FORT SMITH — Although hunters from eight Arkansas locations brought squirrels to be weighed in this weekend’s inaugural Big Squirrel Challenge, it was the bushytail fans of western Arkansas who took top honors in the state hunting contest. this year’s squirrel hunt hosted by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
The contest, in which more than 600 people registered online through the AGFC Facebook page, saw 75 teams submit the results of an evening and morning hunt for gray squirrels and foxes. Each two-person team was allowed to bring three field-dressed squirrels to be weighed, but the father-and-son team of Jeff and Aiden Armer took home first prize with a bag limit weighing 3062.8 grams (a just over 6 lbs. 12 oz.). Not only did they win the state junior division, but they also brought in the biggest chipmunks for any team in the entire state.
“We did a little hunting on Friday night, but caught most of our squirrels on Saturday after the wind died down around Van Buren,” Jeff Armer said. “We have six fox squirrels and we weigh the three heaviest. Four of the six went out between 10 and 15 minutes after the wind died down.”
Armer said he and his son hunt and fish regularly, and enjoy squirrel hunting quite frequently.
“We are fortunate to have access to 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 took first place behind their squirrel dog with 6 pounds 10 ounces (3013.2 grams) of squirrels. And in the adult class, Clayton Reano and Israel Kennedy topped the statewide competition with 5 pounds, 5 ounces (2,430.4 grams) of squirrels captured during the two-day event.
The top three teams at each of the eight weigh-in locations received medals with 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 pistol.
“We had a good response from participants, and in many places hunters were hanging out after weigh-ins talking about getting together for future hunts and exchanging phone numbers,” said Eric Maynard, AGFC Deputy Chief of Education. “We also had quite a few hunters catch their first squirrel this year and receive ‘First Squirrel’ certificates.
One participant even said that 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 there and try something new,” Maynard said. “Whatever the motivation, it’s great to hear that someone is taking up squirrel hunting for the first time because of our event.