Arkansas' Top WMAs For Ducks
September 24, 2010
Duck numbers may rise and fall from year to year, but on these public lands, the waterfowl hunting's always solid.
By Keith Sutton
Arkansas encompasses scores of public hunting areas offering excellent waterfowling opportunities. Coming up with a top ten list is like trying to pick the state's 10 best restaurants. It's darned near impossible, and lots of excellent establishments are bound to get left out.
Nevertheless, following are short reviews of ten Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wildlife management areas renowned for great duck hunting. Some are world-renowned hotspots known to waterfowlers far and wide. Others receive lesser fanfare, but provide superb hunting opportunities for those savvy to the ways of mallards and other ducks. When ducks move in from the north, all offer excellent duck hunting opportunities.
BAYOU METO WMA Bayou Meto, which encompasses 33,700 acres in Arkansas and Jefferson counties, may be the best-known green-timber waterfowling hot spot in the country. Mallards and other ducks are funneled into the area at a bottleneck in the Mississippi Flyway, and when conditions are right, you won't find better duck hunting anywhere in the nation. The opening days of the season can be very crowded, with a couple of thousand or more hunters using the area each day. But as the season progresses, hunting pressure drops, averaging only a few hundred hunters daily. Waterfowling enthusiasts who study maps of the area, do on-site scouting and learn to get around in this vast bottomland tract can often find areas where other hunting parties are rarely encountered and enjoy hours of green-timber duck hunting at its finest.
Bayou Meto WMA can be reached off several highways, including U.S. highways 79, 165, 152, 88 and 276. There are AGFC signs on each highway. For additional information, including an area map, WMA regulations and an up-to-date waterfowl report, log on to the commission's Web site, www.agfc.com, or phone (870) 873-4524.
When conditions are right at the Natural State's premier WMAs, bagging a limit of mallards is a cinch. Photo by Keith Sutton
BIG LAKE WMA Big Lake WMA, 15 miles west of Blytheville in Mississippi County, covers more than 12,000 acres of bottomland hardwood habitat adjacent Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Hunters have been pursuing ducks in this area since the turn of the century, and though the lands in the region have been largely converted to agriculture, the WMA and adjacent federal refuge continue attracting huge numbers of mallards and other waterfowl. Without doubt, this WMA offers the best duck hunting opportunities in the extreme northeast corner of the Arkansas Delta.
Big Lake WMA can best be reached off state highways 181 and 18. The northern border of the area is formed by the Arkansas-Missouri state line, and the western border lies alongside the federal refuge. Manila, the nearest town, is five miles west of the federal refuge headquarters.
The main access route to the waterfowl hunting area is by gravel road atop the west levee. This leads to a ditch called the "seven-mile lateral." From that point, boats are required to get around. Another access route is on the area's east side, off state Highway 181 at Simmons Bridge and also at Bo Doc Landing. Hunters can walk in from Simmons Bridge, while access from Bo Doc Landing is mostly by boat.
Additional information can be obtained by logging on to the AGFC's Web site or phoning the Jonesboro regional office at (870) 972-5438. Be sure to check for special waterfowling regulations that apply to this particular WMA.
DAVE DONALDSON/ BLACK RIVER WMA Black River WMA has earned a place among the top public waterfowling areas in the South. Encompassing approximately 23,000 acres in northeast Arkansas' Clay, Randolph and Green counties, this vast bottomland complex is a magnet for large numbers of ducks. Tens of thousands of mallards typically winter here, along with lesser numbers of other duck species. Wood ducks in particular are common.
Like other public hunting areas in the Natural State, Black River may serve up superb duck hunting one year and have poor hunting the next. The number of ducks found here during hunting season depends to a large extent on weather conditions to the north, rainfall amounts and productivity on the Canadian breeding grounds. Good hunting years tend to outnumber the poor ones, however, and hunters from throughout the U.S. have been traveling here for years to sample some of the finest green-timber duck hunting Arkansas can offer.
Black River WMA is 10 miles south of Corning, 10 miles east of Pocahontas, 20 miles west of Paragould and 15 miles north of Walnut Ridge. There are several main access points, all described in detail on the AGFC's Web site; there you'll also find a current waterfowl report and area regulations. For additional information, call 1-877-972-5438.
