Austin Booth, a 35-year-old Arkansas native and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission director, has been a hunter for most of his life. He’s shot plenty of ducks, geese and upland game birds with his trusty Remington 870. He’s always gone deer hunting during gun season. But Booth had never bowhunted. People had told him to master gun hunting first and transition to bowhunting if he got bored.
For many years, Booth wasn’t bored. But he didn’t feel skilled enough to try bowhunting, either. In September 2021, he went for it — not because his hunting skills had advanced or he felt a jolt of confidence, but because life was interfering with his opportunities to go hunting.
“I’m really busy with work and have three small kids at home, but I want to deer hunt as much as possible,” he said. Problem is, the gun season in Arkansas is relatively short. On the other hand, archery season lasts from late September to the end of February. “Bowhunting can provide me with more opportunities to get in the woods when I’m free,” Booth said.
Plus, each time Booth wanted to practice shooting his gun, he had to travel across town to the gun range. However, his urban backyard provided enough room to set up an archery target and safely shoot a bow while his kids watched. With a longer season and an easier way to practice, Booth committed to becoming a bowhunter.
Booth knew he had to find an archery pro shop and buy a bow to start his journey. He researched local bow shops to determine which one had the most diverse product lineup and could help him get set up correctly. He checked reviews and made his choice.
After being greeted by a shop employee on his first visit, Booth asked for the “Remington 870 of bows.” The 870 isn’t the latest and greatest shotgun, but it’s not the most expensive, either. Plus, it’s simple and has a reliable reputation.
“I wanted something that didn’t have very many bells and whistles to get distracted with,” Booth said. “I wanted a basic bow so I could learn and stay focused on the fundamentals.”
The pro shop staff helped him set up his bow, tweaked his shooting form and sent him on his way. Then, he practiced … and practiced … and practiced.
In his spare time, Booth looked for a spot to bowhunt. As a lifelong public-land hunter, he knew where to go but realized the qualities of a good gun hunting spot don’t always match the qualities of a good bowhunting spot. Bowhunters must be within bow range and well hidden from their quarry. In such close quarters, undetected stand access for repeated hunts and an intimate knowledge of deer behavior is all the more important.
While Booth considered the qualities of a good bow spot, he also referenced two sets of data on the AGFC website to narrow his search. He checked out the maps that show wildlife management areas and which ones are open during deer season. He also looked at the deer report that outlines when and where deer were killed in each county to determine which wildlife management areas have the best harvest numbers.
After assessing the free resources, Booth chose tracts of land close to his house or workplace. That allows him to sneak out as often as possible. He scouts to identify food sources, bedding areas and travel routes and places his stands along the travel routes to catch deer moving from food to bed or vice versa.
As the AGFC director, Booth knows all state wildlife agencies publish free resources, and he hopes more hunters take advantage of them.
“State agencies have a vested interest, both culturally and financially, to make sure people get outside and enjoy the treasures of public land,” he said. States provide this information to the public to help consumers be successful so they continue to hunt annually. As a result, the state agency benefits because each time a hunter buys a license or piece of archery equipment, that money — or a portion of it — goes to support conservation and state agency efforts.
Booth has seen deer from his Arkansas setups, but he has yet to arrow one on his home turf. However, he found success on foreign soil. In early September, he was invited on a bowhunting trip to Canada, and he happily agreed. He didn’t let his beginner status get in the way of a good opportunity. “I embraced the fact that I’m a 101 bowhunter and not a 401 bowhunter,” he said.
“I embraced the fact that I’m a rookie and am OK with making mistakes or not knowing every aspect of bowhunting. I’ll let the knowledge come to me.” In the meantime, he relied on the expertise and knowledge of his hunting mentors.
On that adventure, he arrowed a 260-pound buck and a 380-pound black bear. He was amazed by how close and connected he felt to the process of hunting through using a bow and arrow and getting close to animals, as well as by the quick lethality of a broadhead.
With two bow kills under his belt, Booth is officially a bowhunting convert.
“It was so much fun,” he said. “I don’t know that I’ll ever go back to gun hunting. Maybe during the rut, but when I let that arrow go toward the deer, I thought to myself, ‘I haven’t had this much fun in a long time.’”
He said finding a credible pro shop with knowledgeable employees and regularly practicing helped him find success so quickly. He also said the most challenging part about bowhunting was overcoming the perception that it’s the next best thing.
“Feeling like I was ready for bowhunting was the hardest part (about trying it),” he said. “I viewed it as a sequential step. Once I mastered gun hunting, I should move on. That’s not a healthy way to describe any activity in the outdoors.”
He’s right. Bowhunting is always an option — for everyone, at any time. There are no prerequisites, and anyone of any age, size, ability, gender, social status or ethnic background can bowhunt with a recurve, compound or crossbow. You’ll have to pass a hunter education course and get a proper license, but once you do, there are archery seasons for a variety of game animals, big and small, as long as you abide by the rules.
Booth took steps to learn a new style of hunting and fell in love with bowhunting. You can, too, regardless of your experience — or lack thereof — with hunting. His advice for other beginners is “Don’t be overwhelmed by what you don’t know. If you want to be closer to deer and provide yourself with many more opportunities to hunt throughout the calendar year, then try bowhunting and don’t look back.”