Introduction to archery class sparks hunting transformation in Northeast Arkansas family
JONESBORO — All in.
That’s the only way to describe Dr. Hetal Patel after her first Introduction to Archery class held at the Forrest L. Wood Crowley’s Ridge Nature Center in Jonesboro. Since that first release of a bowstring, she’s had successful hunts for squirrel and deer, processed and cooked her own game, and has even brought her son and father-in-law into the fold of outdoors enthusiasts. What’s even more amazing is that this amazing journey began less than six months ago.
“I’ve witnessed many success stories in my time as an educator at the [Forrest L. Wood Crowley’s Ridge Nature Center] and working with new hunters, but Hetal’s story is the most memorable story I’ve had to date,” Elizabeth Kimble, education coordinator for the AGFC, said at the AGFC’s Nov. 29 Commission meeting in Jonesboro.
Patel was raised in a vegan household, so the obstacles to overcome were much more than a lack of outdoors knowledge. She was literally going against the grain of her upbringing.
“I was always interested in hunting and fishing, but eating meat was not allowed in our culture or religion, so it was not something my family would even entertain as I was growing up,” Patel said. “Even though they aren’t necessarily supportive of hunting and fishing itself, they see how happy it makes me now and are beginning to come around.”
Patel says the tipping point for her came from social media posts from a friend who was involved in some of the programs the AGFC offered.
“I started following the posts and into the rabbit hole I went,” Patel said. “In early June I joined a basic class on how to shoot a bow and arrow. I wasn’t even really focused on the hunting part of it at the time.”
Patel met Kimble at the program and immediately hit it off. Kimble introduced her to archery using the same bows students use while participating in the AGFC’s Archery in the Schools Program. The AGFC’s Outdoor Skills Patch Program also added some motivation beyond simply drawing a bowstring and hitting a target.
“That badge program made it very rewarding,” Patel said. “Just in that first day I spent with Elizabeth, I got my beginner badge and intermediate rocker in archery. She asked me if I was interested in an upcoming handgun shooting class geared specifically for women, and I couldn’t wait to join.”
After participating in the handgun class, Patel went on to excel in a shotgun course and many others. Her husband also began to build his knowledge in recreational shooting with the AGFC. According to Kimble, the Patels have participated in archery, shotgun, rifle and handgun shooting, squirrel camps, deer camps and the fall event for the AGFC’s Becoming an Outdoors-Woman Program. They’re also regulars at the nature center’s Fishing Fridays, and Patel has taken her daughter to the AGFC’s Reel Girls Fish Camp as well.
“For the girls fish camp, my daughter ended up inviting four other friends who were just as over-the-moon excited as my daughter was about this opportunity,” Patel said. “[Kimble] made sure there was space for all of them and I hope to continue to see this type of change and involvement within our community; not only for our youth but for men and women alike.”
Patel even recounted a story about being at a sporting goods store and having a conversation with someone about shot size selection for a goose hunt she planned to attend soon.
“My daughter looked up at me and said, ‘Wow mom, you know so much about so many things,’” Patel said. “You can’t imagine how much joy that brought me. Hunting has brought me a whole new type of medicine that can never be prescribed.”
Since Patel’s introduction to hunting, her son, Naveen, has also taken up archery and plans to try out for his school’s archery team in the Valley View School District. He even managed to draw a deer-hunting permit for the special youth deer hunt held at Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge and Potlatch Cook’s Lake Nature Center in Casscoe in November. Hetal could not be there for this hunt, so she enlisted her father-in-law to join his grandson for the first deer hunt either had ever attended. Not only did they have a great hunt, but Naveen bagged a trophy-class buck that will soon be mounted and placed in the Patel home.
“We’ve got a special room in the house where we’re keeping our trophies,” Patel said. “My family and other guests still have some hesitation about our hunting passion and I want to be respectful of that and not force anything on anyone, but we’re very proud of our experience and growth as hunters.”
Patel says the list of mentors who have helped on her journey is too long to name everyone, but she wants each and every one of them to know how much of an impact they’ve had on her and her family’s lives.
“Bill [Haynes] was fantastic with introducing us to firearms, Wil Hafner, Lori Bailey and Wayne Anderson at Casscoe also were instrumental in helping me learn for squirrel hunting and deer. Aimee Swaim, Lauren Cannon and Morgan Gantt were mentors during my hunts, too.
“I also have to thank Joe Huggins, the AGFC Hunter Education instructor who was there for my deer hunt. After my shot, the deer ran off and after a 2-hour blood trail, I felt so defeated. I was almost in tears, but he said I wasn’t going to sleep until we got that deer and brought in blood-trailing dogs to find my deer. And of course Elizabeth [Kimble]; her encouragement from the beginning really motivated me and kept me excited about the next step. Most of all, she built confidence in me and my family in something we were totally new at.”
Classes like the ones that welcomed the Patel family into the outdoors are always being scheduled at the AGFC’s nine nature centers around the state. For more information on each center’s offerings and social media feeds, visit their webpage through www.agfc.com/naturecenters.
Dr. Hetal Patel of Jonesboro (second from left, rear) and a fellow mentored hunt participant (Sarah Woodson) pose with their mentors Morgan Gantt (far left, front) and Joe Huggins (far right) before a deer hunt in early November. Photo courtesy of Hetal Patel.
In addition to hunting, Patel learned how to process and prepare wild game for the kitchen, which she has incorporated in many dishes from her own background. Photo courtesy of Hetal Patel.
WOMEN WITH DOVE
Patel (left) with one of her mentors, Morgan Gantt, and a dove she was able to harvest during one of her first hunting experiences. Photo courtesy of Hetal Patel.
GIRL WITH FISH
Keera Patel poses with a fish she caught at the Crowley’s Ridge Reel Girls Fish Camp. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Kimble.
BOY WITH DEER
Dr. Hetal Patel’s son, Naveen, harvested this impressive mature white-tailed deer during a mentored hunt in Casscoe held by the White River Refuge and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Photo courtesy of Hetal Patel.
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