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2:20 pm
Thu June 26, 2014

Archery Tag Works To Expand Its Target Audience

Originally published on Thu June 26, 2014 5:10 pm

The popularity of movies like Hunger Games and Disney's Brave has led more people to pick up bows and arrows. One product line that's benefited from this trend even lets customers shoot arrows at other people — without harming them. As Stan Jastrzebski of WBAA reports, the Indiana inventor of Archery Tag says his audience is more than just young adults.

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Sales of archery equipment have spiked in the last couple of years, especially among fans of movie heroes and heroines wielding bows and arrows. This archery craze has helped bolster a small Indiana company that builds its business around a game where people take aim at each other. It's sort of like paintball meets "The Hunger Games." Stan Jastrzebski of member station WBAA checked it out.

STAN JASTRZEBSKI, BYLINE: So what do you do when someone calls you and says, hey, come to Northeast Indiana and let me shoot you with an arrow? Well, if you're me and the arrow shooter is John Jackson, you say, OK, John, have at it. Oh.

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 bowhunter 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.

Hit me in the hand. All right.

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.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: Come on Mike.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: Nice.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: Hey, you're back in.

JASTRZEBSKI: 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.

JOHN JACKSON: As you can see, we got a variety of ages out there that play. And we've actually had people in their 80s that have played.

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

J. JACKSON: I've been traveling out to California a lot. Next month we're doing a thing for LinkedIn, and we just got back from doing a thing for Marcia Gay Harden. She's an actress.

JASTRZEBSKI: Back in Indiana, friends Levi Sciscoe and Ryan Oaks are playing Archery Tag for the first time, even though they're veterans of other combat sports.

LEVI SCISCOE: I got hit in the face mask. And I only got hit three times overall today, so...

JASTRZEBSKI: But even getting hit in the face mask, I would imagine, didn't hurt much.

SCISCOE: Not that much.

RYAN OAKS: It just kind of rattles you for a second.

JASTRZEBSKI: Jackson takes his family with him as he markets the game. Channeling William Tell, he makes a show of shooting foam apples off his 8-year-old daughter you Yelena's head, like he's doing here. And his wife Darla comes along on business trips, too. She marvels at the continuing success of this simple game.

DARLA JACKSON: Different places I've seen people that have never held a bow and arrow and how this has changed them, you know? I've seen people in wheelchairs play it. I've seen kids that are autistic play it.

JASTRZEBSKI: 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. For NPR News, I'm Stan Jastrzebski in West Lafayette, Indiana.

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