As the summer heat begins to let up a bit with the passing days of August, most outdoorsman are hit with a sense of anticipation.
For the cooler temperatures can mean only two things; fall is on the way and so is the opening day of archery season for deer.
In years past, the eager hunter would dig his compound bow out of the closet, screw some practice tips onto the arrows in his quiver and head outside to let some sticks fly at a stack of hay bales in the back yard.
But this is 2008 and there's an exciting new way for bow hunters to keep their skills honed year round. And they even get a chance to leave their back yards to do so.
Meet Dwayne Spangler, president of the Izard County Stickshooters Archery Club.
Spangler and his crew have created a bow hunter's practice paradise, carved out of 20 acres just off Highway 69 Business Loop and Lacross Road in Melbourne, not too far from Cooper's Hawk Golf Course.
Where once lay an un-remarkable plot of land now lays a most-remarkable, state of the art, Archery Shooter's Association (ASA)-sanctioned 3D archery shooting course.
"The basic 3D course itself is 26 targets and they're Reinhart targets. They're very realistic with air-brushed muscle contour and the whole thing," said Spangler. "They look like the real live McCoy. They're really cool. We've got everything from a 23-pound simulated mosquito and a skunk, up to a 6-foot Grizzly bear and everything in between. Stone sheep, Catalina goats, cougars, panthers, hogs, turkey ... we've even got a 3-foot cobra and a Jackalope."
While the average hunter traipsing through the Arkansas wilderness might not run upon a cobra or a Jackalope, they would probably find the course at Izard County Stickshooters to be terrain similar to what they hunt on during the season.
"I've made this course hunt-realistic. The main trail that you walk through is cleared and bush-hogged," Spangler said. "But the lanes themselves, we left like they were. They're very realistic. And we've got nine classes that are based on the distance to the target. For example, our Novice Class is for those that might just shoot their bow once a year during bow season. They'd shoot from 30 yards back."
Sometimes a vision is borne out of simple origins and it appears the formation of the Izard County Stickshooters was one of those.
"A lot of the guys I shoot with, and my wife as well, have said for four or five years, 'Why don't you do this? Why don't you do a bow club and a range?'" said Spangler. "So in January, I said, 'You know what? I'm going to do this thing.'"
And the location in Melbourne seems to fill a gap that had been missing for area hunters wanting to shoot a course near home.
"Basically there was not anything down this way. There's Mountain Home, Moko and Highland, but nothing close to Izard County," Spangler said. "You've got shooters in Batesville and all down around Searcy that don't want to drive that far north and we're right in the middle, so it seemed ideal for here."
And apparently those hunters have had no trouble finding their way to Melbourne for the Izard County Stickshooters' first four open shoots of the year.
"The basic range at this point, on our regular shoots, have been averaging pretty close to 60 shooters. I've been tickled to death with that number," said Spangler. "It's (response to the course) been crazy so far. And this shoot in September is going to be really big. With all the phone calls I've been getting, I'll be surprised if we don't have 150 or 200 shooters. We've got shooters from as far south as Hot Springs coming to shoot this big shoot ... Conway and all through there, Jonesboro, Mountain Home ... I even got a call from Fayetteville from some interested shooters."
The Sept. 7 shoot is what Spangler calls the "Fall 2008 Bowhunter Blowout" and features over $4,000 in trophies and prizes.
"In addition to the basic 26 targets we're going to have four or five different novelty shoots. We've got an Iron Buck, we're going to do several distance shoots of like 100-120 yards," he said. "They'll be money prizes and everybody that pays to shoot the range will go home with some kind of a door prize. And we'll also give away trophies like we normally do."
Entry fee for the Sept. 7 shoot is $15 if the archer is shooting for a trophy; $12 if the shooter is just shooting the course as a practice range.
New members are welcome to join Izard County Stickshooters' Archery Club and Spangler will be on hand to answer any questions about membership at the Sept. 7 event.
"We have family and single memberships, along with a junior membership for young persons under 16 who might want to join even though their parents might not hunt," he said. "Members get a membership card, a cap, a window sticker and club ID number that gives them a 5 percent discount on anything they order at Bowhunters Superstore Warehouse. They are also invited to some club-member only shoots that we have on the course."
While the emphasis on the Sept. 7 shoot is on fun, the Izard County Stickshooters also have another goal in mind; helping the Arkansas Children's Hospital any way they can.
"That's our charity of choice. Everybody around here, either immediately or by someone close to them, has been affected by Arkansas Children's Hospital," Spangler said. "So we decided at the end of the year, when the bills were all paid, the club would take a check to Arkansas Children's Hospital. We want to do that every year."
With the opening of bow season for deer just around the corner (Oct. 1), the September shoot will be the last open shoot the Izard County Stickshooters have scheduled for 2008.
But Spangler is already drawing a bead on his next target -- the 2009 season.
"Next year we'd like to put in for state qualifiers, regional qualifiers and world qualifiers," he said. "And with the course we've got and the major sponsors we've got, we're headed in that direction. Just look at some of the big sponsors on our flyer. I've been shooting for over 10 years and dealing with a lot of these people, so it's not just been an overnight kind of thing to do this. I'm really fortunate to have a great group of board members to work with. They deserve a bunch of credit for all this. And of course, without all the great sponsors we couldn't put on an event of this size. We really appreciate them, too."
For more information on Izard County Stickshooters, call Spangler at 870-373-8098 or visit www.stickshooters.com.