Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications
FORT SMITH — Despite hunters from eight locations in Arkansas bringing in squirrels to be weighed for this weekend’s inaugural Big Squirrel Challenge, it was bushytail fanatics from western Arkansas who claimed top honors in this year’s statewide squirrel-hunting contest put on by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
The contest, which had more than 600 individuals register online through the AGFC’s Facebook page, saw 75 teams bring in their results of an evening and morning hunt for gray and fox squirrels. Each team of two people was allowed to bring in three field-dressed squirrels to be weighed, but the father/son team of Jeff and Aiden Armer took home the top prize with a bag limit weighing 3062.8 grams (slightly heavier than 6 lbs. 12 oz.). Not only did they win the statewide youth division, but they also brought in the biggest squirrels for any team, statewide.
“We hunted a little Friday night, but we got most of our squirrels on Saturday after the wind stopped blowing around Van Buren,” Jeff Armer said. “We got six fox squirrels and weighed in our heaviest three. Four of the six came out within 10 to 15 minutes of the wind dying down.”
Armer said he and his son hunt and fish regularly, and enjoy squirrel hunting fairly often.
“We’re fortunate that we have access to some great private land through family and friends, and we also have great public opportunities with the National Forest right here.”
In the open class, Fort Smith hunters Eiichrio “Jack” and Jayden Ishii brought in the top spot behind their squirrel dog with 3013.2 grams (6 lbs. 10 oz.) of squirrels. And in the adult class Clayton Reano and Israel Kennedy edged out competition throughout the state with 2430.4 grams (5 lbs. 5 oz.) of squirrels taken during the two-day event.
The top three teams at each of the eight weigh-in locations received medals featuring an acorn to remember the event. The overall winners in each division also received a pair of Gamo Swarm hunting air rifles and a special engraved Daisy Red Ryder BB Gun.
“We had a good response from participants, and in many places hunters were hanging out after the weigh-in talking about getting together for future hunts and exchanging phone numbers,” Eric Maynard, AGFC assistant chief of Education, said. “We also had quite a few hunters who harvested their first squirrel this year and received “First Squirrel” Certificates.
One participant even said they hunted squirrels for the first time this year because of the event.
“Maybe it was the prizes, the friendly competition or maybe it was just a good excuse to get out and try something new,” Maynard said. “Whatever the motivation, it’s great to hear about someone taking up squirrel hunting for the first time because of our event.
Winners by Location:
J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Family Ozark Highlands Nature Center
Youth Class — Kale and Kord Jackson
Adult Class — Larry Walker and Caleb Goodman
Open Class — Kristian Starnes and Blake Goodine
Gov. Mike Huckabee Delta Rivers Nature Center
Youth Class — Jaxon Power and Landon Shirey
Adult Class — Casey Skinner
Open Class — Tommy McCarroll and Aaron Wheeler
Camp Robinson SUA Headquarters
Youth Class —Steven Ruple and Benson Bradshaw
Adult Class —Jeremy Ward and Eddie Partridge
Open Class — Steven and Gabe Fowler
Rick Evans Grandview Prairie Nature Center
Youth Class — Bravin and Brian Aaron
Adult Class — Aaron and Tyler Tollett
Open Class — N/A
Forrest L Wood Crowley’s Ridge Nature Center
Youth Class — Jake Johnson and Luke Tarlton
Adult Class — Matthew Elliot and Orlando Bravo
Open Class — Everett Davis and Walker Denevan
Fred Berry Crooked Creek Nature Center
Youth Class — Sophia Layton and Hank Duren
Adult Class —Eric Beecher and Padon Flippin
Open Class — Will Carver and Jason Smith
Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center
Youth Class —Jeff and Aiden Armer (statewide winners)
Adult Class — Eiichrio and Jayden Ishii (statewide winners)
Open Class — Clayton Reano and Israel Kennedy (statewide winners)
Mike Freeze Wattensaw WMA Headquarters
Youth Class — Kevin and Avery Richards
Adult Class — Dane and Tyler Huffstickler
Open Class — Mark and Steve Duncan