Right along with the impressive increase in numbers of deer in Arkansas over the past few decades is the rise of archery hunting.
Statistics are not available on the number of people who go after deer with bows of all types, but likely the figures are just a fraction of the gun hunters. What is impressive is how archery hunting has grown and the extended opportunity — more than five month — that archers have each year.
Arkansas archery deer hunters, like deer hunters in general, vary widely. Some are outspoken in claiming they are the elite, the "real" deer hunters. Some of them do not go after deer with guns at all. Others are in the field with bows, with black powder weapons and with modern guns – anything and everything for deer hunting.
One thing you seldom find with archery users is that they just pick up a bow and go deer hunting.
Nearly anyone can learn to fire a rifle somewhat efficiently with a little practice. Not so with archery. Hours and hours of dedicated practice are needed to shoot a bow with competency. More than that, bow hunters as a whole believe that haphazard shooting at a deer is a detriment, that it leads to wounding deer and losing them with the likelihood that they will die slowly and unfound by the hunter.
Statistics of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission help get this topic of archery deer hunting into perspective.
In spite of the long season, archery accounts for a small percentage of the deer taken by hunters – around 12 percent. This percentage has been consistent for years with the sharp rise in the number of deer taken by hunters. The total deer take was more than 192,000 last year, second highest on record, and indications are than the current 2012-2013 deer season may produce an all-time record.
In 1951, the Game and Fish Commission created a seven-day archery-only deer hunt in October. There was some opposition to this, especially since deer were so scarce in much of Arkansas that quite a few areas of the state were closed to deer hunting,
Gradually through the years, archery season was increased, and the effect on the deer population was negligible. Gradually, also, wildlife biologists learned to use archery hunters as a resource. They found that many bow hunters spent long periods in the field scouting and hunting. They observed things about deer and about other wildlife.
Archery season became traditional in opening on Oct. 1 and closing at the end of February. A change came this year with the moving of the opening date to Sept. 15, making it a 5 1/2-month season, and an "oops" soon followed.
Sept. 15 was a little too early, the wildlife managers said. Some doe deer are still nursing fawns at that date. For 2013 and following years, the Game and fish Commission plans to open archery season on the last Saturday in September, sticking to its format of opening seasons on Saturdays.
When we refer to bow hunting in Arkansas, it includes the use of longbows, curve bows, the more modern compound bows and crossbows.
Some bitter arguments took place in the 1980s when crossbows were added to the full archery season. Many conventional bow users didn’t want to be associated with the crossbow people. Crossbows can be learned more quickly than other archery as a rule. But statistics have proven that crossbows are not a decimating tool as some archers feared.
In that roughly 12 percent of deer taken each year, conventional archery accounts for about 9 percent and crossbows account for about 3 percent.
Another yardstick is the classified sections of newspapers. After deer season, check to see the number of crossbows listed for sale compared to the number of compound or conventional bows.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org