Migration Alert: Decent Conditions for Final Stretch of Arkansas Duck Season

Jan. 25, 2022 – Arkansas

© Michael Furtman

By Paul Davis

As Arkansas duck hunters kick off the final week of the season, more water in many areas and increased duck numbers are setting the stage for a potentially strong finish.

The first half of the season was dry across the entire state, but winter rains have improved conditions greatly, says Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) Waterfowl Program Coordinator Luke Naylor.

“We got a good amount of water around the first week of January,” Naylor says. “Fields flooded up and have provided a lot of good habitat. Some river bottomland areas are flooded out and have provided some hunting opportunities on public land, which is great for the last month of the season,” Naylor says.

Although some of the sheet water in flooded fields has drained out, Naylor says that, overall, water abundance in Arkansas is “in a lot better place than it was in December and the first half of the season. It’s a good way to end up.”

Earlier in January, AGFC biologists flew the annual midwinter waterfowl survey and noted about 989,000 ducks across the various regions of the state. The vast majority of birds were surveyed in the Delta region, and the estimated 617,400 mallards there made up about 64 percent of the total.

The midwinter mallard estimate was double that of December’s survey and showed about 160,000 more mallards than the year before. However, the total still was below the long-term average.

Fast forward to this week, and Naylor says the final survey report of the year indicates that duck numbers are up overall, but mallards have declined slightly since the midwinter survey.

“It looks like this latest count is just over half a million mallards and about 1.1 million total ducks,” Naylor says.

The Bayou Meto and lower St. Francis survey zones are holding the largest concentrations of ducks, just as they did during the midwinter survey. Recent changes in habitat conditions, Naylor says, could be a big factor in where ducks are located now.

“If we did in fact lose some surface water in the fields, that could be playing a role,” he says. Additionally, he notes ducks are “just kind of an unpredictable bird right now.”

“We’ve had south winds where we’ve seen birds going north, and we’ve had north winds where they have come back south. I think we’re at that time of year when birds are jumping back and forth,” Naylor says.

It’s also the time of year, he says, when ducks are “starting to think about going back north for sure.”

With an increased total duck count but smaller mallard numbers,” I think we probably have a lot of non-mallard dabblers starting to move back north, like green-winged teal, pintails and shovelers,” Naylor adds. “That’s a typical indication the spring migration is happening.”

Indeed, at Dave Donaldson Black River WMA in Clay, Greene and Randolph counties, biologist Zack Yancey reports that large numbers of pintails and shovelers have been resting on Ashbaugh Lake this week.

Despite fair duck numbers, hunting has been tough this season, Naylor reports, with an abundance of older birds in this fall’s migration. “You just have birds that are older and have adapted to hunting pressure quicker,” he says. “You might get new habitat and birds will use it for a little bit, but if they get any kind of pressure, they move on.”

Even with strong duck numbers at Bayou Meto, hunting success has been inconsistent on the WMA this season.

“Hunting on Bayou Meto is highly unpredictable, but some people have had good hunts over the last month or so. It just hasn’t been good day after day for most folks,” Naylor says.

Still, as those early migrants move back through the state over the final days of the season, Naylor notes that they could provide a “little more opportunity for folks as we close out the season.”

“These are highly pressured ducks,” he adds. “It’s hard to get them to work, but we still have birds and water around. Hopefully, at least people will have a chance to get out.”