PANTHER BAKER, BEAR HUNTER

Story by Jeannie Stone

Wendy Panther is a traditional woman with a bit of adventure thrown in for good measure. She likes to bake and decorate cakes, and she likes to hunt bears with a bow and arrow.

It was curiosity that, ultimately, killed her first bear. Panther grew up in the small town of Throckmorton, Texas.

“I had an older brother, so I was competitive,” Panther said.

Naturally, when she saw the pink and white bow in the store she and her husband own, she thought, “Why not?”

Wendy and her husband, Kenny, own Arkansas Trading and Loan in Russellville; sons Josh and Jeremy and family friend, Rick Davis, help run the outfit.

“Everyone specializes in something,” Panther said.

“Josh is the youngest, and he likes pistols and guns. Rick is our resident jeweler, Jeremy, the eldest, likes music, electronics and hunting with rifles. I am the archery expert and Kenny keeps us all in line,” she said with a laugh. Kenny is also a Senior Lead Technical Specialist at Arkansas Nuclear One.

When Panther first picked up the pink and white bow, she was recovering from a neck injury as a result of a car accident. It was difficult getting in a position and holding the bow.

“I just kept working through the pain,” she said. “I kept getting stronger and stronger, and I started going to tournaments. I was landing first, second and third place rankings.

“That first year, I attended the Ben Pearson Memorial in Pine Bluff: it was the biggest shoot I’d been to. I placed third against 30 ladies or so, and I was hooked.”

Archery has appealed to Panther’s competitive side but it’s the mental acuity she finds intoxicating. She had to learn where the arrow was going to arch when she released, constantly evaluating her environment — whether there was a branch in the way of that forthcoming shot or whether her target had moved.

“I love the solitude when I’m in the woods,” she said. “It is such a quiet activity.”

It took Panther awhile to decide to hunt after taking up the bow. Of course, curiosity had something to do with that too.

“I decided I’d better get out there and start hunting to gain the respect of my customers,” Panther said. “And, anyway, what in the world were they doing out in those woods?”

She found out in a big way when she shot her first deer. Adrenaline rush.
“Oh my gosh, just the act of coming alive from a resting position when a wild animal nears, and seeing him enter your space, unaware of your presence. That’s a rush right there, just in the success of your concealment. And then, the challenge of knowing your shot placement.” Panther said.

Practicing the art of concealment was her first lesson in developing hunting techniques.

“When you hunt with a gun, you can smell like anything. But we try to get them 40 yards in or closer, they can really smell us, and they are easy to spook. I have to wash with a no-scent soap that takes away all my smell, and then I put my camo clothing on,” she said.

“Right before I go out I smear dirt scent all over me. My husband can’t stand the smell of it during the drive, so I wait till we get to the mountain.

“I have a backpack of everything I might need for the day, and I don’t return until nightfall.”

“There have been some big bears shot around Hector last year,” she said.

Panther shot her bear clean through the middle of the heart. Weighing in at 250 pounds, the bear took a long time to get into the proper position, and she had to practice her patience.

“Bow-hunters, as a rule, are more traditional hunters. We take it back to the Indian-style; it’smoreofachallenge,”shesaid.

Panther, who didn’t start hunting until she was 40 years old, has become nothing short of an archery expert in the River Valley. During the interview, she concluded a transaction with a customer who drove 45 miles to consult with her before purchasing a bow.

Jeff Baker of Conway didn’t flinch when he praised Panther.

“I drove all the way over here to buy a BowTech Constitution, a premiere target bow, from Wendy. To tell you the truth, she’s the most knowledgeable person around.”

Panther laughed.

“Let me tell you, men shop like us. They don’t want to show up with the same color bow as somebody else. They will change their mind from the Mossy Oaks Brush finish to the Realtree Hardwoods Green. It’s amazing how many camo patterns there are.”

Panther is certified as an Arrow smith and is certified to teach Level 1 archery. She teaches in her shop, where she maintains two shooting ranges. There are some universal mistakes new archers commit, she says.

