By John Felsher
Photos courtesy of the Bowhunters of Alabama, Inc.
The Alabama deer season ends Feb. 10 or sooner, depending where one hunts and how, but that doesn’t mean that bowhunters must put down their equipment until next fall. After deer season ends, archers can still hunt hogs and coyotes on private lands all year long or hunt small game until March 7.
Archers can also participate in competitive events using life-size three-dimensional targets shaped like deer, bears, cougars, pigs, alligators and other animals. From February through October, the Bowhunters of Alabama hold periodic archery shoots for prizes and bragging rights.
A two-day shoot will take place Feb. 20-21 at 318 County Road 214 near Maplesville close to the Chilton-Bibb county line. Run by the Chilton County chapter of BHA, registration begins at 8 a.m. Shooting will continue through about 5 p.m. each day. Competitors pay an entry fee, but spectators can watch for free.
“We will have three scheduled shoots this year,” says Hugh Nichols with the Chilton County chapter of BHA. “We anticipate hosting about 80 shooters. Shoots are open to all ages for anyone who wants to come out and participate. We’ll have different classes for different skill levels.”
Registered shooters run through the course in groups of four. At each station, competitors shoot one arrow at the target. Where the arrow hits determines the score for that station. Different classes of skill levels shoot from varied distances.
“When a shooter registers for the course, that archer is given a scorecard similar to a golfing card,” Nichols says. “Everybody in that class has to shoot from the same spot, but novice and youth divisions shoot closer to the target. People can participate in shoots throughout the season and elevate to higher levels of competition. Competitive tournament shooting has a following. We have shooters coming in from Tennessee and other states and throughout Alabama to participate.”
BHA chapters in three zones will hold similar shoots throughout the state in coming months. Such 3D shoots simulate hunting and can give archers great off-season practice. Even when not competing in tournaments, many bowhunters periodically visit local archery ranges to shoot for fun and to hone their skills.
“I’m not an avid hunter,” Nichols says. “I’ve been in the club and shooting my traditional recurve bow for a couple years. What really impressed me is the fact that a husband, wife and the kids can show up to participate in this kind of event as a family outing. It warms my heart to see that fellowship in an outdoor sport that the whole family can enjoy. Archery is something that anybody can do.”
Some people shoot simple recurve bows or longbows. Other archers prefer compound bows with optical sights and other high-tech accessories. Some people like to shoot crossbows. Once archers purchase their equipment, they can practice nearly anywhere at any time for almost no cost.
Hundreds of teens across Alabama participate in high school archery programs. The best ones can earn scholarships to shoot for university teams. Besides encouraging archers of all ages to take up the sport, BHA also helped get laws passed to allow special archery seasons and designated areas for bowhunting. They also lobbied for the legalization of equipment such as tree stands, which many deer hunters commonly use.
“When we first started Bowhunters of Alabama in 1965, our main mission was to organize bowhunters,” recalls Larry McAfee, a founding member of the 700-member organization. “At that time, we asked the state for either-sex deer seasons and to allow the use of tree stands for deer. We also wanted special bowhunting opportunities on public lands.”
Many sportsmen start bowhunting because they want a bigger challenge or more days afield. In addition, archers can hunt many places where people would never think to fire a high-powered rifle because of safety concerns. On many small suburban wood lots or other tiny patches of wilderness, large bucks might go their entire lives without ever seeing a hunter. And some public lands only allow archery or very limited gun hunting.
“For the past decade or so, we’ve been able to hunt deer with bows on Oak Mountain State Park to trim the herd,” McAfee says. “Gun hunters can’t get in there. We’re quiet and efficient. We’re very safe.”
For more information about BHA and archery tournaments, visit bowhuntersofalabama.org. For more information on the Chilton County event, call 334-407-1630.
John N. Felsher is a professional freelance writer who lives in Semmes, Ala. He also hosts an outdoors tips show for WAVH FM Talk 106.5 radio station in Mobile, Ala. Contact him at email@example.com or through Facebook.