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The Tax on Archery
By Dick Latimer
Feb 16, 2007, 07:20

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In 2000, my final year as the president/CEO of the Archery Manufacturers & Merchants Organization (AMO), one of the highlights was an effort by the archery industry to increase the amount of money devoted to the future of archery from the 11 percent federal excise taxes collected since 1975.

The most defining moment for me in that process came when several of us were lucky enough to be able to meet with Sen. Trent Lott. At that time he was the most powerful man in the Senate and served as the Majority Leader. Our meeting was arranged by a former congressman from Montana, Ron Marlenee, and his wife, Cindy, with whom I served at the time on the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation.

One of the most propitious moments of all of my years spent quietly working in Washington, D.C. for our sports of archery and bowhunting came that day when Sen. Lott started telling us about a meeting he'd had with an old college fraternity friend the previous weekend in Mississippi. He said his friend was a banker from Holmes County, Mississippi. Before he could finish, I blurted out, "You mean old Billy Ellis?" Sen. Lott's face lit up, and he said, "Do you know Billy Ellis?" And I told him that I'd known Billy for many years due to his long service to bowhunting and the fact that he had been an admirer and friend to my mentor and boss for more than 20 years, Fred Bear.

We had been meeting in Sen. Lott's conference room. That's all he needed to hear, and we were invited into his private office where he showed us a fine old rifle that hung on his office wall. Our proposed legislative change later sailed right through the Senate, without opposition, thanks to the help given to us by Sen. Lott in bringing the matter to the floor at just the right time. All of us in hunting should be forever grateful for his thoughtful help.


The result was that an additional $8 million is now devoted annually to hunter education and safety programs. The monies are on top of what had traditionally been apportioned to the states from the collected federal excise taxes. This actually started out at $7.5 million in both fiscal years of 2001 and 2002 and then increased to the $8 million per year in 2003 and thereafter! I won't quote all of the legalese language in the change to the Pittman-Robertson law, but thought you'd find these portions to be of interest:

 (ii) the enhancement of interstate coordination and development of hunter education and shooting range programs;

 (iii) the enhancement of bowhunter and archery education, safety, and development programs, and

 (iv) the enhancement of construction or development of firearm shooting ranges and archery ranges, and the updating of safety features of firearm shooting ranges and archery ranges.

And I would be remiss if I didn't point out the fine help also given to us by Rep. John D. Dingell, who at that point had served in the Congress longer than any other U.S. representative. He was from Michigan, knew Fred very well, and had been involved with us back when the tax was first proposed. Some of us also met with Congressman Dingell in his office in 2000, and he graciously offered to lend his full support to our archery legislative change. That meeting was also one of the highlights of my 25 years of working for our sport in Washington. I have a great deal of admiration for Rep. Dingell.

But what had brought us to that moment in Washington, D.C. in the year 2000 had begun 30 years before back in the early 1970s. And it was due primarily to Fred Bear's strong effort that the Archery Federal Excise Tax became a reality. Let me give you some more background so you'll appreciate the impact Fred had upon this effort, and consequently on the future and well-being, not only of our shooting sports, but of America's wildlife and wildlife habitat for both game and non-game species. Another example of what one dedicated person can make happen at just the right moment of history if he or she is smart enough to do so.


When our country was settled by Europeans there was a fantastic abundance of wildlife. The Native Americans, with their spears, atlatls and later their bows and arrows, did not make much of an impact on wildlife populations. They shot only what they needed for their families to survive. And they used every last portion of each animal taken-meat, hides, tendons, skulls, antlers and bones. As the white man came to this continent bringing firearms, the Native Americans soon started using those as well. But they still did not overhunt; it was not in their ethic to do so. They had a deep reverence for the animals they hunted, and it was a strong religious theme they practiced very seriously.

But the wildlife was worth more to the white man than sustenance, it was worth hard cash, and that is where the problem began. Had the settlers simply used what they needed as the Native Americans had, there would not have been such a problem. But there were those who began the horrible market hunting that would later decimate the huge herds of bison and other critters. We've all seen the old photos and read about these abuses. Fortunately, these "market hunters" bear no resemblance to today's sportsmen and women, but the anti's like to try to make that linkage.

