By DAVID RAINER

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

As I’ve said before, I was fortunate to grow up with an outdoors-oriented father who planted the seed that would eventually direct my adult life. One aspect of that exposure to the outdoors was archery, in the forms of both target shooting and bowhunting.

In fact, my late father and some of his friends built a quasi-3-D archery range outside of the small town where we lived. It was quasi because there weren’t any 3-D targets at the time, but the range was set up in the woods with varying terrain and unknown distances, that is until you shot a few rounds. I spent many Saturdays shooting and maintaining the range.

My, how he would marvel at what is happening in Alabama these days with the expansion of the community archery parks throughout the state.

As hunters prepare for the October opening of archery deer season, the community archery parks provide a perfect place for practice.

There are nine community archery parks open throughout the state right now with another in Foley scheduled to open in November. Four more community archery parks are scheduled to open in 2015.

“Foley is going to be similar to our other ranges with a youth range for bows that have no more than a 30-pound maximum pull,” said Marisa Futral, Hunter Education Coordinator with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. “Then it will have a shooting platform with four targets for practicing at an elevated height. Those targets range from 10 to 40 yards. Then the adult range goes from 15 to 50 yards with eight targets.

“The great thing about Foley is that it is right next to a really nice nature preserve, the Graham Creek Nature Preserve (Wolf Bay Drive).”

For those getting ready for archery deer season, the elevated platform is especially useful. Just remember that a full-body harness is required to use the elevated platform. Futral said the benefits are obvious.

“It’s a great place to shoot from an elevated position without having to climb up into a tree,” she said. “We still ask that you use your harness. We have a place to hook your harness, so you can practice using your harness as well. It’s just an easy way to get some practice in from an elevated position.

“Almost all bowhunters hunt from an elevated position. Hunters need to remember to bend from their waist when shooting so their point of impact is correct. If you practice, you’ll know if you need to make any adjustments. And you can practice different shooting distances.”

Of course, the community archery parks have considerably more appeal than just to bowhunters.

“I think anybody who shoots a bow will benefit from having a range in their area,” Futral said. “A lot of people can’t shoot in their backyards for a variety of reasons. The ranges are just safe places to come out and get in some recreation and practice. They’re for people who hunt or just anybody who wants to get in a round of target practice.”

To use the community archery parks, Alabama residents between the ages of 16 and 64 must possess a valid hunting, heritage, fishing or WMA license. For non-residents, a valid WMA license is required for all range users age 16 or older. Visit www.outdooralabama.com/alabama-license-information to easily obtain the needed license.

“Considering what you get, it’s a pretty inexpensive membership,” Futral said. “The money from the licenses is used to build the parks. Plus, the license gives you a permit to use any of our ranges, both the archery parks and shooting ranges. It’s a good return on your investment. And the response from the public has been great.”

Most of the archery parks are built in conjunction with the local parks and recreation departments, Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division and the Archery Trade Association.

“A lot of the places with the community archery parks will use them for after-school programs for the kids and even adult programs,” Futral said.

The nine community archery parks currently open are (in alphabetical order):

Athens Community Archery Park features adult and youth known-distance targets from15 to 50 yards and 5 to 20 yards, respectively.  A 12-foot high elevated platform provides simulated hunting conditions at targets from 10 to 40 yards. The range is located directly behind the Athens High School (SE corner near band room and tennis courts) in Limestone County. Parking is available directly adjacent to the range along with other recreational facilities.

Cullman Community Archery Park  also features adult targets from 15 to 50 yards and youth known-distance targets from 5 to 20 yards. It also has a 12-foot-high elevated platform with  targets from 10 to 40 yards. There is also a 16-target walk-through course with targets at unknown distances. The park is located directly across from the City of Cullman Golf Course in Cullman County at 2602 County Road 490, Hanceville, Ala. Parking is available on-site and adjacent to the range at the driving range.

Decatur Community Archery Park also received support from Tennessee Valley Authority, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Wheeler Wildlife Refuge. The park has adult and youth known-distance targets from 15 to 50 yards and 5 to 20 yards, respectively. A 12-foot-high elevated platform simulates hunting conditions at targets from 10 to 40 yards.  There is also a 20-target walk-through course with targets at unknown distances. The park is located next to the west entrance of the Aquatic Center in Point Mallard Park at 2901 Point Mallard Drive SE, Decatur, Ala.

Demopolis Community Archery Park has the same adult and youth known-distance targets as the previous parks, but the Demopolis Park has a 14-foot-high elevated platform to simulate hunting conditions at targets from 10 to 40 yards. The range is located beside the baseball complex within the Demopolis Sportsplex in Marengo County. Parking is available directly adjacent to the range. 

Dothan Eastgate Park Archery Range stretches the archers’ abilities with adult targets from 15 to 80 yards. The youth targets are from 5 to 20 yards. A 12-foot-high elevated platform has targets from 10 to 40 yards. The location is within the Eastgate Park at 2049 Sanitary Dairy Road, Dothan, Ala. The park is operated by the Dothan Leisure Services Division in Houston County. Parking is available on-site. 

Heflin Community Archery Park features the normal adult and youth known-distance targets and a 12-foot-high elevated platform. The Heflin Park also offers a 10-target walk-through course with targets at unknown distances. The park is located one block from Cleburne County High School at 1199 Evans Bridge Road, Heflin, Ala.

Lincoln Community Archery Park features the regular adult and youth known-distance targets and a 12-foot-high elevated platform. There is also a 16-target walk-through course with targets at unknown distances. The park is located at 1584 Holly Hills Road, Lincoln, Ala.

Ozark Community Archery Park offers the usual adult and youth known-distance targets and a 12-foot-high elevated platform.  There is also an eight-target walk-through course. The range is located at Ed Lisenby Lake at 861 Myrtle Drive, Ozark, Ala. 

Tuscaloosa Community Archery Park offers long-range shooting for adults with targets from 15 to 80 yards. Youth targets are from 5 to 20 yards, and a 12-foot-high elevated platform is available.  The park also has a 10-target walk-through course. The location is 13040 Eugenia Faucett Drive, Northport, Ala.

PHOTOS: (By Marisa Futral) Archers can take advantage of traditional targets or 3-D targets at the Athens Community Archery Park. All of the community archery parks, including the Cullman Community Archery Park shown, have elevated stands to simulate bowhunting conditions. Those who shoot from the elevated platforms are required to use safety harnesses, which are easily connected to the safety cables on the platform.

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