EARL BUSS/ BAYOU DE VIEW WMA This WMA exemplifies the old saying, "Good things often come in small packages." Although the Bayou de View area only covers 4,254 acres, those acres tend to provide blue-ribbon duck hunting opportunities each fall and winter. The WMA, which is in western Poinsett County, encompasses a portion of Bayou de View from state Highway 17 to just north of state Highway 214. The bottomland woods surrounding the bayou, and the rice fields surrounding nearby Weiner, have drawn ducks and duck hunters to the area since the turn of the century.
The area is composed of three separate tracts of land - the Thompson, Oliver and Martin tracts. The Thompson and Oliver tracts were developed specifically as wintering waterfowl areas, and it's in these areas that hunters have the best opportunities for bagging some of the tens of thousands of mallards and other ducks that typically winter here. The Oliver tract, the southernmost parcel of land, is bounded on the south by state Highway 14 and on the north by a county road west of Weiner. The Thompson tract is immediately north of the Oliver tract, bounded on the north by state Highway 214. An excellent map delineating these areas and showing the locations of parking facilities, camping areas and other amenities can be downloaded from the AGFC Web site. The area can be reached by county roads west out of Weiner on state Highway 49 or off state highways 14 or 214. For more information, call 1-877-972-5438.
HENRY GRAY/ HURRICANE LAKE WMA There's little wonder ducks are attracted to this 16,400-acre management area in White County. This is prime real estate for wintering waterfowl, with extensive bottomland hardwood habitat adjacent several water bodies. The WMA is bounded on the east by the White River. The Little Red Rive
r separates approximately 4,000 acres from the main body of the acreage. Glaise Creek also traverses the WMA, and there are several oxbow lakes, including Big Hurricane, Little Hurricane, Big Bell, Little Bell, Whirl, Honey Lake, Big Brushy and Mallard. Other important wintering waterfowl areas (Bald Knob National Wildlife Refuge and Steve N. Wilson/Raft Creek WMA) are nearby, enhancing the area's ability to attract thousands of migrant mallards and other waterfowl.
In early fall, water-control structures are closed in an attempt to catch and hold runoff water from fall rains. Approximately 7,000 acres are flooded in this manner, making the WMA attractive to ducks on a more consistent basis than areas without such management enhancements. Hunting can be good practically anywhere, but it pays to scout for a good place to set up before you visit.
Access is from U.S. Highway 64, five miles east of Bald Knob, where there is a WMA road sign directing you into the area. Access to the south side can be gained by taking state Highway 36 east from Searcy to Georgetown. Phone 1-877-734-4581 for more information, and visit www.agfc.com for a map, regulations and current waterfowl reports.
PETIT JEAN WMA This 15,000-acre Yell County area doesn't get the respect it deserves. Duck hunting rarely is on a par with that found on Bayou Meto or other large east Arkansas WMAs, but this western Arkansas management area sometimes swarms with birds. The nearby Arkansas River funnels ducks from the Central Flyway into Petit Jean, so hunters are more likely to take a mixed bag of mallards, gadwalls, widgeon and other species here than on many Delta WMAs. It may seem strange to be hunting waterfowl on bottomland area with a mountain backdrop, but when the sun rises over the peaks surrounding the WMA, flocks of ducks start dropping into the timber along the Petit Jean River and smaller tributaries.
Most hunters here set decoys in timber flooded with shallow water, and call to scattered flocks of birds that pass sporadically, trying to work them in. Access is available from state Highway 10, which borders the area on the south, from state Highway 154 on the north, or from state Highway 7, which bisects the WMA. Highway 7 connects with I-40 at Russellville, 15 miles north. Call 1-877-478-1043 for additional info.
REX HANCOCK/ BLACK SWAMP WMA Incredible natural beauty is the hallmark of Black Swamp, a 5,590-acre WMA in Woodruff County, 10 miles south of Augusta. Access is more limited here than on larger, better-known public hunting areas, but hunters willing to boat or wade into the heart of the swamp are treated to sights of giant cypress trees and tupelos in a bottomland environment that's becoming increasingly rare and hard to find. There's no more beautiful place to hunt ducks in all of Arkansas.
The ducks - mostly mallards and wood ducks - come here by the thousands when water levels are sufficient, following the Cache River, which runs through the heart of the management area. Those who hunt here are unanimous in their acclaim of Rex Hancock, a Stuttgart dentist who led the nationwide campaign to save waterfowl habitat along the Cache and whose name is now synonymous with Black Swamp.
