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Record participation in Big Squirrel Challenge defies Arctic blast

BY Jim Harris

ON 01-18-2024

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YELLVILLE — The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s third Big Squirrel Challenge drew 139 teams statewide at 12 sites over last weekend, but the biggest of the squirrels seem drawn to Yellville, where the overall winners in every division brought their bags to the AGFC’s Fred Berry Crooked Creek Nature Center and claimed top prize.

Tate Milligun and Emet Moore turned in a bag of fox squirrels totaling 2,401 grams to claim the Youth Fox-only Division and also the biggest bag of any pair of hunters statewide. Taylor Biggs and Justin Cochran were the overall winners in the Adult Fox-only category, hauling their 2084-gram bag into Crooked Creek Nature Center. Other overall winners there were Will and Misty James in the Adult Mixed Bag Division with 1865 grams and Sophia Layton and Hank Duran in the Youth Mixed Bag Division, with a 1910-gram bag.

Twenty-one teams brought in their harvest at Yellville, the most of any site. Jonesboro had 18 teams along with 64 total participants, the most in the state.

Fort Smith had 13 teams participating but was right behind Yellville in terms of bag weight in several categories. Jack Ishii and Lyle Smith were just edged out by the Biggs-Cochran duo in the overall standings of Adult Fox-only, but their 2050 grams won their division in Fort Smith over Jeremy Slaten and Steve Hunt by a mere 10 grams. Ishii and Smith also bested the field in Fort Smith in the Adult Mixed Bag with 1725 grams, while Jayden Ishii and Ariyen Xia Chokbengboun were best in the Youth Mixed Bag Division in Fort Smith with 1826 grams.

Hunters took to the woods from noon Friday to noon Saturday, with up to two people making up a team and pursuing bushytails during regular hunting hours, then bringing their harvest to one of the 12 sites. Individual youths could hunt with an adult mentor in their divisions.

The Big Squirrel Challenge began in May 2021 at one location, the J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Family Ozark Highlands Nature Center in Springdale, before being expanded in January 2022 to a statewide event. Hunters could harvest their legal limit of 12 squirrels per person, but only the top three squirrels, skin on and field-dressed, were weighed at the end of the event, and each squirrel could only be weighed once — meaning, squirrels weighed in the fox-only division could not be weighed again in the mixed bag grouping. When the weigh-in was done, all squirrels were returned to the hunters to enjoy at the dinner table.

Each regional first- and second-place team received medals. The statewide overall winners received additional prizes. Door prizes were also awarded at each weigh-in facility during the event.

Regional Winners, Division, Total Grams per Bag

Batesville, Paul H. Willmuth Shooting Sports Complex: Hank Chriswell and Shane Hiter, Adult Mixed, 1463; Philip and Payton Duncan, Youth Fox-only, 1695; Donnie and William Horton, Youth Mixed, 1772.

Columbus, Rick Evans Grandview Prairie Nature Center: Chad Rader and Cameron Tatom, Adult Mixed, 1779; Braiden Friend and Karson Pach, Youth Mixed, 1231.

Fort Smith, Arkansas River Valley Nature Center: Jack Ishii and Lyle Smith, Adult Fox-only, 2050; Jack Ishii and Lyle Smith, Adult Mixed, 1725; Hunter and Matthew Moore, Youth Fox-only, 2008; Jayden Ishii and Ariyen Xia Chokbengboun, Youth Mixed, 1826.

Jonesboro, Crowley’s Ridge Nature Center: Jacob and Josh Wicker, Adult Fox-only, 1912; Ethan King and Haylee Nye, Adult Mixed, 1597; Jake Johnson-Luke Tarlton, Youth Fox-only, 2087; Colin Kifer, Beau Dooley, Youth Mixed, 1617.

Magnolia,  SAU Laney Farm: Benson and Benson, Adult Mixed, 1594; Clark and Cupples, Youth Fox-only, 2234; Goodgion and Goodgion, Youth Mixed, 1707.

Mayflower, Camp Robinson Shooting Range: Willie Elliott-James  Harris, Adult Mixed, 1616; Timothy Paulette-Elijah Paulette, Youth Mixed, 1790.

Mike Freeze Wattensaw WMA Headquarters: Trey Munger and Steve Stublefield, Adult Fox-only, 1897; Phillip Skipper, Adult Mixed, 1506; Zack and Zane Lovett, Youth Fox-only, 1859; Anthony and Addyson Elliott, Youth Mixed, 1447.

Monticello, AGFC Southeast Regional Office: Michael Dodson, Adult Mixed, 1627; Nick Chapman, Youth Mixed, 1490.

Russellville, AGFC West Central Regional Office: Clay Titsworth and Jesse Johnson, Adult Fox-only, 579; David Burgener, Adult Mixed, 1501.

Pine Bluff, Delta Rivers Nature Center: Michael Ware, Adult Fox-only, 1698; Michael Ware, Adult Mixed, 1464; Cooper and Reese Stron, Youth Fox-only, 1305; Alex and Mattox Watkins, Youth Mixed, 1352.

Springdale, Ozark Highlands Nature Center: Terry Cloud, Adult Fox-only, 1198; Kraig Rutherford-Cameron Clark, Adult Mixed, 1817; Colton Hendrix-Chris Hendrix, Youth Fox-only, 1939; Brady Cotton-Bentley Cotton, Youth Mixed, 1747.

Yellville, Crooked Creek Nature Center: Taylor Biggs and Justin Cochran, Adult Fox-only,  2084; Will and Misty James, Adult Mixed, 1865; Tate Milligun and Emet Moore,  Youth Fox-only, 2401; Sophia Layton and Hank Duran, Youth Mixed, 1910.

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