If You Make Bowstrings, Read This

Don’t get blindsided by an IRS audit. Pay the federal excise tax on bowstrings to abide by the law and ensure an equal playing field for all manufacturers.

If You Make Bowstrings, Read This

Paying your FET dues will help contribute to conservation efforts. (Photo courtesy of GAS Bowstrings)

Many archers crave bow customization. That’s undeniable when it comes to bowstrings — green, blue, red, orange, color combinations, etc. If you’ve tapped into this desirable market and make strings — or buy them from a local friend and sell them at your store — you could face troublesome consequences if you don’t pay the 11% federal excise tax (FET) per string.

Becoming a string maker is relatively easy: Materials are cheap, and you can go into business with a string jig and a little know-how. As such, a large number of individuals and midsize or sole-proprietor archery retailers make and sell individually packaged bowstrings. The problem is they don’t realize they must pay the associated FET on a quarterly basis. 

Eric Griggs, president and CEO of GAS Bowstrings LLC, runs into these entities regularly. He recalls multiple occasions where someone cheekily posted “Happy FET Day” in a string-makers Facebook group to remind folks to pay their quarterly IRS allotment. “People comment asking ‘What’s that?’” he said. “It’s usually the owner of a small bowstring company doing it on the side as a hobby business. If they don’t know what FET is, they’re obviously not paying it. It’s not that uncommon of a story.”

Paying federal excise taxes on bowstrings became a requirement for U.S. companies in 1970 when legislators, at the request of archery industry icons including Fred Bear, revised the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, more commonly referred to as the Pittman-Robertson Act. Established in 1937, the legislation made manufacturers pay an 11% federal excise tax on the first sale of guns and ammo. The law was expanded 33 years later to ensure manufacturers paid a FET on the first sale of bows, arrows and specified archery accessories, including bowstrings.

“Unlike the FET slippage, which deals with uncollected excise taxes through non-U.S. companies, the IRS and Treasury can go after U.S. companies selling bowstrings but not paying the FET,” said Dan Forster, ATA’s vice president and chief conservation officer. “This is an enforceable issue. ATA members need to follow the laws and know that if they get caught, there will be a problem.”

  • Unfortunate Consequences: Those bypassing the system, inadvertently or not, create many problems for themselves and the industry. Here’s a brief rundown:  
  • Distorted Market Values: Companies that don’t pay the FET put law-abiding competitors at a disadvantage. “People who bypass paying the FET can price their products lower accordingly,” Griggs said. “It creates a completely unfair and unlevel playing field.” 
  • Skewed Pittman-Robertson Contributions: Nonpayment of FET funds hurts the nation’s conservation efforts because state wildlife agencies rely on the funds to pay for projects such as managing wildlife, buying properties for public hunting and ensuring public access. 
  • Bowstring Malfunctions and Inadequate Liability Insurance: Bows strung incorrectly and strings that are out of spec can make a bow fail, leading to injuries. If a bowstring becomes defective, the fault quickly falls on the manufacturer and installer. Small-business retailers making strings quickly assume that responsibility and most don’t have the proper insurance to handle a lawsuit should complications arise with the homemade bowstrings. 
  • Potential Loss of Customers: Customers who have a bad experience with a retailer may take their business elsewhere. “So many people start and use their customers as their experiments,” Griggs said. “We see it all the time. Customers will come to us and say their dealer builds strings, but they’re unhappy with the quality.” 
  • High Risks: Offenders put themselves and their business at risk by not paying the FET. Ignoring the obligation inevitably gets the IRS’s attention. That can bring fines, penalties, legal fees and other consequences including jail time. GAS Bowstrings was audited specifically for FET in 2019. Griggs said the process was drawn out through COVID, and although the company’s records were accurate, it was still stressful.

Understanding Your Legal, Ethical Options

To combat these issues, retailers have two options:

1: Buy commercially made bowstrings from manufacturers that factor in the FET.

Established companies specialize in string building and have years of experience. They have relationships with bow manufacturers and know the proper bowstring specs for individual bows and cam systems. They pay the FET, consistently make reliable products backed by warranties, and often give back to the industry by sponsoring elite archers and archery competitions and organizations.

“We take care of all the pieces,” Griggs said. “Specs for strings, engineering, product liability, FET — we produce a turnkey service. As a dealer, all you have to do is order the string and install it. If the string wasn’t right and you’re working with a good vendor, they’ll take care of you. Reputable companies are known for their quality and service.”

2: Continue making bowstrings, but pay the FET and carry proper insurance. 

If you have the supplies, like to make strings and wish to continue selling to customers, you must abide by the law and pay the FET. 

“It’s not like you have to stop doing what you’re doing,” Forster said. “If making strings is your bread and butter, you just have to be aware of all these things and account for all the expenses.” 

Griggs agreed: “I’m not trying to discourage anyone from building strings, but if you’re going to do it, do it in a way that’s fair for everyone and supports that industry.” 

Avoid trouble and determine whether you’re responsible for paying the FET on bowstrings. (Photo courtesy of ATA)
Avoid trouble and determine whether you’re responsible for paying the FET on bowstrings. (Photo courtesy of ATA)

ATA Resources

The ATA can help its members make the best decision for their business and comply accordingly. Whether you need assistance finding a reputable aftermarket string manufacturer or want guidance on which forms to complete and when to pay the required federal excise taxes, we’ve got your back. 

“The best solution is to bring everyone into compliance,” Forster said. “We don’t want to see anyone get blindsided and trust that none of our members are purposefully trying to avoid paying the tax. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions.” 

ATA members can find important FET information, including a free comprehensive guide to federal excise taxes, in the ATA’s Resource Library at www.archerytrade.org/resource-library. You must go through the checkout process in your ATA member dashboard account to obtain the document (and many others) but don’t worry, they’re free.

For FET-related questions and concerns, please contact Forster at danforster@archerytrade.org.


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