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Through the Lens

Bowfishers Provide Aid and Rescue in Texas

Wed, September 06, 2017

It’s hard to believe that a little over a week ago the lives of many bowfishers across the nation were changed when they mobilized and answered the call for help from their friends in Texas.

It began early Sunday morning August 27th, a request for airboats and bowfishing boats came through social media channels. Little did the responding bowfishers, and their national organization, The Bowfishing Association of America (BAA) know then what would lie in store for them for the next week.

Why Bowfishing boats? Why Bowfishers?

The bowfishing community, or “bowfishing brotherhood” as they call themselves are no strangers to helping in times of need, whether it is a fellow bowfisher, someone who lives in a bowfishers community, or an agency that needs boat assistance; bowfishers have a long history of banding together to be “The Helpers”. 

Bowfishing boats are specifically designed to go places other boats simply cannot go. Bowfishing boats are designed to draft in the shallowest of water, using airboats, fan boats, surface drive motors. They have intricate and elaborate light systems that indeed can “light up the night”. They have on board generators and large flat shooting decks that are easily utilized for carrying people or supplies.  In the case of the airboats, they can run on dry ground, roadways, they can skip over levees and plow through flooded timber.  Bowfishing boats are designed for tough conditions, and many of the responding bowfishers faced some of the toughest conditions ever upon their arrival in Texas.

Within hours of receiving reports from the first boats on scene, it was readily apparent that a concentrated and organized effort was needed. Bowfishers are an extremely diverse group, with a plethora of special talents. Many participating BAA members with special talents came together – those with boats loaded and made drives as long as 28 hours.  Bowfishers from many states answered the call for help, the BAA had members from Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Missouri, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Georgia, Texas, Kentucky, Indiana, Florida, South Carolina, Illinois and Oklahoma. Many of those who could not travel to Texas shared their social media and technology talents. Other’s organized and delivered supplies for not only bowfishers but also hurricane Harvey victims.

Within 24 hours of the initial small request for some boats, BAA had a fully operational system up and running. Technology and social media played a huge part in this “back side “effort. The power of social media was harnessed, apps such Zello, Waze, and Glympse were activated and used to dispatch, track boats out on rescues, and aid bowfishers with road conditions and traffic. Many people and organizations graciously opened doors for the bowfishing community aiding in response, including long time BAA member Johnny Williams who was gracious enough to not only open his doors to house but also feed a large group of bowfisherman and allow his home to become a staging area for response efforts amongst the group.

The skill and organization that the bowfishers’ system displayed would rival that of any designated emergency response agency.

Bowfishers are tough men and women, and bowfishing can at times be a brutal sport. Tournaments frequently are 12 hours long, at night, in difficult waters and conditions.  Bowfishers are accustomed to long hours on their boats. They are accustomed to difficult conditions, bugs, heat, encounters with less than happy wildlife.  They have a special endurance and often joke about running on caffeine, chaos and cusswords.

Bowfishers know how to improvise, to make repairs to boats on the fly. They know how to wiggle through skinny water, dodge barges, and plow through obstacles.

In short – bowfishers and bowfishing boats make perfect partners during floods.

Virtually every bowfisher I spoke with wanted no recognition – each reminding me it wasn’t about them.  Bowfishers were simply doing what they do – responding to a need.  They were just being helpers.  They didn’t want to really talk about the damage sustained to their boats, trucks, trailers. They didn’t want to talk about what they personally had accomplished. They just over and over wanted to send a message of thanks to those who supported them. Their message was one of thankfulness. Thankful that they could be of assistance, thankful that they had such outstanding support. Thankful that they were safe while thousand were not.

The story they wanted to tell was that of all the people and organizations that “helped them be a helper”. These brave men and women left home prepared to be as self-sufficient as humanly possible in disaster zone. They are not strangers to sleeping in trucks or on boats. The can run for days on caffeine, and chaos alone. 

But what they found were churches, fire departments, every day citizens who were in the eye of the turmoil opening their doors and hearts to lend a hand to “help the helpers”.

Hundreds of individual bowfishers along with bowfishing related businesses such as, TJE Shoot Thru Rods, FeraDyne Outdoors, Muzzy Bowfishing, Battery Outfitters, Legacy Equipment, SeeLite, and Quick Draw Outdoors donated to the BAA #BAAforHouston fund that was set up to assist the volunteers with needs that they would encounter.  Bowfishers’ home communities, upon learning that the boats, trucks and trailers were headed out made donations of water, food, supplies and fuel to send with their loved ones on their journey to Texas.

Employers generously allowed time off so that those responding could head to where they were needed. Some employers also sent cash and fuel.
The support received by the responding bowfishers was at times overwhelming.

Jeff Nieball, who was instrumental in coordinating many aspects of the relief effort said in a Facebook post, “It was about compassion to our fellow human being…do not donate to the Red Cross or some fancy nonprofit. Find a local church down here and see what they need. The people we are about to leave behind will still need help. Please do not forget them.” Nieball stressed that it was a human helping humans effort – it was not about a single group. “Just people helping people”. His parting words – “Be a Helper”

There were several churches and civic organizations who opened their hearts and doors to aid the bowfishers. Notably, The Church of Champions in Houston, that served as staging area, The First Baptist Church of Woodville in Woodville, Texas that provided showers, meals, and sleeping accommodations for the bowfishers, Also the Evadale Fire Department who provided support on a multitude of levels.

Many private citizens reached out to the responding bowfishers to provide fuel, boat parts and repairs, truck parts and repairs, even something as small as paying for a tank of fuel at the pumps for refueling bowfishers and stopping at a gas station to deliver premade hot breakfast for responders.  Several private citizens opened their homes to groups of up to 25 bowfishers at a time for food, showers, and respite.

These organizations and everyday people made it possible for the helpers to help. These same organizations and good-hearted people will still be helping many Harvey survivors in the weeks, months and likely years to come.

For those that are still looking to make donations to the BAA #BAAForHuston fund; donations can be made by visiting  Alternately, consider making a donation to a local church such as the Church of Champions or the First Baptist Church in Woodville.

BAA representatives said, “It would be nearly impossible to list and thank everyone who made our efforts easier, who supported our bowfishers, their boats, and their efforts. Please remember these folks who will continue to help those in the area for weeks and months to come as well as keeping all of those affected by the devastation in your thoughts and prayers.”

To see more about the BAA’s efforts in Texas, including photos and videos, please visit the Bowfishing Association of America Facebook Page. You may also search the hashtag #BAAforHouston on social media channels, to gain a better understanding of the challenges faced by the bowfishers and the assistance they provided.

Special thanks to my fellow BAA members and BAA President Jody Acosta for their assistance and contributions to this article/post.