Youth Shooting championship continues tremendous growth

LONOKE - Teams from Harrisburg swept the top spots Friday and Saturday at the Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program championships at the Remington Gun Club. The AYSSP is sponsored by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

"It went better than ever," said Mike Bonds, assistant chief of the AGFC Education and Outreach Division. "It was a smooth event."

Regional competitions were held each weekend in May at the Remington Gun Club with 400--600 participants each day. The top 64 junior (grades 6--8) and senior (grades 9--12) teams qualified to compete for the state championship. About 4,200 youth participated; about 2,400 were involved last year.

In the senior division, Harrisburg Hornets AAA won first place and a $7,500 team scholarship. Huntsville Squad One took second place and a $5,000 scholarship. The Mountain Home Bombers Bomb Squad won third place and a $2,500 scholarship. The Searcy Claybusters, seeded 14 in the 16--team field, finished fourth.

The top three junior division teams were the Harrisburg Hornets Squad A in first place, Ozark Youth Shooting Team Junior Gold in second and Southside Skeeters (Bee Branch) in third. The top three teams won prizes.

"We're just thrilled to death," said Steve Johnson, coach of Huntsville Squad One. "We've been fortunate the past two years to win. We were happy to win the runner--up position."

Several new elements were part of championship weekend. Shooters may qualify for the Junior Olympics if they do one of the following: shoot 24 of 25 targets in the junior division, hit 48 of 50 targets in the senior division or qualify as one of the top 32 squads in the division. Representatives from USA Shooting and colleges across the country were on hand to attract youth and further the sport of shooting. Graduates of the hunter safety course entered to win prizes.

AGFC Shooting Sports Coordinator Chuck Woodson applauded the championship's organization and said he was pleased with the results.

"Since we are the No. 1 tournament in the nation, a lot of shooting entities have come out of the woodwork," Woodson said. "There's no other state that has 4,000 shooters in one group. This is one of the greatest retention and recruitment tools there is.

"It's just a good, safe sport to get into. There's no other sport where a 9--year--old and a 90--year--old can compete at the same level."

The AYSSP is open to any youth. They learn to safely operate a firearm and acquire respect for one another.

"Just about everybody can participate in the program on some level," Bonds said. "The kids are great. I'm always impressed by their maturity and their attention to safety."

Buffalo River Elk Festival features management workshop

JASPER -- Jasper and Newton County residents are busy preparing for their annual Buffalo River Elk Festival. The festival is scheduled to begin Friday, June 26, and continue through Saturday, June 27. This year, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will hold an elk summit workshop during the celebration. The award winning festival began in 1998 to celebrate the successful reintroduction of elk to Newton County and has been an annual event every year since.

The highlight of the festival is the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission drawing for elk hunting permits. The drawings and most of the activities will be at the courthouse square in Jasper with a kids' fishing derby on the banks of the Little Buffalo River. This year the elk summit workshop will be held at the festival. It will be the culmination of the months--long effort to design a management plan for Arkansas's elk herd. The elk summit workshop will be held at the Arkansas House in Jasper from 10 a.m. to 12 noon.

Thousands of hopeful elk hunters applied for the permits for this year's hunt. The public land elk hunt dates are Zones 1, 2, 3, 4: Sept. 21--25 and Dec. 7--11, Private land elk hunts are Zones A, Sept. 21--25 and Dec. 7--11, Zone B and Zone 4, Dec. 7--11.

The drawing for the public land permits will be on Saturday, June 27, at the Newton County Courthouse Square in Jasper, near the Buffalo River and center of Arkansas's elk country. Persons applying for permits don't have to be present, but many attend each year, joining in the festivities and activities.

One of the more popular events returns to the festival again this year -- the on--site drawing for a permit. One permit will be issued to someone who applies at the Elk Festival in Jasper. Sign up, stick around and you may win a permit. For this permit, the lucky hunter must be present. Just like the other public land elk permits to be drawn, entrants must be an Arkansas resident.

The elk hunting permits will be issued for specific zones along and near the Buffalo River.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation will be present with several educational programs. For the hunting enthusiasts, drawings for elk permits will be held each hour starting at noon on Saturday.

Purple gallinule: gaudiest of the southern slough

LITTLE ROCK -- Sporting disproportionately long toes, a bill resembling a piece of candy corn and gaudy green and royal--blue plumage, the Purple Gallinule looks like a displaced Mardi Gras partier in its Arkansas wetland habitat.

Despite its carnival--appropriate appearance, the Purple Gallinule's features - at least some of them - serve a legitimate purpose. Its extensive toes evenly distribute the bird's weight across the flimsy lily pads it walks upon, otherwise the gallinule would sink. In fact, the gallinule's flexible feet coupled with its light weight let it become a trapeze artist of sorts, balancing on rickety limbs and climbing trees up to 65 feet tall. Its chicken--like bill enables it to eat a diet of fruits, seeds, flowers, grains and invertebrates. The bird's shimmering coloration serves no purpose in the game of love, as both sexes showcase the same vivid hues.

You don't have to actively seek this peculiar bird to find it. You may spy one ambling across lily pads or crawling in shrubby areas as you're admiring alligators in a southern Arkansas slough or fishing in thick vegetation. The Purple Gallinule can be found in marshes in the southern and east--central portions of the state from April through September.

According to Dr. Dan Scheiman, bird conservation director of Audubon Arkansas, reliable places to view Purple Gallinules between May and August include Bois d'Arc Wildlife Management Area, Okay Landing at Millwood Lake and Arkansas Post National Memorial.