When dawn greets a new deer season, more than 300,000 Arkansas hunters flock to pine thickets, oak flats and cutovers in hopes of killing a deer.
Arkansans kill most of their deer with modern firearms, and many of them take advantage of the two bookend muzzleloader seasons.
A much smaller but highly avid bowhunting fraternity takes its toll of whitetails with archery equipment.
A more versatile fraternity strives to bag one each with a bow, muzzleloader and modern gun. Accomplishing this deed affords a hunter one of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s most prestigious honors: the coveted Triple Trophy Award. The Game and Fish Commission bestowed 522 Triple Trophy Awards in the 2017-18 season.
MEET THE FAMILY
Obviously, that’s a very elite group of hunters. However, one Saline County family accounts for a share of that figure itself.
That would be the Hinksons, who live between Benton and Paron in rural Saline County.
Eddie Hinkson Jr., is a representative for Ditch Witch. His wife Sara runs the home camp and keeps daughter Tehya Hinkson, 18, and Edwin Hinkson III, 12, in line. Kim Hinkson is Eddie’s sister.
Edwin Hinkson Sr., and his wife Sandy are the third and oldest generation in the family’s deer hunting pursuits. All are lifelong deer hunters, and all have earned multiple Triple Trophy Awards.
Tehya Hinkson has secured seven Triple Trophy Awards and has killed 26 deer in total. Edwin Hinkson III has won the award four years in a row. Sara has two, and Kim has won it, as well.
Hinkson Sr. and Sandy Hinkson have lost track of how many Triple Trophy Awards they have won, but it’s “a bunch,” Hinkson Jr. said. That speaks volumes about the senior Hinksons’ hunting ethics because they came up in an age when it was taboo to shoot does.
While deer were being restored to Arkansas, does were protected to promote rapid population growth. In the early and mid 1980s, Arkansas supported about 500,000 whitetails.
Ed Hinkson Sr., remembers how it used to be. They kill a lot of deer on their property, but he said when he bought the property in the 1950s, there were no deer.
The Game and Fish Commission now emphasizes quality over quantity, and that requires harvesting does. Reducing the ratio of does-to-bucks lowers competition for resources and encourages antler growth as well as overall health of the deer population. It took decades to dispel protectionist attitudes towards does, and now Arkansas hunters kill more does than bucks.
UPPING THE ANTE
Winning the Triple Trophy Award has become nearly routine for the Hinksons, but they increased their personal requirements for the 2017 season. Previously, Sara, Tehya and Hinkson III used crossbows to satisfy their archery qualifiers. Crossbows have been legal in Arkansas for many years, and all of the initial conflicts between crossbow users and traditional archers have gone away. The crossbow is considered a respectable form of the art, but it’s easier to kill a deer with a crossbow than with a vertical bow.
In 2017, Hinkson Jr., decided his family needed a greater challenge. He banned crossbows. His brood would have to tag their archery deer with compound bows.
All of the vertical newbies obtained Hoyt compound bows except for Sara, who opted for a Bear.
“It was hardest for my son,” Hinkson Jr. said. “He wanted to shoot a compound, but he couldn’t pull enough weight to be legal.”
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission regulations require longbows, recurve and compound bows to have at least 35 pounds of pull at peak draw. Cocking devices make it a lot easier to cock a crossbow, and, of course, the safety relieves a crossbow user from having to hold a horizontal bow manually at full draw.
“He did pushups and he worked out, and he was all the time showing me his muscles and what he could do,” Hinkson said of his son. “Once he got it broke over the first time at 40 pounds, he knew he could do it.”
Eddie III was unable to draw back his compound bow while sitting, though, so Hinkson put up a ground blind with a height that permitted shooting from a standing position.
Summer was like the training scenes from the film, “The Karate Kid.” The trio practiced every evening, shooting from various stands at multiple targets in different situations and at different angles.
SO IT BEGINS
The adventure began in earnest on Sunday, October 2, after the family returned home from church.
Early October in central Arkansas is a transitional time between summer and autumn. Mornings and evenings are cool, but mid-morning and mid-afternoon are often hot. Bugs, especially biting gnats, can be vicious.
The earliest acorns are beginning to fall. The “acorn rain” of mid and late October is still a few weeks away, but deer move more often to find this new source of nutrition.
That combination produced a Triple Trophy kind of day for Sara, Tehya and Edwin III. They all arrowed and recovered a deer from different stands and different locations. Tehya and Edwin III shot theirs so close together that they weren’t certain who shot first.
