Exclusive Interview – ATA CEO Matt Kormann

Whitetail Rendezvous. This morning, folks, I’m with Matt Kormann., Matt is the CEO, President of ATA, Archery Trade Association. And they are the heart and soul of the industry. And Matt hails out of Marietta, Georgia, has an interesting career, from rock and roll to Freeman. And if you’ve ever gone to a conference, Freeman is there to unload and load and set up. And just a very interesting guy and he’s an avid archer. Yes, he’s in the game, he’s a certified USA Archery judge, level two instructor, and he loves to bow hunt. So even though he’s running the quintessential, iconic ATA, he still gets out and gets his hands dirty. Matt, welcome to the show.

Matt: Thanks so much, Bruce. I feel very fortunate to be here with you today.

Exclusive Interview – ATA CEO Matt Kormann

Bruce: Yeah, it’s exciting. And I was sharing in the warm-up, you know, how I missed ATA. I had a really good excuse for missing ATA last year, but I’ll be there this year, mike in hand, and doing, you know, on-the-floor interviews. And I’m a voting member for POMA, Professional Outdoor Media Association. So I’ve got my press credentials, and so I’m ready to meet up with some of my guests and some of…not some of, the leaders, I’ll meet with the leaders of…in the archery industry. And you’re the heart and soul of it, Matt. And why did you come to ATA? Let’s start right there. How did you journey take you to the President of ATA?

How did you journey take you to the President of ATA?

I love that question mostly because when I’ve heard other people answer, wherever they might be in their careers, it tends to evolve over time. And I love that question because my answer really for the last year has stayed the same. It’s this…it was this really unique opportunity that blended, you know, my professional career, you mentioned, you know, where I had been previously for almost 18 years, and this passion that I had found outside of work at the time for target archery. You know, watching my daughter compete internationally and trying to learn as much as I could about that sport and get engaged as deeply as I could in that sport. And when this opportunity came along that was really the blend of those two things, my professional life and that passion that I had found for four or five years leading up to that, it was just a chance I could not take.

You know, it’s funny, and maybe this is where the story evolves a little bit, Bruce. I probably have not told this story this way before, publicly anyway. The individual who was trying to find this, the person for this role, came to me and said, “Hey, I know you love archery and I know you’ve kind of been in the trade show industry, do you know anybody who might be a good fit for this job?” And so I immediately…Bruce, I think I came up with a list of six or eight folks and started sending them off to him. And I wasn’t sleeping very well for like a week and my wife finally pulled me aside, she’s like, “What is going on?” I said, “Well, I’m thinking about this job, I’m think I might want to throw my hat in that ring.” And the easiest way to wrap that up is to say, I guess, the rest is history.

Wow. Was he soft-pedaling or seeing if you were interested but didn’t know how to ask you if you were interested? That’s interesting because that’s not a bad technique to go to somebody and say, “Hey, I’m looking for this sort of person, do you know of anyone?,” instead of coming up and say, “Hey, Matt, you know, I’ve checked you out, you sort of kind of fit what I’m looking for, or we’re looking for. Let’s talk about it.” I don’t know, which way did that go?

Yeah, you know, we knew each other quite well outside of both…of all of these industries and he knew me well enough to know that my intention was to stay where I was. I loved the company I worked for, I still do, I have a great respect them. I love that industry, the trade show and events industry. I really enjoyed the job that I was doing, the people I was working with. I think honestly, Bruce, I don’t think he thought I was going anywhere. So I think it was genuinely, “Hey, you know, you know these two industries, is there somebody that you think might be a fit?” And then I think I kind of blew him away a little bit when I picked up the phone a week later and said, “What do you think about me?” And, yeah, it was a long road after that, several months between that first phone call and winding up starting here. Just over…I’m a few days past one year here. But, boy, I just…in some ways it feels like it’s been forever and in other ways it feels like it’s just gone by in a blink.

ATA is a huge part of whitetail hunting.

Yeah. Because ATA is a huge part of whitetail hunting. I don’t know…you know, my dad is dated, but, you know, I know the hunting industry in itself from shooting sports is, you know, $37 billion, there’s about 15 million of us that hunt. A large, large percentage of us archery hunt and gun hunt. But you see more traction, I have more people on the show that are archery hunters. And because they do it longer, they spend more time at it. You know, some gun hunters, and, gun hunters, don’t get mad at me, but, you know, a week before the season they’ll go out and shoot their, you know, .30-06, .270, whatever their gun is, their 336 Marlin, and they’ll shoot it and go, “Yeah, same place it was last year.” And they’ll get their gear out and they’ll hang it out outside and they’ll go deer hunting. Archers aren’t like that, we’re 365 hunters.

