January 05, 2022
When the planes went wheels up and flew out of Indianapolis International Airport in January 2020, few could have foreseen the health emergency and political turmoil about to shake the world during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sure, some of those who attended the 24th annual ATA Archery Trade Show from Jan. 9-11 that fateful month in 2020 had heard of the coronavirus making ominous headlines in China and elsewhere. But few who attended the annual gathering of the archery industry that week could have envisioned what was about to descend upon the world.
In a matter of weeks, the virus would explode across the globe, leading to stay-at-home orders by government entities, lockdowns of all but essential businesses, and a temporary curtailment of the way of life most had previously known. In the long months since then, the world has seen death, suffering, and disruption on a scale not seen in a century.
Early in 2021, the pandemic and its effects raged on, canceling the 2021 version of the ATA Show. But as the months rolled on, the virus began to decline in case numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths, and there was hope that the worst was falling behind.
Still, even as the first wave of the pandemic receded and vaccinations brought about hope, the effects of the coronavirus remained. Because of the business disruptions, lockdowns, and supply chain interruptions in previous months, that resulted in difficulties in obtaining components and raw materials necessary to produce everything from toilet paper to your favorite soft drink to ammunition to even broadheads, some of which sat in supply ships this past fall off the western U.S. coastline.
But as noted, there was also great hope last year as spring gave way to summer and some regularity resumed with the 2021 Bassmaster Classic in June, the so-called Super Bowl of bass fishing event that drew nearly 150,000 spectators in a three-day run at Lake Ray Roberts and downtown Fort Worth. The next month in Orlando, the annual ICAST fishing trade show resumed, and it seemed that the world — and the outdoors version of it — was getting back to normal. But then came the next wave of the virus, the Delta variant, and new obstacles and difficulties sprang up almost overnight in the fall of 2021. And toward the recent Christmas and New Year’s Day holidays, the omicron variant arose, leading to more uncertainties and more questions.
One of those questions has been, will there be an Archery Trade Show in early 2022? While some may have doubted the show would take place, the answer to that question is yes! The 25th annual show prepares to open up on Friday for a Jan. 7-9 run in Louisville, Ky. at the Kentucky Exposition Center.
Against that backdrop, Curt Wells, the longtime magazine editor and television show presence for the Bowhunter Magazine brand, is gathering his belongings and preparing to make his way to the Land of Bourbon for an ATA Show that will be memorable in more ways than one.
For one, there is still the specter of the illness, as case numbers rise precipitously across the country despite wide-spread vaccinations and mask mandates. For another, the attendance at this year’s ATA Show, from an exhibitor and attendee’s perspective, will be impacted to an unknown degree. And finally, it remains to be seen what the show and industry will look like after COVID-19 has transformed the world.
Wells isn’t totally sure what he’ll find in Kentucky this week, but he’s looking forward to seeing what unfolds, especially after missing the physical show in 2021.
“Yes, I did miss the face-to-face interaction with all of our friends in the industry last year,” said Wells, fresh off a successful fall of bowhunting adventures and filming for Bowhunter TV on Sportsman Channel. “The archery/bowhunting community is relatively small and relationship building is important to all of us.”
As you might guess, Wells was a big part of OSG’s virtual ATA Show effort last January as manufacturers used streaming abilities, video, TV, and the power of the Internet to show the world what was new in the industry for 2021. But he does sound one word of caution, however, about archery business in the virtual world.
“It got the job done as far as the exchange of information on new products and such, but so many things are virtual these days that we could be losing an important personal connection with others,” he said.
Now, Wells and his colleagues at Bowhunter — including publisher Jeff Waring and digital editor Drew Pellman — will all be on hand in Louisville to see what’s new in the archery industry this year.
Is he looking forward to an in-person resumption of the show? Wells admits there are some mixed feelings there.
“That’s a tough one,” he said. “The thought of the airline travel issues that are currently happening is not very inviting, nor is wearing a mask for 10 hours a day, but it will be good to see everyone, or at least the ones that show up.”
With all of the current headlines and political posturing in an important election year that is just beginning, Wells admits that there is also a bit of the unknown this week concerning the health impacts of the omicron variant and what that will mean for show participants.
“Who knows what to believe these days?” he queried, echoing the thoughts of many. “There are so many contradictions. I’m vaccinated and boosted, but that certainly doesn’t make me immune. It has always been easy to pick up some kind of bug at the trade shows, but this is a bit more serious than the usual bug.”
Wells is a veteran of the ATA Show, having attended 22 previous in-person events. But even with that wealth of knowledge and experience to fall back on, he admits he isn’t sure what to expect.
“I’m afraid it will be quite different than previous shows,” he said. “I’ve heard quite a few companies have chosen not to attend and I can imagine the same will be true for some archery dealers around the country. But I could be wrong.”
All of that being said, Wells candidly discussed that even before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived with its business and travel disruptions, he suspected that changes were coming to the ATA Show.
“I’ve always felt that once the bow companies started jumping the gun and releasing their new bows before the ATA Show, that started the decline,” he said. “Dealers used to have customers waiting at their doors the Monday after ATA, wanting to know what was new. Those days are gone. And of course, the digital age has had an impact with all the information available at the touch of a button or screen.”
Still, Wells knows that change isn’t always bad, even in an industry where change is sometimes gradual. And with that, he’s willing to embrace the unknown at the 2022 ATA Show and see what it brings. He knows that many of his colleagues will be there, and that has his spirts high.
“The best part of the show is making friends with my fellow bowhunters and industry folks,” said Wells. “Nothing can replace face-to-face networking and most of that takes place at meals and in the evenings when we all get a chance to socialize the ‘old school’ way.”
Wells found that out last summer first hand when the Pope and Young Club gathered for its convention in Reno, Nevada, which replaced the one canceled in Virginia during the spring of 2020. And he looks forward to gathering in Louisville and seeing his old colleagues and friends again, trying to catch up and see what the brave new world of the archery industry looks like now.
While he admits that Louisville has great attractions as the host city, as does the often-used host city of Indianapolis, he notes that as a longtime North Dakota resident who just returned to his Minnesota roots, he prefers land occupied without skyscrapers.
“My favorite roads have alfalfa on one side and a cornfield on the other,” he said with his trademark wry grin.
If the virus is one fly in the ointment, and business model changes the other, there’s also the looming element of Midwestern weather in early January. At the time of this writing, snowfall is in the forecast on Thursday, followed by very cold weather as the ATA Show attendees arrive.
“Weather always seems to be an issue with the travel to ATA,” said Wells. “I do have a couple of funny stories to tell, most of which involve (Bowhunter contributor) Danny Farris, but probably nothing I can tell here. Ha!”
There is one ATA story that he’ll tell readers about, however, and it involves the late Dwight Schuh, an Archery Hall of Fame member and longtime editor of Bowhunter Magazine.
“One of my most vivid memories of the show is my mentor and friend Dwight Schuh wandering through the hotel lobby after a run in the streets of Indy, wearing his Larry Bird-style basketball shorts, knee-high white socks, a sleeveless running shirt, and a headband. He was quite the sight at breakfast that morning, but Dwight didn’t care what others thought. He was Dwight being Dwight and we loved him for it.”
And with the legacy of Schuh and others at Bowhunter spurring him on, Wells plans to be in Kentucky later this week, seeing what’s new in the archery industry as the pandemic continues to roll on into a new year.
“See you there,” he said. “If all goes well and the flights actually go out.”
Because that’s the brave, new pandemic world that everyone is living in. And that even includes bowhunters.