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Where have all the outdoor sportsmen gone?

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Y ou are _shing and just found the honey hole, and you are starting to really catch some nice _sh and another boat pulls up and starts _shing much too close. You are set up in the duck hole and the mallards are circling and beginning to work, and other hunters move within a hundred yards putting out decoys, and worse, call at your working ducks and trying to shoot them on the swing.

This is a case of too many hunters crowding you out.

Just too many people for the game! We all have had this happen and years ago, there just were that many hunters and _shermen. Much to our surprise, today that is just not the case. While it does cut down on the traf_c on the hunting grounds, it’s not good for the hunting and _shing scene as a whole.

Both nationwide and statewide, there are not as many folks enjoying Mother Nature as in the past. Nationwide in the 1980s, there were 17 million hunters. Last year, the number was 11.5 million (that’s a drop of nearly a third). In 2019, the number of Arkansas resident hunters was 20,193, down from 23,587 in 2014.

Oddly, the non-resident hunters were up: 21,855 from 20,587 for big game licenses; small game non-resident licenses rose from 40,784 to 47,622. There are about an equal number of resident and non-resident hunters.

Fishing is much more popular in Arkansas than the hunting, but the downward trend exists there too. Resident _shermen have gone from 381,308 to 312,758 in the last _ve years. Non-resident licenses have dropped from 138,308 to 118,747. Fishing has more participants than hunting for several reasons: The _shing-only license is much cheaper, there are more _shing lakes and rivers than hunting grounds, and it can be enjoyed year-round. Hunting licenses cost more, there are less public hunting grounds, most private hunting clubs are expensive to join, and hunters are limited by speci_c seasons. Arkansas offers a bargain with the life time hunting and _shing license for $1,000 that includes trout stamps, state duck stamps, and other permits. For those over 65 years old, the $35 hunting and _shing license can be purchased for residents. These licenses are a bargain.

The reduction in hunters and _shermen impacts the AGFC budget and it’s ability to maintain quality places to hunt and _sh. Hunting and _shing equipment is taxed and a portion is returned to the state. Guide services, food and lodging revenues are all affected by the reduction of sportsmen. The question is why there are less folks in the woods and on the lakes, but there appears to be no de_nitive reason.

Many of the older people grew up hunting and _shing but as they get older and pass on, there are fewer young people replacing them. Not as many people live in rural areas where a kid can just hunt and _sh close to home.

These potential outdoorsmen are more interested in the new technical era of text messages, e-mail, and computer games.

They prefer to be inside playing games in comfort than sitting in a cold duck blind or deer stand, or in a boat waiting for a _sh to bite.

They have instant grati_cation without discomfort.

Most kids go with their dads and with the reduction of experienced outdoor followers, there are less dads to teach them how to enjoy the _ght of a _sh or the beauty of sunrise in the woods looking at deer or ducks. Hopefully the AGFC programs like archery and high school trap teams will help to turn the tide in our favor. 15-20 years ago Crittenden County had more state trap champions than any other place in Arkansas. Several of those shooters went on to Olympic camp in Colorado.

These shooters loved to hunt and _sh and have passed the desire on to their kids.

This year’s February has been typical with rain and cold weather with just a few nice days. Hunting for the season ends tomorrow.

Turkey season is a couple of months away so _shing will get most of our attention.

March usually signals the start of _shing season but crappie and bass _shing has been good at Horseshoe all fall and winter. The quality of the _sh has improved the last few years and more _shermen are _nding out how to catch them all year. Experienced and knowledgeable bass _shermen are having success but the beginners are having little luck. Cat_shing seems to be good all year using rod and reel, yo-yos, trot lines, and limb lines using whatever bait the _sherman has faith in. Bream _shing is usually at its best when it gets warm during a full moon, however a few are caught while crappie _shing this time of year. All the lakes behind the levee are high and it will be several weeks before they are _shable. Keep an eye on small ponds and lakes because they warm quicker and are usually not heavily _shed. Be sure permission has been granted.

Wapannoca Refuge is a great place to start and is just down the road. This is a large lake with excellent _shing located south of Turrell. Stop by the refuge headquarters and pick up a free pamphlet for a required permit.

The weather is getting better so take that kid with you and help bring a new generation of hunters and _shermen along.

Take the kid’s buddies along because some kids don’t have a Daddy that likes to hunt and _sh. Several of my son’s friends still call me “Papa” and are close friends. Take plenty of pictures and send them to Papa Duck along with the story that goes with them.

Or send in some questions and I’ll see if I can get you an answer from the Game Warden. His answer just might save you a ticket. And remember, Lakeside Taxidermy mounts your trophy quickly and is reasonably priced. Your mount will look very nice.

Papa Duck Lakeside Taxidermy 870-732-0455 or 901-482-3430 [email protected]

Bentlee Blair, 10 years old, shows off her first deer, some of Papa Duck’s handiwork, mounted by Lakeside Taxidermy.

John Criner

Outdoors Columnist

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