By Chris Jennings
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's Weekly Waterfowl Report, released earlier this week, stated that dry conditions will hamper hunters hoping to find mallards in timber as the waterfowl season gets under way this weekend. Those hunting flooded agricultural fields should fare better, however.
“From a landscape-level perspective, it’s very dry,” says AGFC waterfowl program coordinator Luke Naylor. “I’m hearing reports of good numbers of ducks in certain areas where flooded fields are the primary habitat, but the bottoms are dry.”
Naylor also notes that winter habitat conditions will be good if the region receives sufficient rainfall. “We walked several WMAs and found great mast production. The habitat there looks good,” he says. “It’s going to take some time, and rain, but the stage is set for a great waterfowl season.”
Jim Ronquest of Rich-N-Tone Calls, who has hunted his share of opening weekends over several decades, says the dry weather is typical for this time of year. “Oh, conditions are dry, but that’s fairly normal,” he says. “We used to not even get real excited about the season until around Christmas. But I’ve talked to some landowners who have water, and their areas are holding good numbers of mallards.”
Ronquest notes that white-fronted geese and snows have arrived early this year. Overall, he’s optimistic about the new season even though the water isn’t in the bottoms yet. “I would say from what we are seeing, and from the reports we are getting from others, there are more ducks here now than there were at the same time last year,” he says. “It should be really good once we get enough water.”
Jeff Lawrence, director of fundraising and volunteer relations for Duck Unlimited, has hunted northeast Arkansas for 44 years. He says he’ll skip the opener this season because of a lack of water on Dave Donaldson WMA.
“Conditions don’t look good right now for public land hunters,” Lawrence says. “It’s dry, and there’s little habitat for the birds in Northeast Arkansas. I’m looking at the end of December or early January before we really get started.”
Lawrence did mention that snow goose numbers are beginning to build in his area and that white-fronted geese have been around for a few weeks.
“It should be a good opener for the hunters in the fields,” Naylor says. “And there’s a little cold front moving in this weekend, which will help local bird movement. We should all keep in mind that it’s early. If you’ve got a place to hunt this weekend, you should enjoy opening weekend. After that, we are all just waiting on a big rain. As soon as we get 4 to 6 inches, hunting conditions will improve.”
The most recent Waterfowl Report from AGFC, including detailed reports from WMAs, can be downloaded here.