Your 2007 Duck Forecast

If you're one of those hunters who just can't wait to get out to the blind, we've got your 2007 duck info right here. (September 2007)

Photo by Kenny Bahr.

Duck hunters should expect good duck hunting opportunities again this fall, with duck numbers lining up again pretty much the way they did last fall: So reported Luke Naylor, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's waterfowl program coordinator in Jonesboro. If early spring in the breeding areas of Saskatchewan, Canada and the pothole areas of North Dakota was any indication, shooting should be fast and furious in the Natural State this fall.

"Our duck hunting in the fall is entirely dependent on the spring nesting conditions in the floodplains in Canada and North Dakota, as well as on the rains in the early fall that flood our areas," said Naylor. "The vast majority of our public hunting areas depend on natural rainfall, so it's impossible to predict with certainty which areas will be good for the opener. Most of our wet areas in northeastern Arkansas provide good hunting year after year as a general rule.

"Last fall it was extremely wet in the northeastern part of the state, and we had good numbers of ducks. If there isn't any water, there may not be ducks until Christmas. But in general, there are a lot of good fall public-hunting areas in this part of the state."

Last season the overall duck numbers in Arkansas were slightly above average, while the numbers of mallards, the most abundant species in the country, stayed about the same. "Mallards are the duck of choice in Arkansas and we shoot a lot of them in flooded timber," said Naylor. "Most of the hunters you see in the field are targeting mallards, though there's plenty of gadwall, green-winged teal and wood ducks finding their way into the marshes and flooded timber, too. The east Arkansas sloughs, creeks and flooded timber offer up some of the best duck hunting in the country."

Mallards, woodies and green-winged teal lead the way in the green timber, but if open fields with water on them are available, waterfowlers will enjoy opportunities to take a few pintails and gadwalls as well.

According to Naylor, the mallard count totaled 165,270 ducks during this year's January aerial survey. Numbers showed a 2 percent increase over mallard numbers in 2006. A point to keep in mind this fall is that although the northeast region had been loaded with mallards during November and December of 2006, by January they had begun to spread out more evenly throughout the Delta. It's too early to tell, but ducks may be arriving in out-of-the-way marshes in higher numbers than usual.

Note where it's been raining in September and October and then follow the rain, said Naylor. The areas with flooded timber are going to be the hotspots.

Here's a look at six of the areas recommended by Naylor this fall.

BAYOU METO WMA

Very few places in the country draw more ducks than does the 33,832-acre Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area in Arkansas and Jefferson counties.

Water is everywhere there, said Naylor, and Meto provides excellent waterfowling in most years. Over 1,000 acres of water are divided into six lakes, the largest of which, at 600 acres, is Halowell Reservoir. The 53-plus miles of streams crisscrossing the area can make moving around on foot a bit tricky.

The green-timber duck hunting can be phenomenal, and as a result, it sometimes proves difficult to get a lot of privacy. The AGFC estimates that between 1,500 and 2,000 hunters are on the area during the first few days of the season, after which the hunting pressure dies down considerably.

About 13,000 acres of the area are flooded every fall by the AGFC to create additional habitat.

Vehicles are allowed on the 16 gravel roads that provide over 17 miles of interior access. Nearly 41 miles of non-graveled roads provide access by foot, but no vehicles are allowed on them, owing to road conditions.

Access is from highways 79, 88, 152, 165 and 276. Additional information is available from Bayou Meto WMA at (870) 873-4651.

BIG LAKE WMA

Big Lake WMA is another of Naylor's top picks for early season ducks. The area is probably the top mallard hotspot in the northeastern part of the state. Thousands of birds move into their temporary stopover as soon as the conditions are right.

"This is a large project that we can control the flooding on," said wildlife management supervisor Robert Zachary of the AGFC's Northeast Region. "Around the first of November we start to flood about 9,000 acres of the timber on Big Lake. There are 175 duck blinds on the area that hunters can use on a first come, first served basis. These are state-owned and open to anyone. The locations are GPS-mapped on the AGFC's Web site."

