There’s something mystical about the Western backcountry that tugs at the bowhunting soul. Maybe it’s the snow-capped peaks, the yellow-stained aspens, the eerie silence of the dark timber … Or perhaps it’s the scream of a bull elk. Whatever the reason, from August through October, born-and-bred western archers are joined by legions of other bowhunters from around the country to chase their backcountry dreams.
Yes, I know the vast majority of my bowhunting brethren hails from east of the Mississippi. I know white-tailed deer are the No. 1 most sought-after animal in the country. And I know the Western market can be as fickle as the ever-changing mountain wind. However, I know my inbox gets more emails about elk than any other species inquiring about research methods, gear and dream destinations. I also know that in the past two seasons I’ve had to change “secret” spots twice. Not because of local pressure, but because of bowhunters hailing from Wisconsin, Tennessee, Minnesota, Arkansas and Louisiana.
The point is that bowhunters are venturing West. Thanks to large tracts of public land, healthy game herds and easy-to-obtain licenses, more and more stick-and-stringers are saving their pennies and pointing the GPS west.
So, the big question for retailers is: what does bowhunters moving West mean for your shop?
How Archery Shops Should Prepare for Western Bowhunting
No one knows your clientele like you do. If your shop isn’t in elk territory, only you can decide how much western gear to put on your shelves. To gain more insight, develop a simple shop questionnaire. Have your customers — even the ones you know really well — fill it out. Make sure to include the following: Have you bowhunted the Rocky Mountain West, and, if so, do you plan to return? Do you have a dream to hunt the Rocky Mountain West? Getting the answers to questions like these will help you know how much (if any) western gear to put on your shelves.
Another great idea is to become an elk expert yourself, or hire an elk expert to give a seminar. My good buddy owns a pro shop in Kentucky, and over the past five years, he’s become a super savvy elk hunter. He has killed five bulls in five years, and this has been huge for his business. Customers seek his council as they begin planning their own adventures, and he sells lots of western gear.
Let’s say your shop is on the fringe of elk country. Here’s my suggestion: Stock plenty of must-have western gear. Traveling hunters forget things, and you want to be ready to meet their needs. I know of a shop in western Kansas that sets up an “Oh, Shoot! I Forgot My …” section. They advertise this and do well with it.
As for you shop owners in the heart of the West, well, you know the drill. Now is the time to make sure the shelves are full and plenty of staff is on hand. Local bowhunters will be coming in for new strings and cables or just a general bow tune-up. You will also have plenty of guys show up straight from the field needing a speedy repair. Be ready to go.
Featured photo: John Hafner photography