The pandemic may have changed our lives, but sometimes change is a good thing. Consider the outdoors, and the number of people who were introduced or reintroduced to active pursuits in nature during the past two years. 

Anecdotally, I think most of us noticed more anglers and boaters on fresh and salt waters, and more hunters on private and public lands. Guiding outfits were booked months in advance, and fly rods, reels and shotgun shells were scarce and in high demand. There were waiting lists to purchase new mountain bikes, and repairs could take months. 

While many travelled less, those who did got creative. Airstream trailer and recreational vehicle sales boomed, giving people a safe, socially distanced way to explore and enjoy the wild. Yacht sales spiked too, as many found refuge in sailing on the open water. 

People embraced activities that took us outside—and away from the glare of our computer screens. Outdoor recreation suddenly became an escape from the confines of COVID-19, and the resulting surge had some interesting implications for the outdoor recreation industry.

Last year, the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) commissioned a study to better understand new outdoor participants so the industry can find ways to increase retention as pandemic restrictions are lifted. The report found that outdoor activities are a cost-effective antidote that helps bring children, families and communities together. It also revealed that a more diverse set of participants were engaging in outdoor activities. 

“Throughout this pandemic, outdoor recreation has been a cornerstone of American life,” said OIA Executive Director Lise Aangeenbrug. “As stay-at-home orders forced people to adapt their lifestyles, new groups of people, including more women, more urban-dwellers and more minority populations turned to the outdoors as a place for recreation and refuge.”

Local outdoor sporting retailers here in Virginia noticed their evolving customer bases and fine-tuned their businesses to change. Green Top Sporting Goods in Ashland reported an uptick in fishing and hunting customers and women, children and family participation. Public Lands, the new outdoor specialty store concept from DICK’s Sporting Goods that has a store in Charlottesville, is seeing greater diversity among people in stores that are true to the activity; they are style-forward and have an appreciation for technologically legitimate gear.

Our local friends at Orapax Hunting Preserve in Goochland, and the Preserve at Dundee in Hanover—both Green Top Outfitters—have experienced an uptick in business as more and more sportsmen and women took to the field. Similarly, Wesley Hodges, an Eagle Rock-based fly-fishing and hunting guide, has never been busier. 

Kate Ahnstrom, owner of Virginia Shooting Sports and Syren Pro Staff team member, has been helping diversify and grow the sport for years. “Women of all ages want new venues to spend time outdoors,” she said. “Upland hunting and shooting sports bring excitement and camaraderie with friends and family.”

The outdoors is beautiful and creatively inspiring. Smart phones and Instagram are perfect for celebrating it—after you return home and indoors from your adventures. Or chuck the technology; we’ll celebrate the outdoors and sporting life for you in these pages. 

Enjoy your fall and the issue.

Cover Photo: Editors Joe Shields and Eric Kallen enjoy a day in the field with Orapax Hunting Preserve’s Neal Kauder, as well as Brent Altaffer and his dad Blaine Altaffer, CEO of Green Top Sporting Goods. Photo by Ted Jurkuta

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