Public access is available by traveling state Highway 33 from Augusta to Gregory and following the signs. This principal access road ends at a parking and camping area beside the boat ramp that accesses a boat canal leading to the Cache River. Additional facts can be found on the AGFC Web site, or you can learn more by calling the commission at 1-877-734-4581.
ST. FRANCIS SUNKEN LANDS WMA Strung out for approximately 30 miles along the St. Francis River, the Sunken Lands area became nationally famous as a hunting hotspot more than 100 years ago. When the New Madrid earthquake rocked the region in 1811-12, an area of high bottomlands along the St. Francis and Little rivers dropped 6 to 8 feet and was flooded to create this waterfowlers paradise. The quality duck hunting opportunities here are relatively unknown outside a small circle of local sportsmen today, but the Sunken Lands region offers crackerjack hunting for mallards and other ducks that flock here by the thousands each winter.
With the exception of a few small tracts, the majority of the area lies within the main levees of the St. Francis River. The tracts are scattered like the patchwork of a quilt up and down the river corridor, however, so it's wise to obtain a map and study it closely to find public areas in which to focus your hunting efforts. A major portion of the area is east of Trumann in northeastern Poinsett County. Major access points are the Siphons Access off state Highway 63 near Marked Tree, Oak Donnick Access, south of Trumann off state Highway 63 near Tulot, and Stephens Landing off state Highway 69 east of Trumann. The east side of the area may be reached by either of two county roads off state Highway 135 between Caraway and Riverdale. Talk with AGFC personnel at 1-877-972-5438 for more information.
SHIREY BAY-RAINEY BRAKE WMA Like Petit Jean WMA, this 10,528-acre area in Lawrence County seldom draws much attention outside a hardcore group of local duck hunters. But thanks to its location in the Black River corridor, Shirey Bay-Rainey Brake tends to hold an above-average number of mallards and other ducks each year. The east side of the area - Shirey Bay - got its name from an old oxbow off the Black River. Rainey Brake on the west side derives its name from the presence of a large pond or "brake."
The best hunting, as one might imagine, is during years when the Black River rises and floods the bottomland woodlands. The Ozark Mountains lie just a short distance to the north, but when you're standing knee-deep in water calling to the ducks circling overhead, it's easy to imagine you're in Bayou Meto or Black Swamp.
To reach the area, follow Highway 25 to Black Rock and turn right under the Black River bridge. Continue on Highway 25 to Lynn, where you'll see signs directing you into the WMA. Want more details? Call the Jonesboro AGFC office at 1-877-972-5438.
SULPHUR RIVER WMA In the minds of most Arkansas duck hunters, going west is the wrong way. The primary arteries for ducks migrating south are in the eastern Delta. In comparison, western portions of the state seem lacking. One exception to this rule is Sulphur River WMA, which encompasses more than 16,000 acres of magnificent old river lakes, sloughs, cypress brakes and bottomland hardwoods that attract a multitude of wintering ducks. The management area contains the last large wetland tract remaining in the Red River Valley.
Sulphur River runs 10 miles in and along the boundaries of the WMA. Another major waterway, Mercer Bayou, flows eight miles through the heart of the area. These streams provide the primary access for visiting ducks hunters, who find travel largely limited to boats. Most hunting is in small open pools, where waterfowling enthusiasts take a mixed bag of birds that may include everything from mallards to cinnamon teal.
Sulphur River WMA is 16 miles south of Texa
rkana in Miller County. For access information and an area map, consult the AGFC's Web site. Additional information is available by phoning 1-877-777-5580.
The 2003-04 duck hunting seasons and regulations had not been set at the time this was written. You'll find them in the current edition of the Arkansas Waterfowl Hunting Regulations pamphlet, available from sporting goods dealers statewide or by calling 1-800-364-GAME. This information and other topics of interest are available at www.agfc.com as well.
(Editor's Note: Keith Sutton is the author of Hunting Arkansas: The Sportsman's Guide to Natural State Game. To order autographed copies, send a check or money order for $28.25 to C & C Outdoors, 15601 Mountain Dr., Alexander, AR 72002. Arkansas residents should add sales tax. For credit card orders and more information, log on to www.ccoutdoors.com.)
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