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Urban archery hunters see early success in Arkansas

HEBER SPRINGS — Last week’s rain didn’t dampen the spirits of many archers looking to score an early-season archery deer during Arkansas’s 2020-21 urban archery season. As of Monday morning, 174 deer had been checked through the AGFC’s online checking system by hunters who passed the hunt’s requirements and got in the stand for some September hunting.

Joey Ring, a 22-year-old hunter from Quitman was one of the many hunters who hung a stand within the city limits of one of Arkansas’s urban hunt areas last week. He also was one of the few to hang tough during the rainstorms of opening morning to score his first deer of the year, an eight-point buck still in velvet.

“I got in the woods in the dark, but I could see the storm coming,” Ring said. “When this deer showed up, all you could see was his outline whenever lightning from far off would light up the sky for a split second. I didn’t want to climb down and spook him off, so I had to wait in that tree until there was enough light for legal shooting time to get him. I got lucky that he hung around long enough and made the shot.”

Although Ring has hunted since he was a child and harvested his first deer with a bow at age 11, this is only the second year he has participated in Arkansas’s urban archery hunts. But after the success he saw last year, he was hooked.

“Me and four of my buddies heard about the hunts and started researching it last year,” Ring said. “We drove through Heber Springs and saw a bunch of deer, and we thought we should get in on it.”

That excessive amount of deer in some areas of the state is the reason behind the concept of urban hunts. It may seem like a good problem to have, but too many deer in one area can become an issue with private landowners by destroying landscaping and becoming a hazard to motorists and cyclists. In suburban and urban environments that prevent hunting, these deer issues can become downright dangerous because of increased deer-vehicle collisions.

Reducing nuisance populations isn’t the only way these hunts benefit the community. Hunters are required to donate their first deer taken during these hunts to Hunters Feeding the Hungry, a nonprofit organization that provides meat to food banks throughout the state as well as protein-rich snack sticks for underprivileged children in many school districts. Quite a few hunters like Ring donate even more than what is required.

“I was able to take four deer during last year’s hunts and gave three away,” Ring said. “I donated two to Hunters Feeding the Hungry, and I gave one directly to a local family I knew that was seeing some hard times. It’s a great program and I want as many people to benefit from it as possible.”

Ring’s found a new way to help someone out through the urban hunts this season already. He’s donated that deer, except the head, which is at Blackfoot Taxidermy to be turned into a European mount, but he also decided to use the urban hunts to help a fellow hunter with her first archery deer.

One of Ring’s friends, Summer Reynolds, joined him the second day of the season.

“She’s harvested a few deer, but we got her into bowhunting this year,” Ring said. “She’s been hard at it, practicing, and she qualified for the urban hunts during orientation, too.”

That practice was rewarded in spades, as Summer scored her first archery deer, a doe, during that hunting day with Ring. She then managed to take a buck two days later that any hunter would be proud of. It’s hard to tell which hunter’s smile is bigger in the pictures posted on social media.

“There’s really no downside to the hunts,” Ring said. “The orientation is easy if you have practiced and are familiar with a bow. The only hard part really is finding places to hunt.”

While many urban bow hunts are held in towns that have common areas that are open to hunting and provided on maps, Heber Springs is mostly private land, so Ring has had to knock on many doors to ask permission to hunt some properties.

“I’ve asked well over 50 people, and so far I’ve been fortunate enough to have two places the landowner will let me hunt,” Ring said. “But I’ve been able to make the most of those places and am very thankful that I’ve been given the opportunity.”