Near the pond on the other side of the road, a small bear is watching the cars drive by. But on closer inspection, a bull’s-eye can be spotted on each figure, imprinted in what would be the “kill-zone” of a live animal. The animal targets, made from spongy material, have been set up for an archery tournament this weekend sponsored by the Calhoun County Bowhunters, the local branch of Bowhunters of Alabama.
This is one of the last tournaments of the year, said Ross McGlaughn, president of the Calhoun County organization. Tournament season starts in February and runs through about August, he said. Bowhunting season starts in October, and most competitors will be giving up the animal targets for living animals once the season opens.
The tournaments help bowhunters keep in practice outside of hunting season and it’s also just fun, said Randall Toney, who was helping people register for the tournament. He started holding the tournaments about three years ago. A teacher and coach at Ohatchee High School, he learned hunting from his father and grandfather, and started bowhunting in his teens.
“I got introduced to BHA through one of my athlete’s dads,” Toney said.
“I enjoy both of them,” he said, referring to tournaments and hunting. “I think they’re both beneficial.”
The tournaments offer fellowship with other hunters and a chance to learn. Hunters learn from each other at the tournaments, but they also learn from practicing with challenging targets where nothing gets hurt, Toney said, and that allows hunters to learn to harvest the animals more quickly.
That’s something important to all hunters, McGlaughn said. A hunter doesn’t want to injure an animal only to have it escape and suffer needlessly, he said.
“It keeps us awake at night, if you make a bad shot on a deer and you can’t recover that animal,” McGlaughn said. “That’s one of the main reasons I guess everybody does this is to make sure you can put that animal down in a matter of seconds.”
McGlaughn estimates the tournament will attract 200 shooters. The hunters move around the course in groups of two or three, usually, but it can be up to five, to shoot at 20 targets. They are scored based on where they hit the bull’s-eye. Hitting the animal anywhere gives the shooter five points. The middle of the bull’s-eye is 12 points. One ring out is 10 points and down from there. The tournament shooters refer to scores using 200 — or all ten point shots — as an average. For instance, one bull’s-eye shot and a shooter is two up, McGlaughn said. If a shooter scores one eight point shot, he or she is two down.
The shooters can win tournaments and they also get points for each tournament they can use for regional awards.
Cole Bannister, who was at the tournament with his father, David Bannister, is the Northern Zone Champion for the state association and is headed to the Central Zone Championship after the Janney Furnace tournament. His father has been bowhunting since 1984 and taught his sons the sport.
“I wanted to hunt with my daddy,” Cole Bannister said, adding that bowhunting allowed him to deer hunt earlier.
Bowhunters are allowed to hunt earlier because they need to get closer to the deer than a hunter using a rifle, McGlaughn said. A bow and arrow is considered a “primitive” hunting weapon under the law. That means shooters do not need a license to use them, said John Champion, owner of Champion Archery on Alabama 202.
Although they are considered primitive hunting weapons, the bows can have advanced technology on them. Some have sights, much like a rifle sight. They can have stabilizers — bars on the front and back to balance them. They have levels and pins — markings that allow a hunter to aim by estimated distance. The weight of the pull-back on the string can be adjusted — the norm is 50 pounds to 70 pounds — but it can be adjusted lower depending on the strength of the user.
And they can be very accurate when hunting. Ricky Martin, who has participated in the tournaments for more than a decade, said he takes in an average of four deer a year.
“My wife will only let me bring in two or three,” Martin said. “She said that’s all the freezer room she has.”
He donates the others to local food banks, Martin said.
Martin, and his friend Champion, area representative for Archery Shooters Association, are just back from a national tournament in Metropolis, Ill.
Champion and his five brothers started shooting with a bow when they were kids, then started hunting. In 1989, he said, he bought the shop, which was going out of business, for himself and his son to run.
“It’s a good family sport,” Champion said.