As my old friend, Lonnie Williamson, of the Wildlife Management Institute pointed out in his piece "Evolution of a Landmark Law," "... something went wrong as civilization crept across the land. Wildlife was in the way. Much of it began to disappear with immigrating humanity, felled forests, plowed prairies, overgrazed deserts and market hunting. Wild creatures were no match for the unchecked invasion by ax, plowshare, livestock and gun. The 20th century arrived with wildlife flat on its back, badly in need of a lift."

Concerned sportsmen and politicians soon acted, and The Lacey Act was passed in 1900 making it a federal offense to transport wildlife across state lines if the animals were taken in violation of state law.
As Lonnie points out, "new organizations appeared to join the fight. Predecessors to today's National Audubon Society, Wildlife Management Institute and Izaak Walton League were organized. State wildlife agencies were formed. The conservation movement gathered steam and things began to happen. State wildlife laws were codified in many states."

During the boom following World War I, there were many more Americans hunting. This put more pressure on wildlife. Then the Depression hit, and people had to hunt to put meat on the table for their families-hunting for many went from a sport to a necessity. Unfortunately, there was much poaching. The dust storms of the 30s that John Steinbeck wrote about in "The Grapes of Wrath" wiped out large areas of habitat. Luckily, people like Aldo Leopold (a bowhunter whom Fred admired) began speaking out, and slowly things began to turn around. Thanks in great part to concerned sportsmen who had clout.

Lonnie summarized the rapid response of those days to the need. "In quick order, these conservation leaders and others spawned enactment of the Duck Stamp and Fish and Wildlife Coordination Acts in 1934, established the Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit Program in 1935, organized the first North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in 1936, created the National Wildlife Federation that same year, and pushed the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration program to passage in 1937. All of these accomplishments were significant, but one stands out. The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration program, or Pittman-Robertson (P-R) program, as it is called in honor of its legislative sponsors, has proven to be the most productive wildlife undertaking on record. It has meant more for wildlife in more ways than any other effort."


A fellow by the name of Carl Shoemaker, who had been a lawyer in Ohio and then a newspaper publisher in Oregon is really the "father" of what became the Pittman-Robertson law. He wrote the original bill and then went out and convinced legislators to sponsor and support it. He had served as the head of the Oregon Fish & Game Commission and later moved to Washington, D.C. to work in the field. He also helped organize the first North American Wildlife Conference held in 1936.
The following year at the second North American Wildlife Conference in St. Louis, the year-old National Wildlife Federation participants decided to move forward with setting up an excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition. These funds would then be allocated to the states in some manner to support work in the wildlife area.

Shoemaker went back to Washington, wrote a draft of the legislation and came up with the formula that is still used to allocate the funds based upon the number of licensed hunters in each state and the area each state covered to help protect the large Western states with low populations but a large land area. Sen. Key Pittman of Nevada was the chairman of the Special Committee on Wildlife in the Senate and he agreed to help to pass the legislation in the Senate. On the House side, Rep. A. Willis Robertson of Virginia added a key element to the bill in discussing it with Shoemaker and then introduced the legislation on that side of the Hill. Robertson added 29 words that forever protected the funds from raiding legislators who would often divert hunting and fishing license funds to other uses. Here's what Robertson added: "... and which shall include a prohibition against the diversion of license fees paid by hunters for any other purpose than the administration of said state fish and game department ..."

The bills sailed through Congress and were signed into law by Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt on Sept. 2, 1937. The fact that a few words could drastically affect legislation like this became painfully evident later when the P-R program was expanded to include archery equipment, and later under my watch at AM when we again attempted to improve the law's affect upon our archery industry.

In the 1960s several attempts were made to draft bills dealing with adding the excise tax to handguns, ammunition components and archery equipment. But they were not successful until Congressman John D. Dingell of Michigan introduced a bill in 1969 to do it one step at a time by first going after the handgun part of the equation. At the time he was chairman of the House Subcommittee on Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation. Senators Philip Hart (Michigan) and Hugh Scott (Pennsylvania) introduced about the same legislation in the Senate, and the idea passed. Pres. Nixon signed the handgun tax in 1970.


While this was going on, Congressman George Goodling of Pennsylvania introduced legislation to include an 11 percent federal excise tax on archery equipment. Goodling was the ranking minority member of Dingell's subcommittee. But some of the archery manufacturers were against the idea, and the bill died. Goodling introduced it again in 1971. And that's where Fred took over and made it happen. Here's how Lonnie Williamson wrote about it:

"... it was reported favorably (in 1971) by the Dingell subcommittee within a month. However, manufacturers' coolness to the proposal kept it bottled up in the House Ways and Means Committee. But Fred Bear, president of Bear Archery, came to the rescue.