Yeah.

And it’s a completely different, you know, industry from the archer’s eyes. I mean because we live and breathe whitetails 365, 24/7. I just spent three days over on a new property over in Nebraska and just scouting it. You know, and I know where I’m going to put up my mock scrapes and all that, but, you know, I drove, you know, a couple hundred miles just to do that, just to get on new property. And, you know, I had my…I hunt with a crossbow, but I had that with me and, you know, I never cocked it. I mean I just…you know, it was there just in case, you know, Mr. Wonderful got stupid, which he didn’t. Which he didn’t. But I just think of that because, you know, ATA is so important, folks. I you’re not a member, you don’t attend, and you’re involved in the archery business, you have to go to ATA. And Matt is not paying me to say that, but you need to be there. Because everybody in the industry…

I remember Brian and Mariah Hardy, they started Hardy FacePaint a number of years ago, I helped them get going on my podcast, I helped launched them. And, you know, they got a thriving business. Why? Because… You call it the incubator section or something for new companies? What’s a title of that level of involvement? Is it incubator or…

Yeah, the innovation zone.

The innovation zone?

Innovation zone. Talk about that for a little bit, because there’s people out there that say, “I got this great idea.” Well, there’s no better place to launch it than ATA. And this is not a paid commercial for ATA or an infomercial, but it’s the truth though, Matt, it’s the flat truth.

And that’s a great area for especially a new business starting out, a new product starting out

Hardy Face Paint

Hardy Face Paint

Yeah, and that’s… Sure. And that’s a great area for especially a new business starting out, a new product starting out. You know, I think we’ve all been there or we know someone who’s been there trying to build something, build a business, from the ground up, build a brand or a product from the ground up. Finances are always tight, it’s always tough to get somewhere, so that’s an opportunity for folks in the first couple years of their business to get out and get in front of those…the buyers, the pro shop owners, kind of rub elbows with other manufacturers and get some education under their belt, as well, in a way that they can’t otherwise, you know, if they’re an established company. It really is a pretty tightly controlled space that we’re careful about who gets in there. And, yeah, you’ve got to be one of those newer…you’ve got to be a very new product or a new company in order to get into that spot. And, yeah, it can be a great opportunity to launch a business.

Yeah, it’s just…it’s so important, folks, to be involved in your industry. Because, you know, the averages, if you go out and look, we all spend $800 to $1,000 just on new gear every single year. You know, and that isn’t traveling, that isn’t licenses. It’s just, you know, there’s a lot of money in our industry, and so you might as well, you know, get involved with the people that are running it. And so when you think about, you know, you had a long dating process top become President, why did you just finally say, “I’m going to do this?” What was the driving force behind that?

Yeah. And right when I started, I think… And this is another one of those chances for me to see how my answer to that question has changed over the last year. When I first started, it was really because it was an opportunity to blend the work life and the personal life into a job, which very few of us get an opportunity to do in our careers.

So at the outset it was that, but then I’ve sort of…I’ve been able to copy, if you will, the answers that our staff gives me when I sit down with them one on one and ask them why they’re here. And to an individual just about every one of them says, “Because at the ATA here I have an opportunity to make an impact on an entire industry and I can’t do that very many places.” And that’s really become true for me. It’s sort of daunting and fascinating all at the same time. To think about the fact that we’re fortunate enough to get to work with this huge industry and all these great and passionate companies, manufacturers, and retailers and distributors, and at the same time we get a voice in there and we get to help them try and grow the industry and improve the industry and evolve the industry. Not many people get a chance to do that either.