“Most of the time, newbies don’t know how to stand. They need to square up. Stand, draw and aim in the correct manner. Listen to your dealers and bow techs. They know how everything works. Once the correct posturing has been enforced, I am free to watch the hands.

“Don’t choke the bow,” Panther says. “And be mindful of the peep being properly aligned. Many times, the bow hasn’t even been set up for the archer.”

Panther admits to a different relationship with her customers after that first hunt.

“The guys could hear the excitement in my voice while I was telling my story, and they could relate,” she said.

The added bonus was that, through her experience, she was able to really listen and understand what troubles they were having with their equipment or what they needed.

“I learned that the sharpness of the broadhead, the accuracy of the shot placement, and good concealment were vital to the success of the hunt,” she said.

Technology has come a long way since Panther first shot her bow 15 years ago.

“Nowadays, you don’t need a lot of poundage. There is a lot of kinetic energy going into that arrow and broadhead now,” she said.

“My second year of hunting, we started on bears. I succeeded the fourth year. Bears are funny,” she said.

“They change their routines for no apparent reason to us. Their hearing and smell are way more advanced than ours,” she said. “And when a male bear is in heat, he has an awful stench.”

Panther wrinkled her nose.

“And a bear will pick up on you well before a deer.”

She shot her black bear on the Logan County side of Spring Mountain. He had killed some dogs, and people on the mountain were plotting to get rid of him.

“They were grateful I took care of the problem for them.” she said. “Wild animals are usually afraid of us, just like we are afraid of them.”

Once they cross the line and attack, or even simply wander into a house, they‘re not afraid anymore. That‘s the time to start worrying,” Panther said.

There are bears all along the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains.

The Arkansas Game and Fish estimate the Arkansas bear count at 3,500 to 4,000, with only about 500 outside of those mountain ranges.

“There have been some big bears shot around Hector last year,” she said.

Panther shot her bear clean through the middle of the heart. Weighing in at 250 pounds, the bear took a long time to get into the proper position, and she had to practice her patience.

“Bow-hunters, as a rule, are more traditional hunters. We take it back to the Indian-style; it’s more of a challenge,”shesaid.

Panther, who didn’t start hunting until she was 40 years old, has become nothing short of an archery expert in the River Valley. During the interview, she concluded a transaction with a customer who drove 45 miles to consult with her before purchasing a bow.

Jeff Baker of Conway didn’t flinch when he praised Panther.

“I drove all the way over here to buy a BowTech Constitution, a premiere target bow, from Wendy. To tell you the truth, she’s the most knowledgeable person around.”

Panther laughed.

“Let me tell you, men shop like us. They don’t want to show up with the same color bow as somebody else. They will change their mind from the Mossy Oaks Brush finish to the Realtree Hardwoods Green. It’s amazing how many camo patterns there are.”

Panther is certified as an Arrow smith and is certified to teach Level 1 archery. She teaches in her shop, where she maintains two shooting ranges. There are some universal mistakes new archers commit, she says.

“Most of the time, newbies don’t know how to stand. They need to square up. Stand, draw and aim in the correct manner. Listen to your dealers and bow techs. They know how everything works. Once the correct posturing has been enforced, I am free to watch the hands.

“Don’t choke the bow,” Panther says. “And be mindful of the peep being properly aligned. Many times, the bow hasn’t even been set up for the archer.”

Panther shares her love of archery at community events. She is a member of the Holla Bend Bow Hunters Association and commends the Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge for hosting frequent shoots and demonstrations. The club sponsors youth tournaments.

For the last five years, she has assisted with a shooting as part of National Lands Day.

“We set up targets and put balloons on the animal targets. A lot of the Scout troops and home-schoolers come out,” she said.

Panther and her husband are preparing to leave for BowTech school in Eugene, Oregon, where she will earn her Bow Technician certification and also make her own custom bow.

Wendy Panther has come a long way from the pink and white bow that first sparked her curiosity.

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