Seven teenagers, split into two groups, quietly walked along a path carved out of some woods in Heflin Saturday.
Carrying bows and arrows, the students surveyed a deer standing motionless in the woods. Then one by one, they took aim and let loose an arrow hoping to land it in the “kill spot.” This deer, instead of falling as the arrows pierced its side, continued to stare at them even as they walked toward it with a judge to receive their scores and retrieve their arrows.
The teenagers were participating in a Northern Zone archery tournament sponsored by the Calhoun County Bowhunters Association. For the first time, the tournament was held at the Heflin Archery Park.
William Chapman, one of the organizers of the competition, said the annual tournaments have been held in a variety of places in Calhoun County including Janney Furnace in Ohatchee. But this year, the club was working with the city of Heflin Parks and Recreation Department to introduce members to the city’s park.
Tammy Perry, director of the department, said she was excited to have the tournament at the park.
The park was built in 2011, originally as an air gun range, she said. But through a partnership with the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Archery Trade Association, the department was able to expand to include archery targets, Perry said. The archery park opened on Aug. 24, 2012, she said.
Since it opened, she said the sport has really taken off in Cleburne County. Although the city doesn’t track the number of people who use it, she said, she knows people are using it nearly every weekend. The local 4-H and Boy Scouts have programs and the department has an archery program for students who use the park twice a week, Perry said. In fact the reigning Alabama Parks and Recreation Association 16-year-old champion is Colt Funderburk, from Heflin, she said.
Colt was one of the students shooting Saturday.
“It’s killing them to be so quiet,” said his dad, Marty Funderburk, as the teens moved from target to target through the course.
“He’s a natural,” the proud father said.
The 16-year-old first picked up a bow, a gift from his father, two years ago. A bowhunter himself, Marty Funderburk schooled his son in the fundamentals and brought him to the Heflin park often to practice. Then they went on a hunt and on the first day, Colt killed a deer.
“There’s people who hunt their whole lives and never hit a deer,” Marty Funderburk said.
Marty Funderburk also participated in the competition. It was his first tournament in more than 20 years, he said.
Jacksonville resident Courtney Barger, 18, took up the sport two years ago to learn how to hunt. She joined her high school’s archery team – the only left-handed shooter on the Pleasant Valley team – and has been competing in tournaments. She has yet to go hunting, though. Ben Pearson Archery, a North Carolina company, is sponsoring Barger this year.
“My bow was a 20 plus year old Pearson Bow,” Barger said. “I spoke with them at a tournament last year, and they said they had a place on the team for me.”
This year, the company provided her with a new bow. Being a walking advertisement for the company is a learning experience, she said.
Phillip Williams, 63, shot with some friends at the competition Saturday. He’s been shooting since he was 22 years old, Williams said, and he attends the tournaments to stay in shape for the hunting season.
“I go to all the BHA tournaments,” Williams said, referring to Bowhunters of Alabama. “At my age if I quit shooting, my shoulder won’t let me pick it up again.”
One of his friends, Bubba Browder, 56, from Fort Payne, said he actually likes the tournaments more than hunting.
“I like the social aspect, the competing against each other,” Browder said.
Mark Proctor, president of Bowhunters of Alabama, said tournaments are family events.
“I went on my first tournament eight years ago and never stopped,” he said.
From February to August there are tournaments every weekend across the state, he said. There are more than 30,000 bowhunters in Alabama, about 1,500 are members of Bowhunters of Alabama, Proctor said. He’s met lots of people of all ages during tournaments. It’s a sport anyone can do, Proctor said.
“You don’t have to be the fastest; you don’t have to be the strongest,” he said. “It’s not gender specific. … It’s a skill you can pick up very easily.”
You don’t even have to be a hunter, Proctor said. Although the majority of competitors in tournaments hunt, not all do.
“My wife has no interest in shooting something with fur, but she’ll shoot foam,” he said referring to the targets the tournaments use.
The tournament will continue Sunday beginning at 8 a.m.