Steven Higgs made a perfect shot on a white-tail deer with his compound bow. His pal Sean Ahlgreen followed with a flawless shot at a heavy-antlered elk.
Neither bowhunter brought home any venison. That’s the name of the shooting game at the 3-D archery range outside the J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Family Ozark Highlands Nature Center in Springdale.
Archers are welcome to bring their bows and arrows and shoot at lifelike three-dimensional animal targets set up at long and short distances. A menagerie of critters challenge shooters. Most bowhunters wouldn’t fling an arrow at a skunk, but there’s no stink when an arrow finds its mark at the skunk target.
There are deer targets, elk, black bear and wild turkey targets, 24 targets in all. Nearly any game animal a hunter might see in the Ozarks is represented at the range.
There’s no charge to shoot at the 3-D range. It’s open Tuesdays through Sundays from sunrise to sunset. No reservations are necessary for the archery range or to stroll the walking trail, but a reservation system remains in place to visit indoors.
The idea of 3-D archery is to imitate true hunting situations. Higgs of Fayetteville and Ahlgreen of Rogers are both avid bowhunters. The freezers of both men would be well stocked with venison if the deer and elk targets were the real deal.
“It’s real life practice without hurting anything except maybe your pride,” Ahlgreen said. “That’s the beauty of it.”
They followed a boardwalk that leads to each shooting area with different animal targets at each stop. Some shots are less than 10 yards while others are long-shot challenges. The longest is at a bull elk target 58 yards away.
Arrows must be tipped with practice points. Broadheads aren’t allowed. A list of safety instructions is posted at the range, situated in a meadow west of the nature center buildings.
Watching skilled archers launch artful shots may inspire others to try their hand at archery. Ahlgreen and Higgs shoot compound bows equipped with sights. Other archers are fond of wooden longbows or recurve bows.
A new shooter can get a decent compound bow outfit for around $300 and prices go up from there, Higgs said. With adequate instruction, a new shooter can start hitting targets in about 30 minutes.
“It depends on the person, how well they listen,” Ahlgreen noted. “I’d rather teach someone to shoot who’s never shot than somebody who’s developed a bunch of bad habits.”
Archery will play a big role at the nature center, said Steve Dunlap, head of the center’s education efforts. Beginner and advanced archery classes are planned. They’ll be held indoors at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Foundation marksmanship building.
Outdoors, “we plan to change the 3-D range around about every month so it’s not always the same,” Dunlap said. Some ground blinds are planned to mimic hunting situations even more. A tower is in the works that will let archers shoot from the height of a typical tree stand. Steps are planned to make it easier for hunters to reach the ground from the boardwalk and retrieve their arrows.
Higgs and Ahlgreen had high praise for the 3-D range. The targets are top quality, they said. Both like the variety of shots and the range’s boardwalk.
The far away elk is the final target on the range. Both made accurate shots, then strolled back to target No. 1 to start another round.
“I think we’ll shoot some more,” Ahlgreen said. “Sometimes it’s hard to quit.”
Plan a visit
The J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Family Ozark Highlands Nature Center is located at 3400 N. 40th St. in Springdale. From Interstate 49, exit at Wagon Wheel Road and drive east. Turn south on North 40th St. and follow it one mile to the nature center.
The center is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays.
Admission is free, but reservations are required. Make reservations at agfc.com. Reservations are not required to use the 3-D archery range or the walking trail.