No, they don’t. Because you have a board of directors and, you know, they kind of talk to the President and executive team and they say, “This is kind of where we want to sort of kind of take this company, and go make it happen.”

and that has really been…exactly what you’re speaking to there, Bruce, has really been our focus as a staff, and especially as a leadership team working with the board over the course of the last year. And I think that’s what we hope folks, members in general of the ATA, will start to see and hear and feel from us right now, if they haven’t already started to see it and hear it from some of us individually, that, you know, this is…

I’m flattered when you say that I’m at the center of this industry, or the ATA, it’s really…I don’t view it that way though. Yeah, I have a role to play and I have a job to do, but the reality is the ATA belongs to our members. And it’s super important that we remind ourselves that as staff, that the board understands that, and we all do at this point. We’re making really, really big efforts to ensure that our members understand that, as well, and that we’re active in the right way. That it’s not…it doesn’t belong to the board and it doesn’t belong to me or the staff, it really is…it’s a service to our members but owned by the members and it really is we exist to serve that group. And if we’re not doing that, boy, we’re not doing our jobs very well.

 and that’s why you have “association” at the end of it

and that’s why you have “association” at the end of it. And I was alluding to, you know, typically you get your marching orders and you go. Well, you do have a board of directors and a lot of manufacturers are on your board of directors, you know, they got to represent. But, you know, when it breaks down, the better you run your operation, and I think this is my personal two cents, that’s your biggest challenge and that’s your biggest driver, is running the organization to its optimum level to serve all your members at the highest possible ability so they can grow their business.

Absolutely. Absolutely. And that really is…that’s another big chunk of the focus there, is what can we do on behalf of our members to help grow the industry as a whole. And we can’t be focused on trying to grow one segment of it or another, it’s really trying to raise the entire industry to a better level, a healthier level, so that everybody benefits from it. And, yeah, that part gets daunting, but it’s also a lot of the excitement around doing the job.

Well, to me it would sure as heck keep it interesting.

For sure. Different every day.

you brought up something, growth. And we’re all concerned in the outdoor industry, we’re all concerned about the growth of our industry. And, you know, there are so many youth today that aren’t embracing it like I did and like you did and like all my guests did. And that concerns me, one, as the hunter itself, but that concerns me about being professional in the outdoor, you know, media business. What’s your thought on that?

Well, I come at it a couple of different ways. First, I came to the sport late

Well, I come at it a couple of different ways. First, I came to the sport late. You know? I came to target archery late, I came to hunting even later. I didn’t grow up…I grew up in the suburbs in a family that did not hunt. And so it took me a while to get here. Now that I’m hunting, every week that I’m not traveling I’ve been in a tree stand one day so far this season, since the beginning of September. I’ll be out on actually my fourth sit this season this evening again. And I am absolutely addicted.

And I think I’m an example of the fact that it’s not…yes, getting youth engaged in archery and bow hunting is super important, but I think it can be just as important to get folks like me, professional folks, working folks, who have an interest, are intrigued by bow hunting, but just haven’t given it a shot because they’re intimidated. It can be super intimidating to start. And it can be really hard to find somebody who can be a great mentor to you.

That’s the part that every great mentor program that I’ve had a chance to speak to, or speak with, and learn about what they’re doing, the focus has not been, “Okay, we’re only going to go after adults,” or, “We’re only going to go after kids.” The focus really has been, “We need to go after anybody who’s got an interest in getting out into the woods and chasing after some game. And the successful ones are doing exactly that. And it’s certainly a long, long road ahead of us in that regard. But I think especially in the last couple years we’ve seen some great success with mentoring, we’ve seen that the state agencies are hugely committed to the R3 process, especially where it’s focused on recruitment of new hunters. And also, again, not focused just on kids or just on adults, but making sure that they’re trying to attract anybody who’s got any interest in the sport and getting outside and just starting and trying to make it a little bit easier for someone to start in the sport, because that’s…boy, that’s the hard part.

I have a friend, Scott Jordan, last year he was the National Rural Educator of the United States, and I was just visiting with he and his Brooke and his wife last week in Denver. And he was there to hand the mantle, or hand the trophy or the plaque, off to the new person. And he runs…in Western New York he runs a fully certified, accredited high school curriculum for kids in the outdoors. And it gets into ecology and habitat improvement, they have…on-site they have a deer research facility, they have a trout-rearing facility. I mean it’s unbelievable what they’re doing. https://www.facebook.com/CRCSOUTDOORS/

And the reason I bring him up is, you know, I’m going to connect the both of you because you need to talk to Scott Jordan, I mean just an unbelievable guy. And he’s been recognized by his peers as being one of the best educators in rural America. And, you know, he’s a guy that I think, you know, would give you some insights that you can’t get anyplace else.

Yeah, I’d love that. Yeah. It’s amazing what’s happening in certain parts of the country in education. You know, not just the less formal mentoring programs, but also the more formal educational opportunities. There’s huge, huge potential there, again, both for established target programs to continue growing and also to, I think, hopefully expand really significantly and start up some new bow hunting programs, as well, for sure.