"A well-known sportsman and dedicated wildlife conservationist, Bear exerted his considerable influence to lessen the archery industry's opposition to Goodling's bill. He wrote Dingell: 'In discussions and an exchange of letters with Mr. Dan Poole of the Wildlife Management Institute, we of Bear Archery feel that our industry should contribute to the Wildlife Restoration Fund. This we would like to do on the basis of the program outlined in my letter to Mr. Poole, a copy of which I enclose.'
"Bear also wrote letters to all members of the Archery Manufacturers' Organization and encouraged them to support the bill. Some responded favorably, and the bill passed the House without incident."

Sen. Frank Moss-Utah introduced an identical bill in the Senate, and it proceeded smoothly and was approved. Consequently, the archery gear tax amendment was signed by Pres. Nixon during the closing hours of the 92nd Congress in October 1972 ... thanks in great part to the involvement and foresight of Fred Bear."


But what should have been a great success story contained a loophole. Let's go back a moment to Congressman John Dingell's subcommittee on July 9, 1971 when the suggested tax on archery equipment was being discussed. Here's what was said:

MR. DINGELL: "I have been in correspondence with Fred Bear who is the largest manufacturer of hunting archery equipment in the country, and Mr. Bear has, subject to certain qualifications which I propose to accept, indicated strong support for this particular proposal.

"It is Mr. Bear's suggestion, and I will insert his letter in the record at the proper point, that if we amend the bill as we did the legislation for pistols and revolvers last year, that he would support the legislation actively within the industry and, indeed, the Congress.

"All Mr. Bear wants is that these funds be permitted to be used, in addition to the purposes of the Pittman-Robertson Act, also for range acquisition, construction and hunter safety programs.
"I think this is an admirable suggestion and I propose to offer an appropriate amendatory language at the proper time."

Later in that same session there was this comment:

MR. GOODLING: "Mr. Chairman, I think it would be in order to insert a short statement from Glenn L. Bowers who is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. I might say that Pennsylvania has more bowhunters than any other state in the Union and in line with what Mr. Lennon was discussing he has one paragraph which reads: 'Further, we would suggest an amendment to this proposal. This amendment would embrace the splitting of the funds derived-one-half for the purposes of the regular Federal Aid program and the other half for the acquisition and development of ranges and for course of instruction in the safe handling and use of archery equipment."

MR. DINGELL:  "Without objection, the document alluded to will appear at this point in the record, and I think it will be very helpful."

Later in the session there was this comment by Dr. Laurence R. Jahn, vice president, the Wildlife Management Institute, Washington, D.C.:

MR. JAHN: "... in fact, Mr. Chairman, under the amendment we offer, it may be advisable for the committee and the archery industry to think in terms of applying the tax to all archery equipment and related gear that is used both for hunting and non-hunting purposes. We suggest that H.R. 761 be amended to provide that the annual income from the manufacturer's excise tax on archery items be divided as the handgun tax money was last year-one-half for the purposes of the regular Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program and one-half for the acquisition and development of public archery ranges and for courses of instruction in the safe handling and use of archery gear."

As you can see, it was clearly the intent of everyone involved that one-half of the federal excise tax collected on archery equipment would be used for the construction of archery ranges across America. It was with that clear definition shown in Congress that Fred and Bob Kelly sold the rest of the industry on supporting this tax. And I know what I'm talking about, I was sitting across the desk several times when Fred and Kelly were talking to Rep. Dingell and his staff on the telephone about this legislation. Without this agreement from our industry this legislation would never have been passed.

Here is the full text of Fred's letter to our industry from Grayling, Michigan dated June 15, 1971:

I am enclosing a copy of a statement being submitted to the House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries on H.R. 761 by the Wildlife Management Institute. This will no doubt result in a Congressional Bill and will probably be enacted into law.

This calls for an excise tax of 11 percent being levied on all archery equipment. Monies collected will be distributed to states on a matching funds basis under the Pittman-Robertson Act for wildlife and habitat work.

You will note, however, that like the handgun tax, half of monies collected will go for archery range acquisition and range installation and upkeep. It is estimated that about $2 million annually will be collected on archery sales. Half of this is $1 million, which would build a lot of ranges.

