Used to be folks from all around central and south central Arkansas would migrate to one particular area the morning of the start of deer season. They’d come by truck, some with four wheelers, all with their hunter orange and their guns and line up dutifully at checking stations like Gibbs Grocery and Hunters Outpost for the annual right of passage -- registering their first kill of the season.
Some would have bucks in the back of their trucks, other does. A few lucky guys might have two in the back, ensuring the deep freezer at the house would be full for the winter. Once they’d parked they’d come up and go find someone to register the kill for Game and Fish and then head off to get the deer processed or to butcher it at the house.
Yet still Gibbs Grocery remains and even thrives, with a fresh coat of bright green paint and the ever-buoyant attitudes of its staff. It’s a place for family.
The Gibbs bought themselves the place along Highway 167 South some 36 years ago, when their son Alan was getting ready to go into the second grade (and when I was about, oh, two years old). They offered a place to get some gas and a quick bite for down the road.
That particular Friday usually starts off around five in the morning. There’ll likely be a few guys already parked out front, waiting for the store to open to get their cup of coffee and their license for the year. Some will sit at one of the little yellow booths in the middle of the store and start swapping hunting lies and big buck stories.
We dropped in at Gibbs Grocery for a bite and noticed one thing right off the bat -- since last year, the Gibbs have painted the exterior bright green. Inside it’s not much different, though amidst the stuffed deer heads, foxes and the eponymous deer butt on the wall there was spotted the head of a small T-Rex. We hope that’s a joke.
Sat down for a quick bite to eat before the next stop, which my photographer was just snapping away. The girls behind the counter looked at him for a moment, but paid him no mind. Miss Barbara, on the other hand, made fit to comment about the action.
“You shoot a pretty camera,” she said.
“Yeah, I was wondering just what it was like around here on opening day,” he asked as he took another shot.
“Y’all aren’t from around here?” she asked. When he replied in the nugatory, she started on about all the hunters that would stock up here. “We get people that come back every year, only right the day before. It’s like family. They always come back.”
I noticed that in amidst all those Polaroids there were now emails taped to surfaces like the walls and the deli counter. “The internet makes it different, I bet.”
“They don’t bring them deer here any more, no, they go do that on the computer or the phone now,” she told me.
We went and picked drinks out of the cooler, but when I started to offer to pay she waived me off. “You can pay whenever, as long as you pay before you go. I’m a pretty good shot,” she said, indicating she could pop off a couple of rounds at a deadbeat customer from the counter to the edge of the parking lot.
“Do they still do that?”
“Not as much, but they still come. Day before the season we’ll have our busiest day of the year.”
When we were headed out the door, Miss Barbara hollered after us. “Y’all comin’ back for hunting season?”
I know the place will be packed, no matter what year I return.
Technology and the internet has changed the nature of the hunt over the past decade. Instead of the check points around the state a decade ago, today checking a kill is just a click or phone call away.
Steve “Wildman” Wilson of Arkansas Game and Fish says it’s been a logical progression. “We started out changing the system by allowing certain deer camps to check their own deer, before we all had computers. Now they can call in to Telecheck (the AGFC hotline phone number), they can go online or even now, there’s an app for that.”
Has the change affected the number of deer taken each year? “It’s actually gone up. We think the new system is easy, it’s what customers want. Most people comply now, we make it so easy. It’s also helping us gather statistics easier, year to year.
|AFGC's Deer Checking App|
“We have a special hunt this year in several zones, a doe-only hunt before the regular season. We’ve determined from the numbers that there’s too high a doe ratio down in those areas.”
You can learn more about how to check your game by visiting the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission website at www.agfc.com. There you’ll find the link for online checking and a link to the AGFC game checking app.