A consistent producer of ducks for years, Big Lake, in Mississippi County 15 miles west of Blytheville along the Arkansas-Missouri state line, covers 12,500 acres of bottomland hardwood right next to the Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Getting into the WMA can be interesting: State highways 18 and 181 provide good access -- up to a point. The main entrance into the Big Lake WMA is via a gravel road running along the top of the west levee, which leads to a ditch known as the "seven-mile lateral" -- the end of the line if you don't have a boat. On the eastern end, Highway 181 allows vehicles to access the Simmons Bridge and Bo Doc Landing areas and waterfowlers can either walk in or boat in from there.

The primary emphasis for wildlife managers on Big Lake is waterfowl. Shooters will find willow, buttonbush, cypress and tupelo bottomland habitat along with the elm and oak that can be flooded on the northern end of the property.

ST. FRANCIS SUNKEN LANDS WMA

"When the hunting is hot in Sunken Lands, it's hot," said Zachary.

The St. Francis Sunken Lands WMA's public-hunting lands stretch for 60 miles, its area about 26,000 acres. This jewel is at the top of the state's list for excellent duck destinations.

The watershed includes 7,000 square miles along the St. Francis River in the Mississippi Valley and is a very important area for ducks during the fall migration, said Zachary. In fact, it's probably the area most attractive to migrants in the entire valley. Hunters will find excellent duck habitat in the flooded bayous, fields and hardwoods found along the river.

At St. Francis, you get what you see, said Zachary; very little can be

done to manipulate water levels to create flooding unless the weather's cooperating. "If there's a lot of rain and the water is high, we have a structure that sometimes allows us to raise the water level on St. Francis Lake by up to 2 feet and force the river to overflow its banks," he explained. "We try to time the flooding to coincide with the opening of the season, and when the structure can be used, it raises the water levels enough to overflow the oak timber in the area, and provides a lot more flooded habitat."

As good as St. Francis is, some days will see few ducks are using the area. "We're in the delta region, and there's a lot of flooded rice fields this time of the year," said Zachary. "The ducks don't have to stay in the flooded timber and get shot at."

A lot of hunters don't know about the 150 or so public duck blinds located throughout the area. Privately built and maintained, they're owned by the state and open to waterfowlers on a first-come, first-served basis -- no reservations. GPS coordinates for the blinds are available on the AGFC Web site. No additional blinds can be constructed, and no permits for construction will be issued.

Some of the area's best hunting occurs later on in the winter when the fields are frozen and the river's open and flowing; that draws in the ducks like a magnet, and waiting hunters can fire away. Last winter the hunting was superb.

A few restricted areas in which hunting's not allowed will be encountered on the floodplain near Plainway and Trumann, but they're well marked. Some of the lands on the floodplain that look like public hunting areas are actually private, and hunters need permission to be there.

St. Francis can be accessed off highways 63 and 135 in Greene, Poinsett and Craighead counties.

DAVE DONALDSON/BLACK RIVER WMA

The Dave Donaldson/Black River WMA is another of northeastern Arkansas' picture-perfect duck waters. The Black and Little rivers flow through the area, and their associated sloughs and backwaters pick up plenty of ducks during the first part of the season. Hubble and Ashbaugh lakes attract migrant birds looking for open water, while the Black River is open for those preferring a riverine feeding environment. Early on in the fall the WMA typically holds water, and is so well worth checking out for numbers of ducks, said Naylor. When things get rolling, tens of thousands of mallards and woodies make an appearance.

"As with other areas, mallards, woodies and green-winged teal are the primary ducks that hunters bag," said Zachary. "In the early part of the duck season, hunters are finding more mallards and wood ducks than other species, but other ducks are there. This wildlife area has a high hunter success rate when duck season comes in."

To create ideal conditions, the AGFC has installed several levees and floods the green timber. A number of hardwoods such as pin, water and overcup oak are present, along with tupelo, willow and bald cypress. "We can flood 7,000 acres on the area in four different impoundments," noted Zachary. "If you count the 10-foot deep areas, we can have 20,000 acres under water out of the 25,000 acres comprising the area."

The entire Donaldson area is subject to long-term overflow. As a result, most of the hunting is done from the dry floor of a boat. This area doesn't have any public-use duck blinds.