Yeah, and the other one I was thinking of is Mr. William Crawford, and he runs the President’s Outdoor Scholars Program, https://www.montevallo.edu/academics/experiential-learning/presidents-outdoor-scholars/University of Montevallo. I believe that’s in Georgia, if memory serves me correct. You know, he’d be a great guy to have conversations with because those are two people I know personally that are setting the bar extremely high and creating environments where kids learn about the outdoors and how that works, but also the career paths that they can have, which is substantial.

Yeah, especially with the cost of higher education and kind of this… Mike Rowe is one of my favorite individuals on the Internet and I love his stories about, and sometimes he goes off on a rant about, how there’s this stigma about folks who don’t have four-year college degrees. And I’m one of those folks without a four-year college degree and there’s great potential, especially in the outdoors, for…you know, to make a living doing something that you’re really passionate about. But I think there’s sometimes that…I keep using the word, there’s that stigma of, you know, “Is that a real job?” Sure it is. You know, especially if you’re passionate about it, if you could do something that you enjoy doing, there’s tremendous opportunity that doesn’t require, you know, just going into massive debt to get a degree to go do something else.

and you know personally enough guys that started, you know, literally in their back room or their front room or wherever, they started a company and they’ve grown it to a multimillion-dollar, if not, you know, a billion-dollar, company in the outdoor industry. And it’s just, you know, there’s plenty of that. And I like how you said, you know, college is important. I went to college because I wanted to play football and run track, that’s why I went to college. I didn’t go to college for a degree.

Yeah.

I probably would have been…if I didn’t go to college

And, you know, what we have done, you know, I probably would have been…if I didn’t go to college, I probably would have turned out to be a fireman or a professional lifeguard, or something along that, and I probably would have ended up in the outdoor industry someplace. But, you know, like it or not, I graduated from college and started selling and got an MBA and started doing some, you know, interesting things. But, you know, folks listening to this, you know, find out what you’re passionate about. I learned that…you know, was told that a long time ago. Find out what you’re passionate about and go do that and the money will come. “Well, how am I going to pay my bills?” You know, yeah, that’s a concern, but that shouldn’t be your overall concern because the last thing that you want to do is get in the position that you hate just because you’re making a boat load of money and you hate the job, because it will kill you.

Oh, sure.

One way or another.

Oh, sure. Yeah. And when I was pursuing a degree, when I was in college, I was…boy, I thought I was going to be an archaeologist, I thought I was going to go out and play in the dirt for a living. And, you know, I lucked into a career doing sound for bands and had a blast doing that and was really kind of convinced even through that point that, “Oh my goodness, Bruce, I’m never going to wear a suit, I’m never going to sell anything, that’s not me.” Well, and then I luck into another career where I’m selling and I enjoyed the heck out of it. I think it’s one of those things where you got to give it a shot, you got to give something a shot, even if you’re not certain that it might be for you. But, yeah, there are great opportunities out there even if you think, “Eh, maybe that’s not for me.” But try it, give it a go, and it often works out.

he was smart enough to realize, you know, what he wanted to do and he went after it. And so kudos to you, man.

Yeah. Amen to that. You know, so, listeners, you know, just take a step back. And if you’re graduating from high school or you’re in your 30s and 40s and going, you know, you’re waking up, going to work, and coming home just because you’re going to serve your family and do what you need to do, I get that. But, you know, really…you know, really take a look at it. Because I didn’t realize, you know, Mike’s, you know, complete background before the show, but I know, you know, he was smart enough to realize, you know, what he wanted to do and he went after it. And so kudos to you, man.

Appreciate you, Bruce.

So what are the challenges right now? You’re looking at the Archery Trade Association, the archery industry. And that’s from mom and pops that are fighting Walmart and big box stores to major manufacturers that got people, you know, copying their stuff. I know I bought what I though was a Harris bipod, and it wasn’t, and it broke apart. And so I said, “I need a part.” So I called them up and I said, “I need this part.” “Yeah, that’s an F105. Send it down to us and we’ll replace it.” I said, “Okay.” So I sent it down and they said, “This isn’t our part. This was made in China, this is a knockoff.” I go, “Oh, so you lost a sale and I didn’t pay for a Harris bipod,” and they said, “Nope.”

