Aug. 11, 2021
Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications
LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas’s archery deer season opens Sept. 25. That may seem like a lifetime away for some dyed-in-the-wool hunters, but it’s a blink of an eye if you haven’t gotten your archery equipment and focus prepared. Now’s the perfect time to test your equipment and skills to be deadly accurate this season when you climb in the treestand or ground blind for the first time.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has 20 ranges around the state that are available free of charge for archers to hone their abilities and build confidence with their equipment. Curtis Gray, Arkansas National Archery in the Schools Program coordinator who oversees the ranges, said the idea is to offer that next step from shooting bows in a classroom to getting outdoors and fully enjoying the sport of archery.
“It’s not just for the kids either,” Gray said. “There’s been a growing interest in archery for the last 10 years and we really saw a spike of new archers when COVID hit last year. The outdoors is sort of that old penny everyone found again and polished up like new.”
Gray says many of the ranges on AGFC wildlife management areas have bag targets at known distances, but ranges at AGFC nature centers and the AGFC’s shooting range at Mayflower have a variety of 3D targets to enjoy.
“3D archery offers a real-world look at what a hunter will shoot at, so it’s a great way to sharpen your skills and really get to know where you need to put that arrow during hunting season,” Gray said. “And it’s just plain fun, even if you’re not going to chase the real thing out in the woods this year. We have a lot of archery enthusiasts who just want to shoot at something other than a bull’s eye target, and our 3D targets give them that chance.”
Gray says COVID may have inadvertently helped archery enthusiasts in central Arkansas in another way this year. This year’s ANASP championship shoot for schools throughout the state had to be conducted virtually because of social-distancing protocols, but the money that normally would have gone to that event was still available.
“We were able to use that money and some additional funds from our Wildlife Management Division to improve the field ranges at the Camp Robinson Special Use Area in Mayflower,” Gray said. “We got some gravel on the trails and dressed up those ranges for the folks that have shoots out that way. We also were able to order new bag targets and replacement vitals sections for the 3D targets at the range next to the shooting range clubhouse just down the road.”
Gray says he has plans for even more ranges at other locations throughout the state, but materials shortages have slowed construction on some of the new archery facilities.
“With the new 3D range at the Northwest Arkansas Nature Center in Springdale, we have facilities within an hour or so drive from just about anywhere in the state. But I’m always looking for partners to expand the program even further.”
Gray advises hunters looking to get ready for the season to make a few mental notes and preparations to get their game ready for the opening day.
“Practice like you’re going to play,” Gray said. “I know it’s hot, but take a minute or two to put on the coat or shirt you’re going to wear when the season rolls around in September. I always see guys shoot all summer in shorts and a T-shirt, then talk about struggling when their shooting form changes because of the bulk of a jacket or pair of binoculars.”
Gray also tells archers to really get in tune with their yardage estimation, or prep the area around their stands before the hunt. Archers must adjust their range to a difference of only a few yards, and the wrong estimation can mean a wounded or lost animal.
“Take a minute to know your distances before the shot opportunity comes,” Gray said. “That laser rangefinder is great to use to get some marks in the woods, but it will be too much to deal with when a deer is right in front of you. Heck, I’ve even stuck a few sticks in the ground at known yardages so I know when that deer crosses a certain point what distance they’re at. The deer won’t notice a stick in the ground.”
Gray’s last bit of advice to bowhunters is to thoroughly inspect their stands and harnesses before the season opener to make sure everything is in good working order. If the stand has been up all year, replace the straps holding it to the tree or replace the stand altogether.
“Squirrels and rats will chew up straps, and stands that have been out in the weather all year can be weakened,” Gray said. “We’re only talking about a few extra dollars on new straps and a little extra time before the season compared to being seriously hurt, paralyzed or even killed from a treestand fall if the equipment suddenly fails. It shouldn’t take any convincing to know which is the right choice there.”