By Tammy Shaw
One might say the Barnetts have a thing for animals, both domestic and wild.
Upon entering Don and Jane Barnett’s home, I am greeted with the warmth of Christmas. Among the sparkling ribbon and glittering mesh that mark the arrival of the holiday season is Smokey, a rescued cat, draped across the chaise lounge, while a sleekly coated pug, Mallory, nestles on a nearby rug.
There is one room, however, that is not quite so traditional. The Carcass Room, as Jane has officially dubbed it, showcases Don’s extensive collection of prized game – trophies of successful pursuits of his quarry. Mounted deer heads line the walls, joined by full-sized turkey mounts and a jet black, bear skin rug.
In the center of the room stands (literally) the award that has elicited the most notoriety for avid hunter Bart: a 7-foot, 6-inch black bear that Barnett took down with a long bow opening day of the season in 2008.
“I got him 10 miles west of Benton, not far from the Saline River,” says Barnett. “Anything over 6 feet is considered big,” he explains. “Bart is bigger than some grizzly bears.”
As with all wildlife, hunting a bear requires a great deal of patience, particularly when bow hunting. “I had one come up, but I didn’t shoot it. I am picky; I was waiting for that particular bear that I had been baiting for three years.”
Barnett says he starts baiting mid-August. “They like corn, dog food and donuts; they prefer doughnuts with chocolate. If you don’t get one within the first couple of weeks, you aren’t getting one. They’re pretty crafty.”
He says Bart was unique. “He was smart. Each year he’d hang out just beyond the perimeter of our property, as if he was taunting me. That big bear huffed with every step he took. I could hear him coming.”
Barnett had his bow ready, and finally got his bear.
Weighing in at 508 pounds, Barnett needed help moving his prized game out of the woods. It had fallen into a ravine and would prove a challenge.
“I called Jane Jo and asked her to call some of my friends. Well, only she and Sarah (the Barnetts' 18-year-old daughter) showed up. "Luckily, I had called two of my friends,” Barnett added.
With a big piece of burlap, five people and a 4-wheeler, they managed to get the bear out of the gorge.
“We had to go a quarter of a mile. It took us four hours to get him out; he was dead weight,” he says.
“It was a school night. I ripped my shirt pulling that huge bear out of the ditch!” Sarah recalled.
The four-year pursuit landed the Saline County resident the distinction of Arkansas’ archery record-holder, and he still holds the world record for long bow.
Barnett has bow hunted for 38 years and prefers it over gun hunting, saying it is “more of a challenge.”
In fact, one of his first successes with the weapon made famous by Robin Hood was in 1982 when he killed an 18-point buck on opening day of gun season.
“I was 21 years old; Jane and I were dating. Her family invited me to go deer hunting with them. I declined because I wanted to go to Hollow Bend and bow hunt,” he recalls. “Jane’s family members laughed at me. They didn’t understand why I would want to drive all that way and to hunt with a bow. I just wanted the challenge of hunting with a bow.”
The laughing ceased when Barnett returned towing a rack to be envied.
In 1992, Barnett won the Big Buck Classic, once again, using a bow. “I could hit a doe, shooting up to 30 yards,” he says.
“He passes up a lot of deer that most would shoot,” Jane adds.
While he enjoys tracking deer, Don says his favorite wildlife to hunt is turkey.
“My hunting buddy from Mississippi and I hunt in nine to 10 states every year. I get probably 20 gobblers every spring with a bow,” Barnett says. “I love that time of year.”
January and February are the off-months for Don Barnett. “I told Jane we could have a baby then,” he jokes.
“We scheduled Hannah’s (the Barnetts' 15-year-old daughter) delivery Feb. 13,” Jane noted.
Jane, Sarah and Hannah occupy their time … well, creatively.
“I remember one time Dad was gone. We got a trampoline, two hamsters and tire swing horses,” Sarah beams. “Mine was blue and Hannah’s was pink. Mom got some clay pots.”
“Every turkey season I come back and they have a dog,” Don interjects.
As I make my way to leave, I meet Piper, the Barnett’s Boston terrier; one of their three ferrets; three of Smokey’s fellow felines – Sylvester, BW and Gigi; and, as if determined to be included in the conversation, I hear Pearl, their beloved Akita clamoring in the backyard.
“His animals will be on the wall; mine will be on the sofa,” Jane says.
Oh, did I mention Sarah also has a horse named Princeton?
Tammy Shaw is an English teacher at Bethel Middle School in the Bryant School District. Everybody has a story – the ordinary person, accomplishing the extraordinary. To share yours, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.