Blackbeard Island National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia celebrated its 60th year of primitive hunting in 2006. The refuge holds the oldest managed archery hunts in the National Wildlife Refuge System. During two weekends in October and December, hunters camp in tents on the refuge.
For the refuge, the archery hunts are a management tool for white-tailed deer and, even more, for the feral hogs that root up dikes and make roads on the dikes impassable. For the almost 200 hunters who participated in the 2006 hunts, bowhunting is a direct tie to nature and a return to an ancient challenge and tradition. Both the refuge and the hunters had reason to be pleased with the October hunt which had a 60 percent success rate.
The National Wildlife Refuge System encourages young people to try the sport of archery and, when they become proficient archers, bowhunting. Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma is actively involved with the National Archery in the Schools (www.nasparchery.com) program. Deep Fork NWR partnered with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, Archery Trade Association, National Wild Turkey Federation, and others, to translate indoor archery skills taught in school to an outdoor experience. One student, Casey Martel, has a disabled arm, so she cannot physically hold the bowstring. Her teacher adapted the bow with a little piece of leather on the string near the nocking point. Casey pulled the leather with her teeth to release the arrows, shooting as well as her classmates.
The Deep Fork Refuge Manager expects other refuges to participate in the school archery programs as a way to interest young people in the outdoors. Deep Fork NWR also hosts two archery hunts for deer every autumn; young hunters may participate if they have earned a Hunter Safety Certificate.
A Bowhunting Partnership
The school archery program is one of many programs actively supported by the Archery Trade Association (ATA) (www.archerytrade.org). ATA and its non-profit Bowhunting Preservation Alliance signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 2004 to 1) develop and implement of all types of archery and bowhunting programs on refuges and 2) to more effectively manage federal excise taxes, paid by archery manufacturers, that go to state wildlife agencies.
Since 1975, excise taxes paid on bows and arrows have contributed more than $320 million to state conservation programs. These taxes are collected by the Internal Revenue Service and distributed to state wildlife agencies under the USFWS Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program. States use the funds for a variety of purposes, including bowhunter education and training, urban and special hunts, support for the archery in the schools programs, and efforts to develop and maintain shooting ranges.
The MOU encourages the expansion of bowhunting, when compatible, on units of the National Wildlife Refuge System. ATA Chief Executive Officer and President Jay McAninch believes bowhunting and archery have particular value on refuges in urban areas as a wildlife management tool and for young people who have fewer opportunities to interact with nature. McAninch also believes school archery programs “entice kids to a refuge to have fun shooting arrows while they are introduced to a whole new world.”
Sumpter Cassels, III, recalls his first archery hunt at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina in 1961 when he was 11 years old. “I was basically the firewood boy, oyster boy. The old men used to run me ragged.” Cassels’ father attended the first refuge archery hunt in 1957. In keeping with the tradition, Cassels has brought his son, Brandon, and Scout troops to the island. “It’s just a kind of family event. They just like it so much,” he says.
“Generation by generation is how we keep something like this going,” Cassels maintains, “That, and thanks to the federal government for wanting to keep it going.”