It's a good idea to keep on top of the conditions at Donaldson, as they can change in short order. The daily river-gauge readings can give you instant updates on any flooding going on in the area. A gauge reading of 9 or 10 feet indicates deep water; a reading of 16 feet or more means the area's definitely flooding. Call the Jonesboro office at (870) 972-5438 for updated information on the readings.

Dave Donaldson/Black River WMA lies 10 miles south of Corning in Clay, Greene and Randolph counties and northwest of Delaplaine.

EAST BUSS BAYOU DEVIEW WMA

A whole lot smaller than its larger cousins, this WMA only covers 4,254 acres, but it packs a punch when ducks are present.

Mallards can be thick when conditions are right in the fall. The AGFC's main purpose in developing the three tracts within the WMA is to provide waterfowl with an overwintering area, and so far it's working well. If migrating ducks make a swing through the area, they can hardly pass it up.

The Thompson tract is bordered by Highway 214 on the north, the Oliver tract is bounded on the south by Highway 14, and the Martin tract is about a half-mile north of the Thompson tract. As a group, the areas can best be accessed by county roads west of Weiner on state highways 14, 49 and 214.

Typical of this part of the state's most productive wildlife areas, East Buss Bayou consists of bottomland hardwoods. Mallards are looking for the mast crop, which they'll find back in the flooded green timber. Calling over a few decoys here can be productive at this time of the year.

Flooding is accomplished by pumping water in, but it's not always successful, and getting the flooded timber ready to go for the opener isn't guaranteed. This area is classic in that pre-scouting is more than a good idea if you don't want to be disappointed on the opener when you arrive. If there's been rain, this spot can be hopping.

East Buss can get crowded when the birds are in, so consider hunting during the week to avoid the weekend crowd. If conditions are poor on the opener, a lot of hunters will pass East Buss up for larger areas. It can be a real sleeper at midseason.

The area lies along the Bayou DeView River and extends from Highway 17 to Highway 214 in Poinsett County.

SHIREY BAY/RAINEY BRAKE WMA

"The 10,711-acre Shirey Bay/ Rainey Brake WMA offers both walk-in and boating access but you've got to watch for the restricted areas," said Zachary.

Nearly a third of the 11,000 acres are flooded to enhance the duck habitat, and the result is usually good shooting early on in the season, as long as the weather cooperates. When the water overflows into the wooded sections, mallards, woodies and green-winged teal move in to enjoy the bounty.

In the fall, ducks move into the flooded timber of Shirey Bay to feed heavily on acorns and natural seeds such as wild rice, millet, celery and smartweed; this behavior is repeated throughout the northeastern part of the state. As winter moves in, the ducks begin leaving the seeds behind to concentrate on the animal proteins needed for reproduction and flying. They'll root around in the sticks, leaves and mud on the bottom for rattail maggots, clams, crayfish, worms, insects and anything else they can pull off the bottom.

According to Zachary, scouting is always a good idea. Knowing where the birds are before the hunt can save time and a lot of frustration and mean going home with a limit instead of an empty bag.

Checking the area just once and then writing it off can be a mistake. Cold fronts push ducks down as a group, and can dramatically change the number of ducks using the area overnight.

The Black River intersects the area, dividing about 7,000 acres on the west from the remaining acreage on the east. Bottomland hardwoods and some open-field areas are perfect early-season duck habitat, and should be on the list of areas for duck hunters to check out. Over 3,000 acres of greentree hunting provide fast shooting when the area floods over and the ducks are moving in.

Access is from Highway 25 west, about 20 miles southwest of Walnut Ridge in Lawrence County.

CONCLUSIONS

More good news this year: Naylor reported no indications that the avian flu virus (H5N1) has reached the United States. Wildlife agencies throughout the United States cooperate with the USFWS to keep a watchful eye on the progress of the disease, and so far, Arkansas waterfowlers have nothing to worry about.

For downloadable wildlife area maps and additional information, visit the AGFC Web site at www.agfc.com. Topographic maps are available from the Arkansas Geological Survey at (501) 296-1877.

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.