This tax is based on manufacturer's selling price and is passed on to the consumer. We are only the collectors. Aside from these collection costs, it costs us nothing.

We should not quibble and argue that many archery sets are never used for hunting. We should keep in mind that this is a worthy cause, monies are earmarked, and government collection costs have been averaging 4 percent. The arms people pay on all guns and ammunition. Trap guns, 22 rifles and even handloading components.

We, at Bear Archery, hope that the archery manufacturers will go on record with the Wildlife Management Institute as favoring this bill and that they would contact their representatives in Washington to this effect.

Fred Bear
Bear Archery- President

After the legislation was finally passed, the federal excise tax on archery equipment went into effect in 1975. In the meantime, Earl Hoyt and Chuck Saunders, two of our most respected archery manufacturers, had been working with an architect in St. Louis, Missouri to design an outdoor target range that would serve as the model to be built around the U.S. with our half of the federal excise tax on archery equipment. When the design was set, Fred sent me to St. Louis to meet with Earl and Chuck about how we at Bear Archery could help publicize this new proposed range around the country. I was given the assignment following this meeting of doing just that. So I wrote a brochure and press releases and we took off. Pat Wiseman and I coordinated the publicity to all the archery media, archery clubs, state fish and game departments and the like.

The next year, after the archery excise tax had been collected for awhile, Fred asked me to drive from Grayling down to Lansing, to talk to the Department of Natural Resources people there about when we might expect to be able to start receiving the funding to build all the archery ranges with our half of the archery excise tax money.

That's the first hint we caught of a problem. I was told by our DNR that the wording of the legislation had been changed from "shall" to "may." In other words, instead of saying, one-half of all archery excise taxes collected "shall" be used for archery ranges, someone along the line had slipped in the word "may" in place of "shall." And no one ever caught it until it came time to divvy up the money.

So we had egg on our face. It was not a case that we could not obtain some of this money for archery ranges, I was told in Lansing, it was a case of whether or not the state fish and wildlife agencies considered archery ranges a priority or whether they needed to spend this money on other wildlife or habitat projects. Well, you can guess the rest of the story. Only a limited number of the St. Louis designed archery ranges were ever built.

This festered with Fred, Kelly and me throughout all the intervening years. After Fred died, and I went to work running the archery trade association, AM, I decided to make some waves. Kelly had also passed on not long after I accepted the AM position. By then I was on the board of directors of the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation on Capitol Hill. I began by writing Rep. John Dingell about our industry's concerns.
I started this wave-making in 1996. By that time we in archery had paid in $201,809,038 into the Pittman-Robertson fund. Can you imagine how many archery ranges we could have built and maintained with $100 million?

Congressman Dingell kindly wrote to Mollie Beattie, then the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service director, asking for a full report on the matter. And, believe me, when someone in Washington, D.C. gets a letter from the longest-tenured member of Congress it brings them and their staff to attention.

Here's part of Ms. Beattie's reply to Congressman Dingell:

"Between 1972 and 1996, States were apportioned in excess of $448.3 million for hunter education training and the development, construction and operation of shooting ranges. The hunter education apportionment is comprised of one-half of the handgun and archery excise tax with the remaining half going to the wildlife restoration fund. Of this apportioned amount, an average of 54 percent has been utilized by States for hunter education training and shooting ranges. The remainder of the hunter education apportionment is used by States for wildlife restoration purposes. The 54 percent includes an average of 5 percent spent on shooting ranges.

The amount of hunter education funds expended by States does not reflect a high percentage of Federal Aid funds being used for their intended purposes. There are two major reasons for this: 1) The Pittman-Robertson Act does not require States to use the funds for hunter education training or shooting ranges so, States elect to use the apportionment for wildlife restoration purposes; and 2) many States choose to use State monies to avoid the compliance requirements associated with Federal funding."

Later she states:
"Because nearly one in every five hunters hunts with a bow, bowhunters and the industry are receiving a significant benefit from the portion of excise taxes being used for wildlife restoration. ... It is unfortunate that the Archery Manufacturers and Merchants Organization feel they are not getting what they bargained for. Clearly, the legislative outcome differed from Fred Bear's idea that one-half of the excise tax would be used for archery range development and maintenance. However, the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, as amended, presently gives States the option to use monies apportioned for hunter education and ranges for either that purpose or wildlife restoration. The Service has encouraged States to acquire and operate more firearm and archery ranges with shooting range seminars, range development training and motivational workshops, but Service encouragement has not increased the number of range projects significantly."

