By Chris Jennings
If “no water, no ducks” has been the mantra for Arkansas duck hunters the past few years, a healthy dose of precipitation and cold weather has hopefully changed the equation this season. Arkansas will kick off the 2018−2019 duck season with more water at this time than during the last couple of years, and the ducks have responded.
Luke Naylor, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) waterfowl program coordinator, reports that white-fronted geese began arriving in the Delta and Grand Prairie regions in the middle of October, but other species have been arriving in good numbers over the past week.
“I’ve been out quite a bit the past couple of days and the sounds of specks migrating into the area have been replaced by the ‘barking’ of snows,” he says. “There is certainly more water, and this early cold weather is helping to push birds into the state.”
Holt Blackwood, field operations manager and guide for Darby’s Warrior Support, a nonprofit that focuses on taking wounded veterans on waterfowl hunts, verifies Naylor’s report about an influx of snows as well as mallards, lots of mallards.
“I’m seeing thousands of mallards when we are out working,” Blackwood says. “Typically, we are seeing the early migrators—gadwalls, teal, pintails—this time of year, but I am seeing way more mallards than the past couple of years.”
Blackwood is optimistic that more water on the landscape will mean more ducks over his decoys this season. “We’ve got the habitat to hold them this year,” he says. “The rain we’ve had has even kept farmers from disking fields. It has created a lot of good habitat that we just haven’t had the past couple of years.”
Public land hunters have been keeping a close eye on the White and Cache Rivers, and both rivers have spilled into bottomlands and low-lying agricultural fields in recent weeks. The rivers have since returned largely to their banks, with only minor flooding still occurring, but addition rainfall could quickly flood the backwaters again.
Jim Ronquest, producer of Stuttgart-based RNT-V, has been traveling the past 10 days and was excited to see the change in habitat conditions when he returned.
“We’ve got some water, and they are finishing up cutting rice,” Ronquest says. “I’ve heard reports of some decent duck numbers from some property managers. It’s really nice to have this cold front come through in mid-November. It has been a while since we’ve had one like this.”
Ronquest reminds folks that while there is some water in the Cache and White River bottoms, hunters looking to find a spot need to be aware of where they are hunting, because certain areas of the refuges are currently closed for a permit deer hunt.
“Hunters need to make sure they check with the AGFC or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make sure they aren’t on any of the closed properties,” Ronquest says. “Also, I just want people to remember that we are all brothers out there. It’s not about heavy straps; it’s about being kind to guys next to you and everyone enjoying the hunt.”
Although the first AGFC Aerial Waterfowl Survey wasn’t complete as of this writing, waterfowl numbers appear to be strong going into opening weekend.
“As an Arkansas public land hunter, I’m more optimistic for this season’s start than I have been in years past,” Naylor says. “But, again, I like to remind hunters that there aren’t going to be ducks in every hole, and it’s still early.”
On Wednesday, the AGFC issued its first Waterfowl Report. To find the most recent information on water levels and habitat availability on state lands, visit https://www.agfc.com/en/news/2018/11/14/arkansas-weekly-waterfowl-report/.
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