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As Archery Popularity Spikes, Indiana Inventor Finds His Target Audience

Stan Jastrzebski

Sales of archery equipment have spiked in the last couple years – especially among fans of movie heroes wielding bows and arrows. That archery craze has helped bolster sales for a small Indiana company that builds its business around people shooting each other. It's a game that’s sort of like dodgeball and paintball meeting The Hunger Games.

One of the first things I did when I went to see Archery Tag played was get shot with an arrow. At close range. By someone who shoots arrows for a living.

Not even a scratch. That’s because this arrow is tipped with a couple inches of blue foam, which absorbs most of the impact. Jackson, a longtime archer and bow hunter, is the founder of Archery Tag, and he holds patents on both the bow and the arrow that just shot me. Jackson doesn’t sell the game in stores, so to play, competitors need to visit a corporate event like this one or one of the game’s more than 100 licensees, which are located across six continents, from South Carolina to South Africa to Singapore.

Players are given facemasks and bows and split into two teams which are separated in a field by targets and six-foot tall inflatable bunkers looking much like football tackling dummies. Players hide behind them to avoid being shot.

Get hit and you’re out of the game -- like I was. But you can get back in! Your teammates can fire at foam archery targets on the ground in an attempt to restore you to the playing field…

But this game is unlike paintball or dodgeball in a key way – it isn’t necessarily won by the players with the most physical strength, since everyone fires arrows at nearly the same speed. Jackson says that allows children and the elderly to compete together…

“As you can see, we got a variety of ages out there that play. We’ve actually got people in their 80s that have played,” Jackson says.

The game has taken John Jackson around the world, letting him rub shoulders with the rich and famous.

“I’ve been traveling out to California a lot. Next month we’re doing a thing for LinkedIn. We just got back from doing a thing for Marcia Gay Harden, she’s an actress.”

Jackson takes his family with him as he markets the game – Channeling William Tell, he makes a show of shooting foam apples off his eight-year old daughter Yelena’s head.

And his wife Darla comes along on business trips, too. She marvels at the continuing success of this simple game…

“Different places, I’ve seen people that have never held a bow and arrow and how this has changed them. I’ve seen people in wheelchairs play it, I’ve seen people that are autistic play it," she says.

Archery Tag’s success so far, comes to a company with no salespeople other than its founder. Still, the leads keep coming in, leading John Jackson to think his business is hitting the mark.