As I reported earlier we did finally get some relief for all of this frustration with the changes that we lobbied for so hard during 2000 and that were finally made a part of the Pittman-Robertson Law by Congress in November of that year. Thanks to all of the AM people involved, those from the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation that helped, ex-Congressman Marlenee and his wife, Cindy, and especially Sen. Lott and Rep. Dingell and their staffs, and all the Congress for voting favorably to pass these remedies on our behalf.

Another aspect of the federal excise tax that we tried to straighten out during my term as president/CEO of AM was to move the collection of the tax on finished arrows away from the thousands of small archery dealers and back "up front" to just the handful of arrow component manufacturers. This took a number of years to accomplish and was shepherded through the Senate for us by Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. This was Senate Bill S. 815. Sen. Hatch's office hand-delivered a "Dear Colleague" letter to all U.S. Senators urging passage of our bill with an actual arrow stuck through it. This was in 1994.

In the House, our bowhunting friend, Congressman Jim Barcia from Michigan introduced H.R. 59 that would accomplish the same goal. The bill was co-sponsored by Congressman Dave Camp of Michigan and Congressman Bill Brewster of Oklahoma.

Many small dealers at the time were no longer making arrows in their shops because of the archery excise tax collection on finished arrows. It was having a chilling effect, as the lawyers like to say, on the production of arrows for our industry. And without a steady affordable supply of arrows, our bows are worthless. The bills proposed to move the collection from the thousands of archery dealers who made finished arrows back to about 65 companies who made the arrow components.
The bills finally made it through Congress in 1997 after we had been working on them for more than three years. And they were signed into law by Pres. Clinton when he signed the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997. Peter Weaver of Easton, who was serving as our AM chairman through much of this time, actually helped construct the wording of the new law. He and I met many times with both Sen. Hatch's and Congressman Barcia's staff.

Unfortunately, long after the change was made, and after I retired from AM, some people realized there was a loophole in this law, too. And that was that it did not cover finished arrows imported into this country from overseas. That controversy persists to this day as I write this and is in the process of being addressed. So, you see, writing legislation can be tricky, and if there is a way for people to find a way around it they will search until they do. That is why our U.S. tax code is so thick and complicated.

During 1999, my last full year running AM, I was a member of a working group that was looking at abuses in the Pittman-Robertson fund and worked in conjunction with the Congressional House Resources staff to help identify how the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service had been spending the administrative funds available to it from our excise taxes. We worked on proposed legislative changes at these sessions, and I made five trips to Washington, D.C. in just an eight-week period for meetings on these issues. The head of the House Resources Committee at the time was our old friend, Congressman Duncan Hunter of California. He, Congressman Jim Barcia of Michigan and I had first thought up the idea of forming the Congressional Bowhunters Caucus, and the two of them "made it happen." Both are avid bowhunters.

I hope you now have a better idea of the important role that Fred Bear played in establishing the Archery Federal Excise Tax. It did not totally turn out the way he wanted it to, but on the other hand, it has provided almost a half-billion dollars in funding for our state fish and wildlife departments to use on wildlife restoration, habitat protection, hunter education, shooting ranges and all of their other important programs.
In 1920 there were only 500,000 white-tailed deer left in America; today their numbers are back up to 14 million or more. In 1920 there were fewer than 25,000 pronghorns, today there are more than 750,000. And in 1930 wild turkeys were almost non-existent in all but a few Southern states. Today there are more than 2 million. In 1930 the wood duck was almost extinct, today they are our most common breeding waterfowl in the Eastern part of the country.

Untold millions of Americans have been trained to hunt safely and ethically in hunter education classes in all 50 states. This has saved hundreds, or even thousands, of lives and prevented huge numbers of unnecessary crippling injuries. And large chunks of wildlife habitat have been preserved and enhanced, all through the use of these same Pittman-Robertson funds.

That is a huge legacy in which Fred Bear played a key role. Let's also remember all of the other archery manufacturers who voluntarily went along with this tax on our products and continue to do so to this day. The list is too extensive to list all of our fine archery companies who participate. A tip of Fred's Borsalino hunting hat to them all!

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