The Natural State Of Geese

Arkansas is well known as a waterfowl haven and geese are no exception. Here are a few of the best places to hunt the honkers this year. (November 2007)

Photo by Tom Migdalski.

Goose hunting in the Natural State is coming of age. There are plenty of opportunities for Ross, brant, snows, Canadas and white-fronted geese with somewhere between 300,000 and half a million birds expected this fall.

"Goose hunting is something that's only come on strong in Arkansas over the last 10 or 15 years," said Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Regional Supervisor Roger Milligan.

"There's not a lot of interest in goose hunting, but the opportunities are there with large numbers of birds, bag limits and areas to hunt. Years ago, the AGFC began gearing up for duck hunting in the greentree areas, and the goose hunting has more or less been a sidebar."

However, the word is out. In some areas of the state, thousands of geese descend within days to create intense shooting.

According to Luke Naylor, the AGFC's Waterfowl Program coordinator, goose numbers and hunting activity have remained stable over the last several years.

Here's a look at public lands where you'll see some of Arkansas' best goose hunting this fall.

DARDANELLE WMA

"The best place to hunt during the early residence Canada goose season is on the Arkansas River in the Clarksville area," wildlife biologist Virgil Gardner said.

Canadas start out in the area nesting heavily on the islands and then stay most of the summer, Gardner said. When opening day rolls around, the islands can offer up some spectacular hunting, but once the birds are pressured, they'll abandon those sections of the river where they've been shot at and settle in on the nearby farm ponds, pastures and other out-of-the-way spots.

A hunter has to be mobile if he wants to consistently harvest Canada geese. The birds have become skittish by now and can be up to 10 miles off the river in either direction during the daytime. Late-season Canadas have been exposed to all of the duck hunting and are very cautious.

There aren't many light geese in November, and most of the birds will stage for a few days and then move on to the delta and the rice and wheat fields. The locals are more interested in duck hunting, which leaves the snow goose hunting pretty much wide open.

Snow goose hunting requires plenty of scouting, a large spread of decoys, so it's a great deal of work to hunt them.

Dardanelle WMA is one of the river's open-water hunting spots that can pull in many birds. The lake is 50 miles long and covers 34,000 acres, all of which are open to goose hunting. Lake Dardanelle lies in Franklin, Logan, Johnson, Pope and Yell counties.

Floating or motoring is a real option, but the water can be rough. Launch out in at least a 16-footer with a 25-horsepower motor, at a minimum. White caps develop and several boats have capsized over the years.

For more information, contact the AGFC office at (877) 478-1043.

OZARK WMA

"The Arkansas River is a narrow corridor that funnels the geese down through the Arkansas River Valley," wildlife biologist Randal Boyington said. "Most of the good hunting is from Clarksville on down to the Lake Dardanelle and Russellville area. The birds are headed for Texas and Louisiana, and they'll be around until they're harassed, and then they're up and gone."

River hunting is a hit-and-miss proposition. Beginning early in the season, many Canadas are killed on the ponds and bottomlands along the river, but when sandbars and fields present themselves, early goose hunters do well to take notice. Snow geese show up after the Canadas have moved on and present some challenging open-water shooting. The river can get plenty of snow geese, depending on the weather, and they'll be in groups that can number in the thousands. Up and down the Arkansas River, blues and white-fronts show up on occasion, but there aren't a dependable number of them. After being shot at a couple of times, the geese will move on.

In January and February, another influx of Canadas descends on the river to provide excellent waterfowling. They'll join up with the local birds and the shooting can be fierce.

Boyington recommends launching out in at least a 16-footer with a 25-horsepower motor at a minimum. Whitecaps develop and several boats have overturned.

Jump-shooting along the riverbank can also be productive. Set up some driftwood or other cover for concealment to target snow geese that are roosting on midriver sandbars.

The Ozark WMA lies on the river in Crawford, Franklin and Sebastian counties and covers 10,600 acres.

For more information, contact the AGFC office at (877) 478-1043.

