January 10, 2023
By Lynn Burkhead
It’s been a year of mixed results for Bowhunter editor Curt Wells, at least on the hunting trail as he searches for stories to put in the pages of the well-known magazine and video to put on the long running Sportsman Channel television show.
There was a trip to Alberta for mule deer, a journey in October that saw summerlike weather and calm conditions open the hunt only to see snowy, wintry weather end the adventure.
What was the result?
“The two worst conditions you could have if you’re trying to sneak into bow range of a mature buck,” Wells glumly reported on his Instagram page. “No one in camp even loosed an arrow.”
Next up in fabled Buffalo County in the heart of Wisconsin’s big buck country, things went from bad to worse for Wells as he guarded a waterhole, seeing only young bucks, a doe, and a fawn coming into the water source for a daylight drink. The action wasn’t much better at night as the game cameras attested to, with only a couple of bucks up and on their feet under the cover of darkness.
Again, the Bowhunter editor didn’t loose an arrow, although he did form some opinions about the state of whitetails and deer hunting in the Badger State — perhaps future fodder for a column in the magazine.
But if bowhunters know anything, it’s that sometimes the unexpected happens in camp and things can go from zero to 60 in a New York second. And if bowhunting has taught Wells anything over the years, from his days as a freelance writer to his long tenure as the fabled magazine’s editor, it’s to never give up because you just never know what might happen if you adapt and overcome.
To that end, things took a turn for the better when Wells went to chase the big bodied and big racked whitetails in South Dakota. While he had to black out the new Hoyt bow he was shooting that week in his grip-and-grin photo posted on Instagram, Wells finally had a smile on his face, antlers for the wall, and venison for the freezer after his November rut hunt.
Things got even better as the season ended with a rush after Wells, his 21-year-old grandson Carson, and son Jason all traveled to the big buck state of Kansas to chase late season whitetails. How did the Wells clan do in the Sunflower State? Three buck tags notched, that’s how!
Which brings us to the matter at hand this week as Wells and the rest of his Bowhunter staff put the rigors of another hunting season behind them, turn their attention to content and TV show production, and get ready to travel during the outdoor industry’s so-called “Show Season.” And as they do, the themes of adapting and overcoming will be front and center this week in downtown Indianapolis as the curtain comes up on the Jan. 11-13, 2023 Archery Trade Show at the Indiana Convention Center.
And while Wells can’t wait to see the show — his 23rd or 24th if his memory proves correct — he knows that like his bowhunting campaign this year, there will be a challenge or two to overcome in the outdoors world left behind by the COVID-19 pandemic and the new normal and business paradigm that it ushered in.
But challenges or not, he can’t wait to get to Indy and see what’s new, because visiting the annual ATA Show is always a great way for the longtime Bowhunter editor to kick off a New Year.
“I enjoy seeing all my industry friends and those who have supported the magazine and TV show for so many years,” said Wells. “Those relationships are mutually important.”
With the 26th edition of the Archery Trade Show opening up, Bowhunter Magazine and "Bowhunter TV" will have a decided presence at the show with Wells and others seeing what’s new in the archery and bowhunting world and reporting about it at bowhunter.com, on social media, and in the pages of the magazine and the TV show in the weeks to come.
And for what it’s worth, as the ATA Show visits Indy for a show record 12th time, Wells likes the familiar show venue.
“I like Indy because of the ease of getting around and the familiarity of the city and restaurants and such,” he said.
While the Bowhunter editor likes Indy and looks forward to the 2023 show, he does admit that there are challenges. That was seen last January when the show rebooted with its 25th silver anniversary event being held in Louisville, Ky. While more than 4,300 people attended and 450+ exhibitors were on hand, the show was still a bit leaner than in the years before.
And then there was the specter of the Omicron wave of the pandemic, something that surged across the world in the early days of 2022 and caused some show attendees to get sick in the aftermath, this writer included.
Add in a snowstorm that raged to the south of Louisville as the 2022 show opened — the city itself received only a couple of inches, but much more than that fell to the south of the Bourbon Capitol of the World — and the lighter attendance was understandable in light of all that was happening in the world and on the weather map.
That included some key brand names that chose to sit the show out last winter, for either health reasons, business reasons, or both.
How did the in-person reboot of the ATA show go last winter in Wells’ mind?
“Well, the number of no-shows definitely had an impact, but it was understandable,” he said. “The lingering effects of the pandemic, combined with all the misinformation, created enough uncertainty that some exhibitors decided to play it safe. It was still far better than the virtual concept.”
The in-person gathering allowed for Wells to rekindle some old bowhunting friendships and shake hands on some key business deals, and it left a good feeling of value in his mind as he flew away from Kentucky.
While noting that he’s not privy to the list of attendees this week in Indy, Wells said he is hopeful that exhibitors and dealers will feel more comfortable this year and resume their participation in the show. To that end, show organizers have steadily reported that numbers in 2023 are outpacing those of 2022.
“It’s possible some will feel that since they got by without the show last year, they may continue their absence,” Wells admitted. But he’s hopeful that like other industry events and shows over the past few months, this year’s ATA Show will prove to be a nice success when the final figures are tallied.
That said, Wells does note that the business trend of some companies announcing new products and their next year’s lineup in the fall months ahead of the ATA Show definitely has taken away some of the excitement and spirit that used to be felt on the show’s opening morning.
“I think it has waned,” he said. “I’ve said for years that once the bow manufacturers started jumping the gun with their new model releases the show became less relevant. Discovering what is new in the bow market was the primary attraction of the ATA Show and now that is gone. Unfortunately, that horse is out of the barn. I don’t believe the manufacturers will ever agree to go back to releasing at the show.”
Wells also notes that all is quiet on the rumor front right now and he isn’t sure if there will be much that is earth shaking this week in Indy. While that could all change with one booth filled with show attendees and an exciting announcement, Wells admits that for now, he hasn’t heard of a stop-the-presses moment…yet that is.
There are product improvements and changes from year to year, to be sure, but it’s been a while since something big has transpired and gone from the drawing board to a shockwave generator in the bowhunting world.
Will that change this week?
“The truth is, innovation in the archery market has slowed considerably in recent years,” said Wells. “Groundbreaking technological advances are nonexistent compared to years gone by when there was always some newsworthy advancement. What we’re seeing today can be more accurately described as ‘refinements.’”
But there’s always the chance that could change and that something is being carefully kept under wraps at the moment. Plus, there will certainly be plenty of new products, and some new players involved in the 2023 version of the ATA Show this week in Indy, so who knows how the week will unfold.
For his part, Wells certainly doesn’t plan to miss it.
And since the weather doesn’t appear to be much of a wildcard in 2023 as it has been in previous years, and with some new blood in terms of both exhibitors and attendees coming to the Midwest this week, Wells is looking forward to seeing if his crystal ball reading of the show and the bowhunting world is right or not.
And just like his bowhunting campaign in 2022-23, he’ll be there to wave and smile, see what the day brings, and make adjustments on the fly as the show develops from Day One to Day Three.
It’s the way of the bowhunter, adapting and overcoming, and it’s the way of the ATA Show in the post-pandemic era.
And as long as a hunter has an unused tag in his or her back pocket — or the ATA Show has people cruising the aisles looking at all of the shiny new toys for archers and bowhunters — anything is possible, right?
Bowhunter editor Curt Wells certainly won’t disagree, and he’s got a freezer full of venison and a taxidermy bill to prove it.