Ducks on the pond…
Arkansas’s 2023 duck season officially gets underway over weekend
By Randy Zellers
LITTLE ROCK – Waterfowl season in Arkansas officially opened 30 minutes before sunrise Saturday. In what has become standard in the state for more than two decades, Arkansans will enjoy a 60-day duck season with two splits scheduled during the season.
Also, as with last year, this year's 60-day season will run until the end of January, meaning that there will be a few more days of rest in early December for the migrating waterfowl.
This weekend's outlook appears to indicate slower hunting for those looking to harvest mallards. That's not all that unusual for November in Arkansas anyway, AGFC waterfowl coordinator Luke Naylor says, but habitat conditions aren't ideal at this time for migrating ducks. Areas that are rain-dependent for water are dry now.
'For this first weekend, I have low expectations. Very low,' Naylor said, though he added that hunters throughout Arkansas should still see ducks, especially the usual gadwalls, shovelers and teal that frequent the state before the big move of mallards.
'Overall over the past month, habitat availability has largely declined, with the exception of the helpful efforts of landowners to flood harvested rice fields ands with what we can do in our moist-soil units. We closed the boards on our (greentree reservoirs) on Monday. A lot of areas, like Dave Donaldson (Black River WMA) will have a quick response in terms of holding
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water, and much of that area should be flooded for this weekend.'
But, as Naylor noted, some other popular areas such as Ed Gordon Point Remove WMA in west-central Arkansas are drier than they've been the past two years. Wetter weather in the runup to duck season in 2018 and 2019 had Point Remove Creek running over its banks and helping flood units in the WMA. This year, following a six-year project on the WMA, there is ability to pump water but the creek is not running high. George H.
Dunklin Bayou Meto WMA, even with the boards put in place to hold water, has no water in Temple Island or Buckingham Flats.
However, other favorite public hunting grounds are beginning to see some water where it can be pumped. Read the listing below of all the AGFC's WMAs and GTRs and the current habitat conditions.
Arkansas seemed to be in good shape for wetter duck habitat in October with rains from gulf hurricanes that moved through the area, and an early cold front also pushed down from Canada to drop temperatures last month. Naylor said he'd heard that 'a decent amount of mallards had come in' early with such good habitat available.
'Most of it, by in large, is gone now,' he said. All of that habitat that was there has dried up. It's stagnant now.
There are a few places with some ducks. There's not a high percentage of mallards, but that isn't abnormal for this time of year. About 25 percent of the total duck count at this time is usually mallards. That will change in the coming weeks.' Privately owned fields and private greentree timber holdings will be flooding, and ducks will find those spots. However, this weekend also calls for high temperatures in some places of the state in the 70s, much higher than several days last month.
The daily bag limit for ducks remains 6, 4 of which can be mallards (only 2 of those may be hens). Canvasback and black duck limits remain 2 per day, a change made last year. The daily bag limit for pintails remains 1 per day. Other daily bag limits: 1 scaup, 3 wood ducks, 2 redheads, 1 mottled duck. Ducks not listed among these, hunters may harvest up to 6 ducks of a species (including teal) daily.
The Youth and Veterans/Active Military special hunts are scheduled for Dec. 5 and Feb. 6. Both active duty military and veterans may hunt on those days, which are not part of the 60-day scheduled season. Youths under 16 may hunt on those days as well, as long as they are accompanied by a mentor — youths who have not completed the Hunter Education course must be accompanied by a mentor 21 or older; those who have completed the course can be accompanied by a mentor 18 or older. The mentor cannot hunt but can call the ducks, set decoys, help retrieve game and such.
On those same days, members of active duty military and military veterans may harvest ducks, geese, coots and mergansers. Active duty military includes members of the National Guard and Reserves on active duty (other than for training). Veterans must have served in active military, naval, air service or Reserves and National Guard on Title 32 orders in a combat zone and must have been discharged or released under honorable conditions. Hunters will need to have one of the following or copy during the hunt: DD214, Veteran Benefit Card, Retired Active Military I.D., Veteran Hunting License (VLF, VLH, VLC or VLL) or Active Duty I.D. card. Shooting hours and bag limits are the same as regular duck and goose seasons. Hunters may hunt on wildlife management areas from 30 minutes before sunrise until sunset these two days. WMAGeneral Use permits are required for active military and veterans; they are NOT required for youth hunters.
Changes from last year that are still in place this year: The nonresident 5-day WMAwaterfowl hunting permit is now good for any WMAduring the 5day hunt period. Also, nonresidents have been lmited to only being able to hunt on WMAs on certain dates this season.