Anyone reading through the list of bribes attached to the bailout bill passed last week eventually runs across this entry, and is utterly confused.

Excise Tax Exemption for Wooden Practice Arrows Used by Children. Current law imposes an excise tax of 39 cents, adjusted for inflation, on the first sale by the manufacturer, producer, or importer of any shaft of a type used to produce certain types of arrows. This proposal would exempt from the excise tax any shaft consisting of all natural wood with no laminations or artificial means to enhance the spine of the shaft used in the manufacture of an arrow that measures 5/16 of an inch or less and is unsuited for use with a bow with a peak draw weight of 30 pounds or more. The proposal is effective for shafts first sold after the date of enactment. The estimated cost of the proposal is $2 million over ten years.

I took it upon myself, being fond of archery, to look into this as a service to our loyal readers, and hopefully find something that made this make more sense.

Fortunately, there were a number of other sites more devoted to the topic, and with longer, more detailed write-ups of the issues, so here’s the summary:

In 1900, the Lacey Act helped return hunting to a for-sport hobby or for-food necessity, rather than a for-profit cash-crop mega-harvest that it had been, and the remaining hunters have had a key interest in proper wildlife management.

In 1937 the “Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration” program (referred to as the Pittman-Robertson program) was enacted and signed by FDR. This enacted that fish and hunting license fees would be used only for wildlife management and for hunting safety and training (such as setting up state-run shooting ranges).

In 1969-1972, in quick succession, an excise tax was imposed on hunting arms and ammunition as well as hunting archery equipment. This was mostly spearheaded by a prominent archery manufacturer and conservationist, Fred Bear. The archery tax was intended to be split 50/50 between the state for wildlife preservation and archery clubs for setting up instruction and shooting facilities — to help encourage the hobby. Because of a bit of politicking, the money for the archery facilities was never released, and all of it was kept by the governmental departments.

In 1997 collection this tax was moved from being at the point of retail sale (that is, at every mom & pop archery store — which was a serious headache) to further back up the supply chain at the manufacturer. Arrows, for various reasons, have to fit the individual archer and bow, and so are best assembled and finished at the point-of-sale. This tax change encouraged the continuance of point-of-sale arrow finishing.
But this specified that the tax on arrows would be on arrow components, not on finished arrows. This opened a loophole in that imported finished arrows did not have the tax assessed on them.

From 1997-2002, domestic arrow manufacturers increasingly lost market share to importers because of the unlevel playing field. ($.43M, $1.6M, $3.2M, $7.8M, $11.0M)

In 2003 the loophole was closed by taxing the first-sale of completed arrows regardless of where they are manufactured.

This eventually resulted in a $.43 tax per arrow. (Real arrows tend to cost between $5 and $10, so $.43 isn’t a huge deal.)

However, children’s practice arrows can be very cheap, even into the $.36/arrow range. This means the excise tax for these arrows is 120%! This priced archery as an activity out of the range of most youth programs when the price for the core expendable more than doubled.

Starting in 2005, a wooden arrow manufacturer in Oregon (Rose City Archery), whose business orders from youth programs had died off 40% that year, began lobbying for an exception to this tax for youth arrows. (Note: I’m not entirely sure where Rose City was getting their numbers (quoted from the link above) from here, since even their cheapest kids’ wooden arrows are $39/dozen = $3.25 per arrow ($2 per arrow for do-it-yourself), of which tax would be around 13%, still not ridiculous)

In 2008, this bill that didn’t have the weight behind it to get passed on its own, and it just sat around waiting for the right spending free-for-all to get attached to before it could pass. And now, voila! Youth archery is blooming abundantly this week and upwards of four (yep, just 4) U.S. manufacturers of wooden arrows are back in the cheap wooden arrow business! The economy is saved!

Overall, I didn’t know that hunting licenses and taxes paid for so much of the state fish & wildlife budgets. This seems proper that people benefiting should pay most of the cost.

I began thinking that the wooden arrow thing actually made -more- sense because it was correcting a fault in the tax code, and the new version would encourage youth archery, and lead to more adult archery, resulting in higher tax revenue amounts (not least of all because adult archery equipment is expensive). However, aluminum arrows were invented in 1939, and carbon arrows invented in 1983, wooden arrows are only used by “purists” and historical reenacters. Most real youth archery programs use aluminum or carbon arrows, and aren’t affected by this change.

I conclude that this is just another piece of pork for congresscritters from woody states, and won’t really have any affect at all on archery in America, except to draw a bit of attention to it from all the chatter about how ridiculous this tax exception is, especially compared to the actual matter at hand that it was tacked onto.