STEVE N. WILSON/RAFT CREEK WMA

"We don't have a lot of goose habitat in eastern Arkansas, but the exception is the Steve N. Wilson WMA," area wildlife biologist Mike Coker said. "We'll have mostly snows and blues that move into the fields and onto the moist soils. Depending on the cold fronts, the geese will move on down through Cross County, into Monroe and Arkansas counties and out onto the farm belt. On the WMA, we do some flooding later on in the year to create moist soil areas. How wet these moist soil areas are varies from year to year, but that's where the food will be on the public areas."

The AGFC does quite a bit of work to make the area hospitable for visiting geese. Seed-producing grasses are cultivated, disked and sprayed to create additional habitat.

"The snow geese aren't easy to hunt," Coker said. "They're hunted all the way down the flyway with people taking potshots at them. They don't decoy well when they reach Arkansas and prefer to spend their time out in the middle of fields. By the time they've gotten this far, they're leery."

Many area farmers are more than happy to give permission to use their property for field hunting. Area chambers of commerce keep lists of private landholders who will give permission to hunt. The AGFC's Region 2 office is also willing to connect hunters with willing landowners.

Boat ramps are available along Cypert Road and area roadways. Raft Creek and its tributaries allow some boating access into the area. The WMA lies just east of the Henry Gray/Hurricane Lake WMA.

The

Steve N. Wilson/Raft Creek WMA covers 4,000 acres in White County.

Access is on Cypert Road 20 miles northeast of Des Arc and about 15 miles southeast of Searcy.

Contact the AGFC at (877) 734-4581 for more information.

BALD KNOB NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

There aren't many spots in the Natural State that offer up both the quality and diversity of goose hunting that the Bald Knob NWR does.

"At times, there are large numbers of geese on the refuge and you can find any kind of goose you're looking for," said Richard Crossett, the federal wildlife biologist who oversees the area.

Crossett knows geese both on and off the clock. When he has the chance, he'll be in the field.

"I've taken snow geese for the most part," Crossett said. "I'll set up with a lay-out blind and silhouettes out in a field or be in a blind with decoys near open water. A lot of geese will show up on Bald Knob at times."

About half the area's 15,000 acres are open to public hunting, while the rest is a waterfowl refuge where no trespassing is allowed. Field hunting tactics are the only way to go here since the vast majority of huntable ground is open, and it's on a first-come, first-served basis. The area consists of moist soil areas, farm fields and both harvested and standing crops.

According to Crossett, getting decoys and other equipment onto the area before the geese arrive can be tricky. Hunters will usually have about an hour before the first flights start arriving. There aren't many goose hunters on the area, said Crossett.

To be legal, hunters must carry a signed statement from the area brochure that affirms they've read the rules printed in the brochure. Pick one up at the area's north entrance on the way in. Hunters can park at the parking lot at 4:45 a.m. and move onto the area at 5 a.m. Watch for the marked waterfowl refuge signs.

The area lies in White County and is subject to state hunting regulations as well as federal regulations.

For more information, contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at (870) 347-2614.

OVERFLOW NWR

"Overflow NWR is the best spot to be on in this area because of the more open fields on the refuge," Forester Ruth McDonald said. "The snows and blues come in regularly, plus a lot of the farmers will give hunters permission to set up on their property because the geese are on their fields."

Wildlife biologist Lake Lewis is in agreement but points out that there seemingly aren't as many geese as there used to be, most likely due to the Goose Conservation Season.

"Ducks show up first in the fall and then the snow geese move in," Lewis said. "Some folks drive up and down the roads and then sneak up on them in the fields. The problem is that the snows will roost either out on open water or in the middle of harvested fields where they feel safe. So, there really isn't a lot of goose hunting on the Overflow NWR even though there's a lot of geese in late November and December."

Overflow is in the Mississippi Flyway and migrating geese make regular stopovers. It's a recent development as far as federal refuges go and was set up in 1980. At present, it contains over 12,000 acres in Ashley County. Seasonal flooding for geese and ducks is a given and the 2,620 acres of crop fields are snow goose magnets.