So how do you combat that “pirateering”? Or I don’t know what the word you call it. But, you know, competitive business is enough, now we got people, you know, that are copying what we’re trying to do. And, you know, that’s got to have a huge impact on the revenues.

Yeah, it does. And it’s…we have…we certainly have some members, especially manufacturing members, for whom that is their biggest challenge right now. And they can tell you down to the dollar how much they’ve lost in sales and it’s…in some cases it’s many hundreds of thousands of dollars. I think the first thing to recognize is that we need to understand exactly what we’re talking about. You know, there’s a big difference between knockoffs and counterfeit product. And you bought a counterfeit product. If it was branded as a Harris bipod and you purchased that item and it turns out that Harris didn’t manufacture it, well, okay, that’s a counterfeit item. If it was branded as a Marris bipod and it looked exactly the same but it’s branded slightly differently, that’s a knockoff.

And it can be very easy for a manufacturer to identify a counterfeit, it can be very difficult for a manufacturer to take a fight to court over who came first on the knockoffs issue. A counterfeit issue is pretty cut and dry, “You’re using my brand to sell my product, and that’s not okay.” On the other one you’re manufacturing something that looks just like the thing that I’m making, but you’re putting your own name on it and now we’re going to have to fight over that, that’s often the case. The best example I give to that, and how challenging that is, is Apple and Samsung have been in court now for, what? 6, 8, 10 years fighting over intellectual property. And the courts can’t even figure it out.

And so it would be nearly impossible, for example, for the ATA to step into an intellectual property dispute and try and figure that out, that’s really for the courts to decide. But the ATA does and can get involved when there is a cut and dry case of counterfeiting. And we can restrict membership along those lines, and do, and we have taken action. But in terms of…I would say in…if I’m a manufacturer, especially if I’m a small manufacturer, and I’m concerned about… First of all, if I’m a small manufacturer and I’m not concerned about counterfeiting or intellectual property violations, you better get concerned about it. Because if you have a love…

We had a presenter from the Intellectual Property Rights Center

We had a presenter from the Intellectual Property Rights Center, which is under the Department of Homeland Security, we had him at the show last year. And I loved how he opened his session. Talking to a bunch of manufacturers, he said, “Okay, raise your hand if you’re concerned about counterfeiting and intellectual property rights?” And a bunch of folks raised their hands. And he said, “Okay, if you’re not, I’m going to ask you a series of questions. If you have a good product and it’s making you money, I’m telling you right now you need to be concerned because somebody out there is going to try and take advantage of your intellectual property. The fact is if you’ve got a good product and you’re making money at it, you’ve got a problem even if you don’t know you have one.”

And so we’re taking that up a notch again this year. We’ve got one of our member attorneys who’s going to present kind of a next-level session on that same topic this year and kind of help folks get a basic understanding of what they can and should do. And then what we’ll provide to any of our members who want it is just kind of a two-page takeaway of what steps they ought to be considering, with links to other material they can consume online. But ultimately the encouragement, and I know a lot of folks, especially young businesses, don’t want to hear this, but the best thing they can do is get aligned with a good attorney who can give them great advice. This is such a challenging area, it’s not worth risking your business to not spend a little money on somebody who knows what they’re doing and can guide you and counsel you through that kind of stuff.

That’s great advice because you work so hard, you know, to create something, get it going, then all of a sudden, once it hits the radar screen, you’re going to have people coming after your widget.

Oh yeah.

I mean it’s just going to happen. And, you know, just subtle changes here and there keeps you out of the trademark thing because on my Harris bipod the plate was welded from the counterfeit, but “Harris” is screwed in.

And, Bruce, it’s funny you mention that, also, because I heard a story from a very well-known manufacturer, archery manufacturer, who talked to me about getting called over by a head coach for a national archery team and said, “Hey, your equipment is not holding up as well as it used to.” Well, this manufacturer was about as offended as he could be and he said, “Hold on a second, show me what you’re talking about.” He walked him over, showed him the piece of equipment, and until he took it apart he couldn’t tell that it wasn’t his. But the second he took it apart he said, “Yeah, this is a counterfeit item, this is not mine.”

They’re that good, folks. They reverse engineer them and they know that your…you know, they run the numbers and know that they can get part of the market share. And I would say everybody in business today in America is at risk if you have a successful product, period.

“Well, no, because I’m manufacturing everything here.” “Well, I’m here to tell you you’re going to have to start protecting yourself overseas. Because just because you’re making here doesn’t mean somebody else isn’t making it over there.”

