By Paul Davis, WF360 Mississippi Alluvial Valley Migration Editor
As Arkansas’s second duck season split kicks off this week, hunters have two major factors working against them: low bird numbers and excessively dry conditions.
Although the results of the statewide aerial surveys conducted earlier this week by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) have yet to be tabulated, the overall picture does not look good for duck hunters. “I would predict that this might be the lowest December survey we’ve ever seen,” says Luke Naylor, waterfowl program coordinator for the AGFC.
That doesn’t mean there are no ducks. Indeed, Monday’s strong weather front likely pushed more birds into the state. The problem, says Naylor, is that there’s “hardly any place for the birds to go.”
Arkansas normally sees significant rain by early December, but not this year. This lack of water means that ducks—and duck hunters—will be concentrated on artificially flooded fields, oxbow lakes, rivers, deep-water reservoirs, and the few state-managed areas that are holding water.
Still, Naylor remains optimistic that the water situation will eventually turn around. “It’s been a strange year, but we could get a big rain before Christmas,” he says. “It could happen—you never know.”
Mark Hooks, the AGFC wildlife supervisor for the Southeast Region, says conditions are as dry as he’s ever seen them at this time of year. “We’re even struggling to get water into our waterfowl refuge areas,” he says.
Hooks adds that while quite a few private fields across the Grand Prairie region have been artificially flooded and are holding some birds, traditional public hunting strongholds like the George H. Dunklin Jr. Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area (WMA) are not going to hold birds until they receive a substantial amount of precipitation. “Until that happens, public hunting opportunities in southeast Arkansas will be very limited,” he says. “It’s going to take a number of significant rains or one colossal event in the right spot to do any good, so we’ve just got to keep our fingers crossed.”
One public area that is providing good duck hunting opportunities is Dave Donaldson Black River WMA, in Clay, Randolph, and Greene Counties. “We have five main greentree reservoirs on the area,” says AGFC biologist and area manager Zack Yancey. “Two are at target water levels and the others are around 80 percent. As far as I know, we have more water than any other wildlife management area unit in the state, so we may be number one in the state until we get more rain.”
Another potentially good public spot for duck hunters, according to AGFC biologist James Foster, is St. Francis Sunken Lands WMA, in Greene, Craighead, and Poinsett Counties. The WMA is currently at about 85 percent of its target water level.
Other WMAs holding water include some units of Sheffield Nelson Dagmar WMA (online permit lottery), Harris Brake WMA (open Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays), Dardanelle WMA, and the recently expanded Frog Bayou WMA.
Waterfowlers struggling to find water can also opt for goose hunting, says Dave Stratton, owner of Arkansas Feathers guide service in Stuttgart. “When it gets tough like this, we switch to snow goose and speck hunting,” he says. Fortunately, large numbers of white-fronted geese have been in the Natural State since early October, and new flights of snow geese continue to arrive daily.
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Paul Davis is a writer and photographer with a lifelong passion for the outdoors, including waterfowl, turkey, and deer hunting. He resides in southeast Missouri and will be providing migration, habitat, and hunting information for Mo., Ark., Tenn., Miss., and Ky., through the 2017-2018 waterfowl season