The Ben Pearson Memorial 3-D Tournament may not attract the 700 shooters it used to, but in its 33rd year it still draws a crowd.
According to Jeff Douthit, about 100 archers participated in the first day of the two-day tournament at Pine Bluff Bowhunters Archery Range.
Douthit, who is the vice president of the Pine Bluff Bowhunters Board of Directors, expects about twice as many people to show up on Sunday for the tournament’s final day.
In the past few years, attendance at the tournament has fluctuated but remained significantly lower than in its heyday.
Benny Berry, who co-founded Pine Bluff Bowhunters Inc. with Mike Drewett, estimated that there were about 200 participants in 2012.
Despite the general decline in attendance, the tournament still draws several new particpants every year.
“I saw a lot of new faces out there that I’ve never seen before, which is a good sign,” Berry said.
One of those new faces belonged to 23-year-old Patrick Phillips of Taylor.
“It’s been about 10 years since I’ve done it,” Phillips said about shooting at 3-D targets. “It’s not really any different than shooting at bags.
“The toughest thing is not knowing the distance.”
Phillips, who shot in the Recurve Division, finished with a score of 180 out of a possible 300 points. A score that his brother Bodie won’t let him forget anytime soon.
“It doesn’t matter (what score I shot),” Bodie, who shot a 198 in the Longbow Division, said. “At least, I didn’t shoot that bad.”
The tournament is named for the founder of Ben Pearson Archery, which was originally a Pine Bluff-based company that mass-produced bows and arrows. Pearson, who passed away in 1971, was posthumously honored as a member of the Archery Hall of Fame’s inaugural Class of 1972. The Hall of Fame calls Pearson the “Father of Modern Archery.”
“Naming (the tournament) after Pearson was to honor him, because he did so much for Pine Bluff and for the sport of archery,” Douthit said.
The tournament’s attendance has decreased since its peak in the late-’80s and early-’90s, but that doesn’t mean that the sport has decreased in popularity.
In fact, Berry said the increase in popularity has probably hurt the tournament’s attendance.
“All these national organizations and companies are having these big tournaments,” Berry said. “People just have so many other places they can go and shoot.
“We are also starting to see a lot more competition from local archery clubs.”
Douthit thinks the summer scheduling has an effect, especially on families.
“As far as the hunting aspect goes, archery has actually become more popular over the years,” Douthit said. “There are just so many other things people can do with softball and baseball going on during the summer.
“We tried having the tournament in May, but we ran into a lot of farmers being out in the fields and baseball and softball were right in the middle of things, too. So, we moved it back to July hoping to catch more of the farmers out of the field and be after baseball and softball season has ended for most kids.”
Douthit also thinks the type of tournamnet makes a difference, too.
“I think some people are intimidated by a 3-D tournament, because they don’t know what to expect and they aren’t allowed to use a range finder to know the distance,” Douthit said.
A 3-D tournament uses foam animal replicas, as opposed to a more standard bullseye target.
“The deer and other animals are life-like, pretty much life-size and realistic looking,” Berry said.
Berry said they are a lot more realistic than what the Pine Bluff Bowhunters used to use.
“We just laid silhouettes cut out of cardboard on mounds of dirt,” Berry said.
One of the tournament’s aims is to be family-friendly, which includes having Youth (13-15 years old), Cub (9-12) and Pee Wee (8-under) Divisions.
“We really try and cater to kids,” Douthit said. “They are the future of the sport.
“We are just trying to get the bow in kids’ hands as early as possible to hopefully build a foundation.”
According to Berry, more people compete in archery shooting than all gun shooting competitions combined, but he would still like to see more youth participation in the sport.
“The National Archery in Schools program worked with 1,600 kids in Hot Springs, this year,” Berry said. “I’m hoping to try and get them to come to Pine Bluff.”