Yeah. And the other…I think the other piece of advice, and this presents more of a challenge and costs more money so not everybody can do it, but my piece of advice to any manufacturer out there, and a little story that goes along with it, is, you know, I’ve talked to any number of American manufacturers who say, “We don’t manufacture anything outside of the States, we manufacture everything in our facilities here in the United States.” And I’ve had to start asking them, “Okay, have you protected your trademarks and your brands and your intellectual property overseas?” “Well, no, because I’m manufacturing everything here.” “Well, I’m here to tell you you’re going to have to start protecting yourself overseas. Because just because you’re making here doesn’t mean somebody else isn’t making it over there.”

And that’s the next level and that’s even more insidious, is that we’ve got overseas manufacturers within their own country starting to trademark American brands, and then they can “legally” produce those items within their home country. And it’s terrible and it’s hard to…it’s really hard to extricate yourself from something like that once it’s done. We’ve got several of our members trying to fight through that now and several others who are now proactively getting over there and trying to protect themselves, but it…yeah, it’s not inexpensive. It’s not as expensive as you might think it is, but, again, that’s one of those situations where, you know, attorneys aren’t bad folks. They get a bad rap a lot of time, but, boy, if you can get protected, if you can make that kind of an investment in protecting yourself and your brand and your product, it’s absolutely worth it.

Well said. And, folks, we’re just going to switch it up now and talk to Matt about whitetail hunting. He’s passionate about it. Let’s…you know, how did you really start getting into it? Who kicked you off?

My first day on the job a year ago was my first day hunting anything.

Oh my goodness.

Yeah, yeah. And it’s interesting because can you imagine… I mean, Bruce, tell me where I could get hired where I would be surrounded by a better group of bow hunting mentors?

There’s no place on planet earth.

No, there’s no way. I mean, yeah. I mean it started with Jay McAninch, who, you know, he and I started talking before I started working here a couple weeks beforehand because there was a bit of a gap there. And it started with him really kind of coaching me through. And he was…oh my good…the man has a mind for detail. Scientist, right? I mean the man has a mind for detail, and especially around hunting, bow hunting, that he may be unmatched in that regard.

So he kind of kicked me off in terms of what to do, what not to do, what to bring, what not to bring

So he kind of kicked me off in terms of what to do, what not to do, what to bring, what not to bring. And then a couple other staffers did the same for me. And then…and I don’t…Bruce, I don’t do all that well with heights, I’m a little afraid of heights. And so Gregg Brown, who does a lot of work with Suburban Whitetail up there in Northern Virginia and also helps us with trade show security during the shows, he actually, one on one with me, got me comfortable getting 15, 20 feet up in a tree safely and really confidently. To the point now where last Friday evening I climbed up in a tree stand and hung out and didn’t even think twice about it.

And that’s…I think that… I’m probably going to preempt one of your questions here. But if I have one piece of advice for somebody who wants to get…who hasn’t hunted before, who wants to get into hunting, it’s to be really, really honest with yourself and with whoever is going to help you get into the woods. Because, for me, had I not been straightforward for those guys about my fear of heights, I may not hunt. Or I’d be in a ground blind out here, you know, in the eastern half of the U.S. You know, there’s not a lot of spot and stalk happening out here, so you’re going to go sit somewhere.

And I got to tell you, man, I love being up in a tree now. The view that you get, the sun coming through the trees, and it’s just an amazing feeling to kind of be up out of the way when the animals on the ground don’t even know that you’re there, there’s just something magical about it. And had I not done that, I wouldn’t have had that experience. Had I not really been honest with myself and my mentor, I would not have had that experience.

That’s just a great way to explain the best way to approach…any new hunter, to approach how you’re going to be successful. Because if you had just kind of timidly jumped into it or not shared actually your concerns, then you wouldn’t have that opportunity just to be outdoors. And that’s a huge part of hunting because it takes nanoseconds to pull the trigger, let your fingers go. It doesn’t take him any time at all. But the years and the hours leading up to that one point have all been spent outdoors.

Yeah. Yeah. And it’s…I think it’s easy to…you know, we all overuse the phrase “there are no stupid questions,” but that’s easy to say, it’s kind of hard to live that truth. You know, I can’t tell you how many questions that I’ve asked any number of mentors that I think are really stupid questions. But if I don’t get the answer to them, I know I’m not going to be…I know I’m not going to have as good a day in the woods.

