Bruce Cull is president of the NFAA Foundations and the man responsible for leading the team of people who organize The Vegas Shoot.
You might recognize him. He’s the person wearing the jacket and speaking on the field during the championship shootdowns in the arena.
He’s also credited with making the event the size it is today. “I grew up in the 80s running an archery shop and coming to The Vegas Shoot when it was in places like the Tropicana,” says Bruce. “It was like the South Point, everything all under one roof, hotels and shooting hall and everything. And there were times in those years when we got up to over 1000 or 1500 people maybe.” When the NFAA inherited The Vegas Shoot in 1999, attendance had dipped to around 600. There were only a few sponsors still supporting the tournament and it wasn’t the biggest indoor event on the calendar in the US. Indoor nationals in Oklahoma had hit 1000 entries. “It was the camaraderie, you know, back in the old days. My vision personally was to have this camaraderie of everybody together doing all things archery for a three-day weekend,” says Bruce. “I wanted to make things clear, simple from an administration standpoint. And pay money since it’s a money shoot.” The Vegas Shoot had many names during its early days. It moved venues and, in 1999, now run by the NFAA Foundation, took place in the basement of the Sands Expo Hall. It was a challenge. The ambiance wasn’t quite there. Hotels were separate and that single focus on archery didn’t have a home.
But the event did have flights. And that was a huge draw for people wanting to compete. “I thought to myself, this is a crap shoot. It’s luck. Today, we’re sitting here with over 2000 people in the flights,” says Bruce. “To them, it’s cool. Each shooter is competing against everybody – men, women, young adults. And they’re doing it on a level playing field. And people are paid – one out of every 4 people, thereabouts. How much cooler can it get?” Over the last 20 years, The Vegas Shoot has tried, tested and evolved its way into the largest indoor archery tournament in the world. Year in, year out, registration figures set new records as the team behind the event finds new ways to make improvements. “When we gave away the 50,000 dollars for our 50th anniversary, I got my board to vote to do it once,” says Bruce. “I went back the next year and, I said, well we gave away the 50,000 and we still make a little bit of money. So I want to do 51,000 dollars next year and keep increasing it.” The Vegas Shoot was known as the proving grounds or the Superbowl of archery as far back as the 80s. “The money’s a part of it. It’s a big draw to say you’re going to pay the biggest prize in the sport,” says Bruce.
“But it’s all the other stuff, too. The craps shoot of the flights, being with everybody, the atmosphere. It’s kid-friendly, there’s so much to do. Coming to Vegas is what everyone should do once a year.” There are very few sports in which anybody can shoot alongside the world’s best. That’s possible around the world. But the concentration of elite archers and the mix of people from all backgrounds – and countries – is probably nowhere more diverse than in Vegas. “It’s a melting pot. Everyone has different reasons to be here but the real one is that they’re all archers,” says Bruce. The Vegas Shoot hit a new record for entries in 2020 with 3816. That number has increased every year for the best part of a decade. It’s racking up, slowly and surely, to the 4000 mark. “I’ve never really set a number goal. But I want to get bigger. I don’t know what that number is but I know we can get bigger and provide a better experience to everyone,” says Bruce. “As long as we can keep the experience good. Keep everybody happy with what they’re doing. That’s by far the ultimate goal.” Much of the focus in 2020 was improving the scholarship offering to youth and archers in college. The Vegas Shoot introduced a collegiate program and launched essay contests – adding to the activities outside of shooting the arrows.
It was also the first time that footage from the event was broadcast live on a national cable channel. “It’s been more than 10 years we’ve had the Indoor Archery World Series Finals and that’s been great,” says Bruce. “We bring in several 100 archers from all around the world and end up with 50, 60 countries. It’s an improvement to make it as much of a home for these people, too.” The championship shootdowns on Sunday night in Vegas fill the main arena. More than 20 archers, who shot perfect 900s for the three days, battled for the grand prize. Standing out there among them and calling the scores, like every year, was Bruce. For the most important few arrows of the weekend, he’s on the floor making sure everything runs correctly. For the event and for the archers in with a chance at collecting a huge amount of money. “When I walked out in 1999 and presented that check for 1800 dollars, I thought to myself, ’this is pathetic’. I can win this in the casino or at other events. I thought he have to improve this,” he says. “This is my baby. I don’t want to see anything slip. I enjoy being out there on the field and, as long as I can still do it, I want to do as much as I can. And I try to stay out of the way of the rest.” (Bruce doesn’t. He still drives forklift trucks, packs and unpacks trailers and whatever else he needs to during the course of the weekend.)
Planning Vegas is a year-round job. The last day and the championship shootdown is as much a celebration of achievement for the team organising it as the shooters competing. And it’s the team that’s really allowed the tournament to grow in recent years. “I was paid nothing to do this until 10 years ago. We all did it because we wanted to promote the sport. But one thing I’ve learned is that when you get to a certain size you can’t be a volunteer ay more,” says Bruce. “We only have 12 staff in our headquarters offices but probably five of them are dedicated on running The Vegas Shoot. It’s what we need.” ”Brittany is exceptional at what she does. She’s helped pick a lot of the staff, who have been incredible. And right from the beginning, the NFAA directors, officers and councilmen helped launch us in the right direction.” The Vegas Shoot is professional, through and through. It’s run by a professional team of events staff and attracts a bigger field of professional archers than any other event. But it’s everybody else that brings Vegas its soul. “There’s nothing better than seeing a 10-year-old little boy or girl come here and see the top pro or woman from wherever they are in the world and go up and interact with them,” says Bruce. “And then come back again. And again. And again. Each time with more family and friends. Until that little kid isn’t little anymore. He’s winning the pro division.”