Overflow NWR is east of Parkdale and Wilmot on U.S. Route 165. Access to the area is from the east on state highways 8 and 173 and from the west on County Road 342.

A special regulation is that waterfowlers can only be in possession of 25 shotgun shells. The refuge hunt ends on Jan. 31.

For additional information, contact the AGFC at (870) 473-2869.

MILLWOOD LAKE

Canada geese are king at sprawling 29,200-acre Millwood Lake. Unlike other public areas, many goose hunters descend on Millwood and there's a good reason for it.

"Millard Lake is the spot to go for Canadas," wildlife biologist Griffin Park said. "This is our best concentration of resident Canadas in southwestern Arkansas."

The Little River inflows the giant reservoir on the western side and that's where most hunters score well. Moving up the river to the oxbows and sloughs provides much open-water shooting and plenty of habitat to support the burgeoning population of resident geese.

"A normal duck boat with a 25-horsepower motor should get you upstream without a problem unless the flow is really strong," Park said. "The Little River is stump-filled in what's known as the upriver section of Millwood and is notorious for taking out boats, so you'll have to be careful. Just put out some duck and a few goose decoys and hope they fly over, and be willing to move if you need to."

The shooting is admittedly opportunistic. A little scouting to find the roosting areas on the open water is a good idea. There's ample room for both hunters and geese to spread out and the birds can be just about anywhere.

Almost all of the shooting is done from a boat.

Access is from Highway 32. The lake is located on the Little River 16 river miles from the confluence with the Red River, about seven miles east of Ashdown.

For additional information, contact the AGFC at (877) 777-5580.

BULL SHOALS LAKE

"Bull Shoals offers some limited waterfowl hunting," wildlife biologist Barry McArdle said.

Impoundment and river hunting are both hit-and-miss propositions, but the geese do utilize the vast acreage of open water to roost where they have a sense of security from predators. In the morning and evening, they'll fly out onto surrounding fields, which is when they're the most vulnerable.

Bull Shoals is an impoundment of the White River in north-central Arkansas with 45,500 acres of open-water hunting for those willing to go afloat for it. Geese can be virtually anywhere, depending on the current, wave action and availability of crop fields within easy flying distance. There are nearly a thousand miles of shoreline with a wide variety of surrounding land habitat.

Numerous ramps provide access to the lake, and there's plenty of human activity to contend with. Shooting is subject to regular state regulations and on occasion, a limit can be taken.

A dunk in the water can be serious business this time of the year. Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it creates it. Even mildly cold water robs the body of its heat 25 times faster than cold air alone. Remember the 50-50-50 rule. A hunter has a 50 percent chance of living if the water temperature is 50 degrees and he has to swim

50 yards.

For more information, call the AGFC at (877) 297-4331.

NORFORK LAKE

Norfork Lake is another open-water destination that can be well worth the drive. The reservoir covers 22,000 acres with a shoreline of well over 500 miles, and like Bull Shoals, is a multi-use lake.

Snows will use the open water to roost and then move out into the surrounding fields. Try to avoid breaking up the birds on the water since they'll move to other locations on the lake and you'll have to start all over again to locate them. If hunters can find the fields where the birds are feeding and then set up between the roosting and feeding areas, that's where the shooting will happen.

"You have to keep up with snow geese," biologist Milligan said. "Snow geese keep moving around from one spot to another. They'll eat out a field in a day or two and then they're gone."

Scout around, find the birds and if there aren't any interception points on public land, get permission to hunt the fields. Most farmers that are in the process of losing their winter wheat will be happy to give hunters permission to hunt. Some of the farms in the area can be large and the farmers stand to lose much if the geese clean out a field.

This open-water hunting destination is another of McArdle's top picks.

The lake is on the Norfork River, four miles upstream from its confluence with the White River by the city of Norfork.

Call the AGFC at (877) 444-6777 for additional information.

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