And coming from,  your past industry, you’re already involved in conventions and large, you know, events and managing people and all that. But to transfer your skill sets into and then understand, you know, what companies, manufacturers, the whole gamut, what their product really is. And their product is allowing people to experience something that they wish to do and they’re passionate about. And they just make it easier, they make it better, they have the tools and the fabrics, and, you know, it goes on and on and on. But really they’re providing me the resources I need so I can just go out there and I will have whatever I need, whatever I need to do.

Yeah.

and that’s the thing, people get wound up sometimes about this camo and that bow and all this stuff. They’re just tools, they’re resources to the endgame, and that’s your experience in the outdoors. That’s my take on it.

Totally, yeah. Agree completely.

So being a new hunter, you know, tell me about your…have you killed a deer yet?

I’ve got three funny stories about deer

I haven’t. I’ve got three funny stories about deer. Funny to me, it might be embarrassing to somebody else. But, no, I’ve had two flat misses. So my first sit it was raining, it was cold, I was in Wisconsin. And on five minutes, literally… I’m watching the clock, right? So I’m five minutes into shooting light and out walks this, which would have been for, I think, any first-time hunter, just a beautiful buck. A little eight or nine-point buck. I would have been absolutely ecstatic about it. And this guy is, I still remember, 16 and a half yards from me. He stood around hanging out 16 and a half yards from my ground blind and I’m thinking this was just meant to be. But the problem was I was thinking about what I was going to do with the meat, what I was going to do with that rack, and how it was going to look hanging in my office. I wasn’t…Bruce, I didn’t give one thought to my shot at all. And I put that arrow probably six feet in front of him, that was just hilarious.

Bruce: That was.

Oh, totally, totally. My brain saw that arrow hit the 12 ring on a 3D target. I swear to god that arrow went right through his vitals, I missed him completely.

Oh my goodness.

 I still to this day I cannot tell you what my sight picture looked like.

I think that’s great because you were so into it and you were so excited as a… If you’re a target archery shooter, you have to be so focused because the competition is so great. I mean you’re in the zone, you know, and you’re shooting pinpoints, you’re shooting flies on paper. Oh my goodness.

Yeah, yeah. And my heart rate never increased, I was totally calm. Because I wasn’t thinking about the shot and I was thinking about everything but what I should have been thinking about. And then, yeah, five or six sits later that same trip, that same week, my last sit I saw a really skittish, gorgeous 12-point, I mean he was beautiful. But it was a tough shot. I had to kind of lean…I was up in a tree stand, I had to kind of lean to my right. He knew I was there, I mean he was skittish as heck. And I had to kind of lean to my right. Again, I had like five minutes of shooting light left, this was in the evening now. And I was leaning to my right and I was very careful to get a good sight picture, but the second I released I went to go look to see if I’d hit him. And so I pushed the bow down right on release and I hit…my broadhead just nailed a rock right underneath him, sounded like a gunshot, and that guy was gone. I mean he went from 0 to 60 in a second and a half. It was cool to watch him run away, but, yeah, I completely missed him. Because I was too excited.

So you dropped your hand.

I just pushed the shot a little low. But it was one of those things

Yeah, oh yeah. Yeah, I just pushed the shot a little low. But it was one of those things. So what I have done now is I got an opportunity, we got a back deck off the house, I got a couple 3D targets in the backyard. So I sit in a barstool up there and I’ll get my body in weird angles and I’ll try those shots because I never know what the shot is going to be. So I’m trying to get myself a little more comfortable with those abnormal, those unusual shots that experienced bow hunters know they have to make. But me being completely inexperienced, I wasn’t prepared for that. You know, sure, I’d gotten out back and stood on the ground and shot my target, I’d sat up on the deck and shot the targets, but I hadn’t really kind of challenges myself with those new shots. And I’ve certainly seen some deer this year, but have not had anything close enough to shoot. And…or have had, you know, trees between me and the deer, or they’ve been behind me and haven’t been able to get a good angle on them.

So, yeah, that’s my whitetail experience. I did a get a spring jake with a shotgun this year. Dan Forster took me out and called one in and, yeah, make a heck of a 25-yard shot and had some delicious bird after that.

Did you say Hank Forester, from QDMA?

No, no. Dan… This happens all the time, between Hank Forester and Dan Forster.

