple months will increase confidence. But don't forget that shooting and hunting can be different things. It's one thing to shoot targets, another to keep calm when you're near a deer.
Q: What do beginner archery outfits cost?
Larsen: Compound-bow packages for adults start at about $350 and go up. Good kids' equipment is $200 to $400. Arrows and a release would be extra.
Schaffer: Our complete starter packages run about $500, with arrows, a release, setup and initial instruction included.
More archery information is available from the Minnesota DNR at https://tinyurl.com/y6e6sgvx, as well as from Schaffer Performance Archery (schafferarcheryproshop.com) and Bwana Archery (bwanaarchery.com).