By Chris Jennings
It’s a mixed bag of conditions for Arkansas waterfowl hunters preparing to kick off the 2020–21 season. Anecdotal reports indicate a strong showing of early ducks—gadwalls, green-winged teal, shovelers, and pintails—but habitat availability will make or break this weekend for many.
Luke Naylor, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) waterfowl program coordinator, explains that although he and his staff did not complete the annual November aerial survey, they have been keeping tabs on reports of ducks and geese throughout the state. Conditions are dry, but Naylor says there are some highlights.
“The northeastern part of the state probably has the best water conditions. Our staff has been going around and closing water-control structures this week and that will probably result in a lot of huntable acreage along the Black River, in Dave Donaldson Black River Wildlife Management Area, for example,” Naylor says. “We had a lot of water a few weeks back, but it has been dry, and many people weren’t prepared to catch water at that time and lost most of it. Public land, in general, is pretty dry at this point. We have moist-soil areas and places where we have pumping abilities, which we are using as part of our pumping strategy. But most of the green-tree reservoirs (GTRs), which make up the majority of our hunting, will start out pretty dry.”
Naylor adds that the cold conditions and rainfall earlier this fall may benefit hunters who were able to capture water.
Rusty Creasey, manager at Coca Cola Woods near Fair Oaks, explains that the habitat in his area looks decent for as dry as its been, and conditions may be improving.
“We have been so dry the last few weeks,” Creasey says. “We had a bunch of water a few weeks ago and it backed up some of the sloughs, but most of that is gone. The good thing is that there are a lot of crops being taken out this week, and most are immediately pumping water, which just adds more habitat.”
An abundance of water across the landscape is truly the key to widespread success in hunting the state of Arkansas. Unfortunately, the White River has been on a steep fall the past couple of weeks and is under 20 feet at the Clarendon gauge as of November 19. Flood stage there is 26 feet, but most hunters know that the river needs to get to at least 25 feet before the backwaters of Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge begin to fill up, then the Cache River will follow suit.
The weekend forecast is calling for mid-70s and sunshine, which aren’t ideal waterfowl hunting conditions but will allow for a comfortable hunt.
“Bring skeeter dope,” Creasey jokes. He explains that he is pretty excited to kick off the season and thinks there’s good reason for people to be optimistic: “I don’t think the ducks are going anywhere, and we may even pick up ducks from the south on a south wind. I feel like we are in a good spot this early in the season, no matter what the weather does.”
Naylor agrees, noting that while mallard numbers are typically low at this time of year, the abundance of other species should offer early hunting opportunities.
“I’ve been out checking some fields, some of our WRICE [Arkansas Waterfowl Rice Incentive Conservation Enhancement] program fields, and even watching a few while deer hunting. You watch these fields and you’ll see some mallards, but mainly it is gadwalls, teal, and shovelers,” Naylor says. “I know, I say it every year, but it is early. The table is certainly set; we are just going to need the weather—precipitation and that natural runoff.”