Yeah. You know, because, you know, QDMA is, you know, a fantastic organization. Quality Deer Management Association, folks.

Yeah, and I’m going to jump in there because that’s where I’ve been hunting, I’ve been hunting their land out here just outside of Athens, Georgia.

Yeah.

Brian Murphy and Hank and John Eastman out there have been really kind in inviting me out to shoot.

You’re a member, right? You’re a member, right?

Yes, I am. I am a QDMA member, yeah. I’m a new member this year. Yeah.

Thank you. Oh, that’s great. Yeah, and the thing is when I first started hunting out west I really never had to shoot from my knees. And sometimes when you’re in on top of elk and stuff you’re shooting from your knees and it’s just, you know, you never think about it until all of a sudden that’s the shot you’ve got and you go, “I’ve never done this.” And then typically it doesn’t work out well.

Oh yeah, it’s been amazing to me. You know, in my target days back when we were living in Texas, you know, I’d be at the indoor range and guys that I knew to be really phenomenal target shooters would come in and set a chair down on the shooting line and a couple of them really struggled to make those first couple shots when they were just transitioning, just learning to shoot sitting down. It can be so unusual. And, yeah, you got to practice it. You know, you talked about it at the top of the show, Bruce, it’s bow hunting is one of those things where you don’t just…you don’t grab the bow and just head out on your first sit that year, you’ve got to keep the muscles up, you’ve got to keep the mental game up.

you don’t grab the bow and just head out on your first sit that year, you’ve got to keep the muscles up, you’ve got to keep the mental game up.

And that’s not… Look, I will…I’m at the point now where I just want to go hunt. So, yeah, will I gun hunt again? Absolutely. And I don’t begrudge anybody getting out and hunting in whatever way. You know, shotgun, rifle, crossbow, vertical, you know, compound, recurve, trad, any. Just get out, man. Whatever you’re comfortable with getting out. That’s where I think that QDMA has really been successful with their Field to Fork program, with their mentoring program. Is, you know, they get a crossbow in the hands of a new shooter, somebody who’s never shot before, never hunted before, and they’re getting them up and out and hunting in a matter of, you know, a few sessions, which is really impressive.

Yes, it is. Yes, it is. And I just…you know, I’m excited for you because, you know, you’ll have some opportunities that some people won’t have, and I get that. And, you know, to go on properties and to meet people and to have people, you know, give you some insights. But the mentorship, the insights, they’re available because, like I said at the top of the show, archery hunters are 365, 24/7. They’re thinking about their gear, they’re thinking about their food plots, they’re thinking about travel corridors.

My good friend Todd Pringnitz from White Knuckle Productions, https://www.whiteknuckleproductions.com/ he just created a new calling tool call Tree Thrasher. So, you know, free shout-out for you, Todd. And, you know, he’s engineered…he engineers things. He used to be in ownership of Wicked Tree Gear. And, you know, I think of these people that I met and know and everything and it all comes through ATA. Because his company wouldn’t have grown without exposure and membership in the association. And, you know, I started the podcast gushing a little bit, but, you know, for archers you are…you know, you are the heart and soul. And so your position…I’m not trying to put pressure on you, Matt, but your position is so critical for the future of archery hunting in the United States.

It’s incredibly humbling to hear you say that

Well, and I appreciate that. It’s incredibly humbling to hear you say that and it’s very kind of you to talk as you have about the ATA. I think if we, as an organization, didn’t have the position that we have in this industry, I don’t think there’s any chance that I would have come here. So, you know, it’s incredible to be a part of this organization that is really revered by folks in the archery and bow hunting industry and in the archery and bow hunting world. And, yeah, it’s… I really…honestly, Bruce, I don’t feel the pressure. I feel responsibility, for sure, to do as good a job as I can and to ensure that we as a staff are doing as good a job as we can. But, yeah, I don’t view that as pressure. It’s a great responsibility, but it’s also been a lot of fun.

That’s great. And, Matt Kormann, from…he’s the President and CEO of ATA, thank you so much for being a featured guest on Whitetail Rendezvous. And I know my hundreds of thousands of listeners are going to go, “Wow, I’ve got to check out ATA and I’ve got to, you know, get involved.” And just know, folks, that from this man’s point of view I think ATA is in a pretty good place right now.

Well, very kind of you to say, Bruce, very kind of you to have me on. And appreciated the conversation, even looking more forward to meeting you in person here in Louisville very soon.

 


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