Author: Cassie Gasaway
The U.S. has hundreds of bowhunter-focused groups. They vary in size, location and offerings. Some are small, with a niche audience, and focus on a specific discipline or offering. Others are large, draw multiple types of bowhunters, and work on several programs or initiatives. The Arkansas Bowhunters Association is on the latter end of that spectrum.
Founded in 1959 to ensure bowhunting continues to grow and be accepted, ABA has more than 5,000 members from multiple states and hosts and oversees numerous bowhunting-oriented events annually. President Aaron Nickson said providing bowhunters with support and the opportunity to participate in archery activities welcomes newcomers and gives current participants a place to feel at home.
ABA encourages youth archers to get into bowhunting. Photo Crdit: ABA
“Recruiting and helping hunters, especially the young kids, is important to our organization and the whole world as a hunting society,” he said. “We don’t live forever. Just like our ancestors before us, if they wouldn’t have shown us, then we wouldn’t have it now. To continue the tradition of hunting, we have to teach the new generation and get other people excited about it so we can continue the process of hunting.
“We do everything we can to get people into hunting and try to incorporate all the types of archery equipment like traditional, compound, crossbow and beginner Genesis bows,” he continued.
Nickson is a master instructor for the International Bowhunter Education Program and a certified USA Archery Level 3 coach. He and several association members got certified to provide good instruction and assistance to association members at all ABA events and programs.
ABA hosts three yearly tournaments to allow members to practice and hone their skills. Each one draws about 200-250 archers, but the numbers took a temporary dip when COVID-19 hit. The association offers family discounts to entice and encourage archers of all ages and abilities to participate. It also buys products from retailers across the state to use as giveaways and prizes. Working with local retailers simultaneously helps people become familiar with Arkansas pro shops. The May tournament is the ABA Memorial ScholarshipShoot, for which the organization awards funds to selected ABA members or their immediate family members. Since 2002, ABA has given over $35,000 to 55-plus recipients.
ABA hosts urban hunts to create more bowhunting opportunities. Photo Credit: ABA
ABA also established an urban hunt in eight cities across the state with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Members must pay a registration fee, attend an orientation, pass a proficiency test, take a bowhunter education class and possess a valid hunting license through the AGFC. Each city has a minimum age requirement and its own hunting rules and harvest protocols. Additionally, each hunter in the program must donate their first kill to the Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry program. As of Sept. 20, 2022, hunters have donated over 2,400 pounds of venison since the season opener on Sept. 1. ABA maintains relationships with deer processors in the state and shares contact information with urban-hunt participants so they can donate meat for the AHFH program. The urban hunt also offers unlimited deer tags for participants.
“Bowhunting in cities overpopulated with deer helps decrease the amount of accidents,” Nickson said. “It also gives people more hunting opportunities because there are unlimited tags. We do it ethically and morally, so no one is disturbed in the community.”
Upon request, Nickson also pairs new or first-time hunters with experienced bowhunters, who can share tips and advice to put newcomers on a path to success. ABA doesn’t have a formal mentoring program, but it regularly connects association members to promote camaraderie, resulting in lifelong archery friendships.
ABA works with the AGFC to ensure bowhunters have the most liberal hunting seasons and limits consistent with good game management practices. It also advises the agency on hunter requests and opinions regarding proposed regulations and programs.
ABA attends the ATA Trade Show to speak to manufacturers and connect with industry members. Photo Credit: ATA
The Arkansas Bowhunters Association is a nonprofit ATA member. ABA staff attend the ATA Trade Show to connect with industry members. They secure discounts and knowledge about bowhunting products from manufacturers so they can pass along savings and information to ABA members. Nickson said ABA members are always interested in new equipment and products, so members appreciate the inside knowledge obtained at the Show.
Every facet of the organization is rooted in connections and partnerships. Nickson said relationships with other groups and organizations are what make the association so productive and beneficial to its members.
“Partnerships is one of the things that archery is founded on,” Nickson said. “Everyone goes hunting with a partner so they can have bragging rights and for safety reasons. It’s the same thing with archery as a whole. We all depend on each other. For example, if ABA gets more members, retailers and manufacturers will have more customers and increased equipment demands. If every organization and state learns to partner with others, it not only helps them grow, but it helps the whole community grow.”
ABA has multiple industry connections and a robust platform to entertain, attract and support bowhunters. Nickson encourages industry members to work together and get involved with bowhunter organizations. “The best thing to do is get with your state wildlife agency and ask about hunter-based organizations or archery associations,” he said. “If there aren’t any, consider starting one.” Nickson said he’s willing to help others get started or assist them with their current efforts.
Visit the Arkansas Bowhunters Association website to get involved and learn more about the organization.