“I can’t believe we don’t have more people shooting. A couple of years ago this parking lot would be full by now. Man, we have got to do something about this…”
I wish I could say that comment above was fictional. Unfortunately, it is becoming rather common around the registration desk at Stowe Archers. Our 3D Archery numbers were down again this year and we’re running out of ideas to help boost attendance.
If poor turnout were an isolated issue, we could turn to other clubs and see what is working for them. The sad part is, we are one of many clubs in our area feeling the pressure of lightly attended shoots. How do you increase event attendance when there doesn’t seem to be a pool of active local shooters to draw from?
Accessing the Situation
When the topic of poor attendance comes up around the club, the guys doing the talking are generally going by memory. We don’t have any official statistics around the clubhouse to research. As a result, we tend to think back and just say “Yep, this was another bad month”. It may be crude but the long-time members have a keen sense of when attendance isn’t what it should be.
As President of the club, I thought it was my responsibility to sit down and figure out exactly how bad it was. Maybe some of the guys were overreacting and things weren’t so bad…
I started by going onto the club website and looking over posted scores. Once I collected all of the data from the last two years, I went back into the archives and pulled the scores all the way back to 2010. I began compiling a spreadsheet to track general attendance as well as the registrations for each class.
Once compiled, the spreadsheet confirmed my dread. Attendance was not only down, it was at an all-time low dating back six years.
Formulating A Plan
Coincidentally, around the same time that we were discussing low attendance at our club, I came across a thread on Archery Talk discussing the very same problem. Someone from another club, on the other side of the state, was looking for ideas on how to boost their attendance after a lean season.
I began to make my way through the thread and made a note of the suggestions that jumped out at me.
Have a Known Distance Class
At Stowe Archers we have a class that is simply called “Range Finder”. To be honest, I have no idea what the rules are for this class. Over the years, the rules have been explained differently to me by different people. Looking at my spreadsheet, Range Finder used to be a dominant class. I suspect that the rules morphed over the years and confusion set it – causing it to lose popularity.
Perhaps we need to take a look at Range Finder and break it down into something like “Unlimited – Known Distance” and “Bowhunter – Known Distance”. This would eliminate a lot of confusion about where archers are to shoot from and which equipment setup they are shooting against.
Have a Novelty Target with a Payback Pot or Prize
In the past, one of our members used to setup and run a novelty beside our practice range. He was setup for a tomahawk throw as well as a “Flying Skunk” (Skunk that moved through the air on a cable). I don’t have any records on how that did for us, however, I seem to remember it being fairly popular.
When the member that ran the novelty had to take a step back from the club, it died off. I don’t recall it being setup in the last two years. Maybe in the Spring we need to setup something new and exciting.
Allow Single Pin Sliders in Bowhunter Class
One of the reasons I use a 5-Pin sight is because I know that going to a single pin slider will bump me into the Unlimited class. I have a hard enough time competing against shooters in my own class, let alone making the leap into an open / freestyle division.
For a local club shoot, where Bowhunter is shooting between 15 and 35 yards, does a single-pin slider make all that much difference with today’s flat shooting bows? Perhaps it is time to either look at introducing an Advanced Bowhunter Class (Single-Pin Sliders – No Magnification) or amending the existing one.
Dress Up Shots and Make Them Unique
One person on Archery Talk talked about making shots unique. This can be done by dressing them up a bit with props. For instance, instead of just sticking a turkey in the woods, surround it with decoys to look like a flock. Do you have a black bear target, why not dress it up to look like the bear is raiding a camp site?
I love the idea and think it will certainly make certain shots memorable. The downside is that this type of setup requires a lot more time and energy to pull off. At our club, volunteer help is in short supply and asking a small group of guys to spend even more time setting up may be a little too much to ask.
Another aspect of this suggestion was to place shooting stakes with classes in mind. Don’t just locate an Unlimited Stake then just drop the Bowhunter Stake 10 yards closer. Prep the shot so that each class gets their own experience.
I know that when I helped locate shooting stakes, I was guilty of this. It is very tempting to just get setup done after several hours, or even days, prepping a course. Again, this is a great suggestion but it requires a lot of extra planning and hours.
Offer Trophies or Money as Prizes
When I was a kid, one thing that kept me excited about monthly shoots was the prospect of winning another trophy. As time went on, the novelty of a trophy wore off – much like it had for most of the adult shooters at the time.
These days trophies are nice for specific events but they seem a bit over the top for a monthly 3D shoot. A cash payout would certainly grab people’s attention but with attendance already low, the prospect of handing out money is slightly scary.
A door prize, on the other hand, is something that I could get behind. Another club in the general area, Wapiti Archers, does a drawing for a free shoot after every 10 registrations. The first time that I had been back to the club in years, my name was drawn for a free shot. I made sure to get back down the following month to take advantage of my winnings.
I don’t know that the prospect of a free shoot would draw new shooters to the club, but it might keep the current shooters coming back month after month.
What We’ve Already Done
Starting at the beginning of last Outdoor 3D Season, we made an adjustment to our pricing. In an attempt to appeal to our members, and potentially attract new ones, we reduced our registration fee from $10 to $8 for club members. Non-members continued paying the same $10 that we’ve been charging for years.
The fee reduction was a welcome change for members and I personally appreciated the little discount that I received. With that said, it didn’t seem to make a noticeable impact on shooter turnout. The same members that came out before the change are the same ones that came out afterward. We did pick up an extra member or two thanks to the discount, so it was probably a worthwhile thing to do.
Aside from the price adjustment, the biggest change last season was the course itself. We brought in a machine, put in a couple new trails, and spent a lot of time making major course adjustments from month to month.
The course change from month to month received mixed results. Some shooters liked the course being fresh every month while others seemed disappointed that their favorite shot was there one month and gone the next.
I think the thing to do next season might be to plan on making small adjustments from month to month with only one major revision half-way through the season.
Plans for the Future
In the next couple of months, our club is going to have to formulate a plan for next season. It may be winter now but before you know it, we’ll be back out in the woods prepping trails for the first 3D Archery Shoot of 2017.
The next step for me is to send out a survey to our mailing list. With it I hope to figure out exactly what our shooters want in an Outdoor 3D Archery Shoot. With that information, as a club we can sit down and figure out how to make it happen.