“They challenged each other to see who was going to get it done first,” Hinkson Jr. said. “My daughter was in a stand by herself. We don’t know who let their arrow fly first, but it was within 5 minutes of each other.”
Tehya got a doe. Meanwhile, Edwin III was able to bag a 6-point buck.
“My son actually shot and missed,” Hinkson Jr. said. “He shot underneath it. The buck ran about 20 yards and came back looking. The second time he made a perfect shot. I told him the Good Lord was smiling on him, and it was his day.”
The archery segment is the hardest part of earning a Triple Trophy. Getting it so early in the season takes off most of the pressure.
Sara quickly knocked out the second leg a couple of weeks later in grand fashion when she killed a 5 1/2-year old, 142-inch 10-point buck with her muzzleloader. She harvested the animal at a distance of 106 yards and used a .50-caliber Thompson/Center Encore paired with 100 grains of 777 powder and a 235-grain T/C sabot to get the job done.
Things only continued to go the family’s way. During the modern gun season in early November, Hinkson Sr., killed one of the biggest bucks of his life, a mature 8-point.
Sara, Tehya and Edwin III all completed their modern gun requirements using a single Thompson/Center Encore with a barrel chambered for .270 Winchester. The Encore is a compact, convertible platform that can be fitted with a barrel for any chambering — including a muzzleloader barrel — making it one of the most versatile firearms ever made.
The Hinkson homestead is in the Ouachita Mountain foothills. Deer densities are fairly sparse compared to the flatlands, but individual deer quality is very good in terms of antler size and body weights. After 20 years under the statewide 3-point rule that requires a legal buck to have at least three points on at least one antler, the age structure of the local herd is good, too.
The Hinksons hunt on about 3,000 acres in this atmosphere. It’s a blend of family-owned land as well as land leased from a timber company. It contains a mixture of hardwoods and loblolly pines, and the Hinksons make liberal use of food plots.
They use a lot of game cameras, too. They have them all over their hunting property, and Hinkson Jr., said the family inspects an average of 50,000 photos each year, beginning in August.
“We’ve got most of our deer named,” Hinkson said. “We can be pretty choosy about the bucks we go after, but we have to hunt when the kids have an opportunity, so we take what we were given in my son’s case.”
Youngsters often set high expectations for the bucks they want to kill; they can also be very pragmatic if the situation requires it, such as being in position to kill your first buck with a compound bow and knock out that portion of the Triple Trophy requirement.
“Kids talk a big game over what they are going to do, but then suddenly one becomes big enough, if you know what I mean.”
In Arkansas, fortunately, a hunter can kill two bucks in a season. If you get a young buck early, you can hold out as long as necessary to encounter a mature buck.
Hinkson knows that deer prefer certain areas over others at certain times of the season. He knows when some areas come online and roughly when they go offline, depending on availability of seasonal food sources, like hard mast. He has multiple stands in each of these locations to take full advantage of prevailing winds on a given day.
In Arkansas, you are also allowed to bait for deer during open seasons. Many hunters use corn feeders to distribute corn at certain times to attract deer. Many put out corn piles or distribute soybeans and other attractants. Bait piles condition deer to relate to certain areas early in the season before acorns fall and in late fall after the acorn supply is exhausted. When acorns are abundant, deer don’t generally come to bait during daylight hours.
The Hinkson’s archery blinds are the only stands that are placed according to bait.
“For muzzleloader and rifle, you can sit back further,” Hinkson said. “For bowhunting we try to keep them 20 yards or less. All our rifles and muzzleloaders are sighted in at 100 yards, but our stand locations give you shots in the 50- to 75-yard range.”
The Hinksons strongly believe in scent control. They bathe with scent-free soap and wash their laundry with scent-free detergent.
They are also deeply loyal to Mossy Oak camo. Eddie Jr. is so loyal that he has the Mossy Oak logo emblazoned on a removable partial denture.
Tradition runs deep in the Hinkson family, too. At age 6, Edwin III killed his deer with the same firearm that Hinkson Jr. used to kill his first deer at age 13. It was a Remington Model 1100 youth model shotgun that Hinkson Jr. bought with money he earned from mowing yards. He bought it from the original C.B. Thompson grocery store in Rose City. Thompson’s was a legendary east side landmark until the business moved to its new digs in Sherwood. In that location, Thompson’s Sporting Goods has become one of the state’s premier sporting goods retailers, and it will likely be the place where the Hinkson kids outfit their progeny to continue the family’s Triple Trophy legacy.