By Paul Davis, Mid-South Migration Editor
As the general duck season in Arkansas rolls into its final few days, hunters likely won’t see much improvement in hunting success, a product of low bird numbers and an overall lack of water throughout much of the state.
“There’s just not a whole lot of promise, unfortunately,” says Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) Waterfowl Program Coordinator Luke Naylor.
The Mid-Winter Waterfowl Inventory, conducted in early January, showed just over 1 million ducks in Arkansas, including an estimated 458,000 mallards, Naylor says. Both numbers were well below average. The mallard count was the second lowest since the state became a partner in that survey in 2010.
Mallards should be making up around 70 percent of the total duck estimate this time of year, Naylor says, but instead accounted for just 43 percent of the survey total. Another aerial survey completed in the last few days didn’t show much improvement.
“Our total ducks jumped up a little bit to 1.2 million, and our mallards jumped up to a little over half a million,” Naylor says. “But it was less than a 100,000-bird increase for mallards and a couple hundred thousand for all ducks.”
Naylor says the total numbers and species composition are likely an indication the spring migration has started. “We’re seeing pintails and shovelers start to move in, and that’s pretty typical as we get to this time of year and birds start thinking about going north,” Naylor says. “I’m sure more of that is happening this week with the warmer days.”
While ducks seemed to have been locked into a pattern throughout most of the season where they rested during daylight hours and fed at night, rainfall received on Monday and the arrival of a cold front midweek could help change that.
“It’s changing patterns when the ducks are out there looking for new resources, and I would guess there will be some birds up moving around the next day or two or three, searching for new habitat,” Naylor says.
The rain, however, was too little, too late to help hunters this season.
“Monday’s rain won’t do much for overbank flooding for hunters during the next week,” Naylor says.
That overbank flooding, Naylor notes, has proven to be critical to attracting ducks, especially mallards, to the state, and with few exceptions, it just didn’t happen this season.
“What we’ve learned is it’s really widespread habitat and flooding that drives mallards here. While we’ve had some rain and we have some places where there’s some water, we just haven’t had enough rain to cause the overbank flooding that seems to draw large numbers of mallards to the state,” Naylor says.
Another factor affecting mallard numbers in Arkansas, Naylor says, is warmer weather this winter —not in Arkansas, but elsewhere in the flyway.
“The temperatures have been basically average here, if you look at the data, so it’s not like it’s been a real warm winter in Arkansas,” Naylor says. “However, it’s been warm in a whole lot of the midcontinent mallard range, and I think there’s lots of ducks just spread out all over the place.”
Naylor is hopeful a predicted weather system on Saturday will bring enough rain and wind to stir up ducks.
Otherwise, Naylor says, “I don’t see a major change giving us a shot in the arm.”