National bowhunter group has strong local tie

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 139 views 

story and photos by Roy Hill

Every year, almost 60,000 people take the classes offered by the 5,000 active instructors of the National Bowhunter Education Foundation. Eleven states require hunters to complete one of those classes before they can go afield during bow season.

The NBEF headquarters are in Fort Smith, inside the small home office in Marilyn Bentz’s Fianna Hills home. Bentz, who has been the NBEF executive director since 2003, also works with the overseas branches of the Foundation.

“We have probably several hundred instructors overseas and several thousand people taking our classes, but it’s a smaller number over there than here,” she said.

Bentz spent more than 30 years with various archery companies before becoming the executive director of NBEF in 2003.

“I served on the Board of Directors for NBEF from 1996 until 2003,” Bentz said. “The executive director quit, and we all agreed that we needed to do things differently in order to cut our costs. One way was for the executive director to have a home office and have fulfillment center to ship all our materials.”

The fulfillment center for the NBEF is in Rochester, N.Y. The NBEF operates as a non-profit and gets most of its funding from course material sales.

“We are the epitome of a 501c3,” Bentz said. “Whether it’s tree stand safety materials or distance learning, or course materials. We are also getting into retail education — like giving a tree stand safety course to a retail associate who works in a store that sells tree stands. Donations have never been huge for us.”

The mission statement of the NBEF is “to promote responsible bowhunting through education.” While some other states require the course, the only Arkansas hunters who must complete the NBEF course are those participating in the recently-established urban hunts to cull whitetail deer populations in developed areas.

“Arkansas is real fortunate to have all the opportunities for hunting and fishing,” Bentz said. “Urban hunts are probably the best opportunity for people in urban areas to try out bowhunting.”

Bull Shoals was the first Arkansas community to have an urban hunt, and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s website lists Cherokee Village, Heber Springs, Horseshoe Bend, and Hot Springs Village as communities holding urban hunts for the 2010-2011 deer season.

Bentz says that for the last 20 years, the number of American bowhunters has held fairly steady at around three million. But she sees the chance for those numbers to dramatically increase in the future.

“In the 1990’s we did experience a sharp increase, and we could see that again within five years because of the National Archery in the Schools program. There are over 15 million NASP participants in all 50 states,” Bentz said. “There are several other countries also with NASP: Canada, Australia, New Zealand. It’s been wonderfully successful.”

Bentz volunteered as a tournament official at the NASP national championship in Louisville, Ky., where more than 7000 students from elementary to high school competed. Bentz points to the large turn out for the Arkansas NASP state match held in Hot Springs, where 1,544 students took the firing line.

“It’s wonderful,” Bentz said. “Students won’t miss school when PE class is archery. It keeps them interested. And we hope to see that transition into future bowhunters. One-third to 40 percent are either already interested in bowhunting, or want to take part in it”

According to Bentz, several local schools — Alma, Fort Smith, Van Buren, and Mountainburg — participate in NASP at different levels.

A large increase in hunters would also add to the overall economic impact of bowhunting. According to an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, American bowhunters spent an estimated $13 billion on retails sales per year.

One of NBEF’s most high-profile campaigns is Project Stand, which focuses on tree stand safety for hunters.

“More people are injured by tree stand accidents than by firearms in hunting accidents,” Bentz said. “Tree stand safety is taken really lightly. It’s rarely equipment failure, but human error and the failure to use safety equipment. Around 80 percent of people say “‘I’m not going to have an accident. It won’t happen to me.’”

Joe Huggins, hunter education coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, says there have been 26 tree stand accidents reported in Arkansas since the 2007 hunting season, resulting in two deaths. The numbers include people hunting with gun, crossbow, and archery.

“It’s a multi-faceted campaign,” Bentz said. “We do news releases, advertisements in magazines, and the website. Pope and Young is a huge supporter. They give us two full pages in their newsletter. We do give-away activities, and we have the tree stand safety instructor program.”

According to Bentz, the tree stand safety instructor program is eight hours of instruction — four hours in the classroom and four hours practicing with tree stand equipment.

“It’s sort of a train-the-trainers program,” Bentz said. “Most of our tree stand instructors are already Hunter Education or Bowhunter Education instructors, and they train more instructors.”

Thus far, NBEF has certified around 300 tree stand safety instructors nationwide.

While NBEF travel takes up much of her time, Bentz and her husband Richard still enjoy bowhunting themselves when they can.

“We are meat hunters. We eat what we kill, “Bentz said.

She hunts mostly whitetail deer, but does have a mounted Osceola turkey in her living room that she took in Florida in between NBEF activities there. But she didn’t use a bow to harvest the turkey.

“I grabbed the biggest gun I could find off the rack,” Bentz said.

One bowhunting trophy in her house that holds special meaning for Bentz is a stuffed squirrel, taken near St. Louis, Mo, by famous champion archer Ann Weber Hoyt.

“Ann Weber Hoyt shot that squirrel with a bow in 1971,” Bentz said. “She was Earl Hoyt’s wife, and Earl started Hoyt Archery. I was part of a group of women in the industry who went bowhunting together, and Ann was still hunting when she was 79 or 80. She wanted us all to have something of hers, and I told her I wanted that squirrel.”

Bentz hopes many others decide to experience archery and bow hunting for themselves.

“If they think they want to try it, they should try some target shooting first, especially if they haven’t shot before, or don’t have experience in the shooting sports. But they should try just shooting targets first.”