Arkansas' Overlooked Waterfowl Hotspots

Since Arkansas offers the finest waterfowling in the world, it's not surprising that some great spots get overlooked. Try these hotspots when others get too crowded.

By Keith Sutton

Arkansas waterfowl hunting seems to grow in popularity year after year. Finding good public duck and goose hunting on lands that aren't overrun with hordes of hunters has become increasingly difficult.

Nevertheless, the Natural State encompasses many fine waterfowling hotspots where wingshooters can still enjoy uncrowded hunting. You won't find a hunter behind every tree at these areas, and if weather and water conditions are right, chances are good that you'll have plenty of opportunities to bag plenty of mallards, wood ducks, teal, diving ducks, Canada geese and/or other waterfowl.

WOOD DUCKS ON SMALL STREAMS
Wood ducks are tailor-made for hunters who prefer get-away-from-it-all sport in the backwoods of Arkansas. These beautiful ducks, almost always common in forested stream bottoms off the beaten path, provide plentiful shooting opportunities for waterfowlers who don't mind going the extra mile to find the woodies' secluded haunts. The nice thing about it is that it only takes a little extra scouting to locate wood ducks on many small streams with public access. Such waters are found statewide from the Ozarks and Ouachitas to the Coastal Plain and Mississippi Delta.

The Saline River from Benton to points south is one example. There are numerous access points along this stretch of water that allow for short float-hunts, and while wood ducks are fairly common, hunters are not.

Bayou Bartholomew below Pine Bluff also serves up good woodie hunting during most years, as do stretches of Cadron Creek in Faulkner County, the Ouachita River below Camden, the Antoine River along the Pike-Clark county line and Big Creek south of Marvell (Phillips County). A look at a map for either the Ouachita National Forest or the Ozark NF will turn up many small streams worth a visit as well, such as the Fourche la Fave in the Perry County portion of Ouachita NF and Big Piney Creek in the Johnson and Pope county portion of Ozark NF.

Many smaller WMAs offer great gunning for ducks, especially during weekdays, when crowds are thin. Photo by Keith Sutton

To find more potential hotspots, purchase a copy of the Arkansas Outdoor Atlas. Peruse the public lands in the counties you want to hunt, and pinpoint small rivers and streams with public access areas. This publication is available from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission; call 1-800-364-GAME, or visit www.agfc.com on the Web.

On most of these small waters, float-hunting from a canoe or small johnboat is the tactic of choice. One hunter paddles from the rear while the other handles the gun in the bow. Both should keep a low profile, sitting on the boat's floor if necessary. Keep the boat headed straight downstream, and remain immobile and silent. When approaching bends in the stream, hug the inside edge. This allows you to get as close as possible to any birds that are around the corner. Regardless of the craft, camouflage it with camo netting or flat brown and green paint.

ARKANSAS RIVER DUCKS AND GEESE
The Arkansas River traverses more than 300 miles of the state from Ft. Smith to the river's confluence with the Mississippi in Desha County. A few stretches receive considerable hunting pressure, but the river's vastness makes it possible to find many locales on the main river and in backwaters and tributaries that seldom are visited by waterfowlers.

This is grab-bag shooting, with more than just mallards to set your sights on. Other dabbling ducks use the river as a flyway as well, including gadwalls, pintails, shovelers and teal. All the diving ducks can be found here at one time or another, and there's superb gunning for Canada geese and the occasional flock of snows or whitefronts as well. You never know what you'll be shooting at next, which adds to the fun.

Sandbars provide some of the best hotspots for Arkansas River waterfowl, but it's important to scout for the best locales. The best thing to do is to locate sandbars beneath a major flyway by using binoculars to survey the area. Then, when you've located sandbars with ducks and/or geese passing overhead, pinpoint those with other attractive characteristics. The best sandbars tend to have a southern exposure with a fairly tall growth of shoreline willows to break the north wind. They also have a decent area of water that isn't over 2 or 3 feet deep, and are usually completely out of the current, so the birds don't have to swim hard to stay on the bar. In short, the best sandbars provide waterfowl a place to loaf around without expending much energy. And they're usually loafing or resting here, not feeding.

Most Arkansas River hunters shoot from a boat hidden in some bushes or other cover as a matter of necessity, simply because it's difficult to find a place on shore where you can set up a blind. When hunting sandbars, however, it's often possible to build a makeshift blind using materials indigenous to the river. Try to use materials like old sticks or driftwood that don't look out of place, and try to keep a low profile. A big, high-profile blind on a sandbar is obvious to ducks and geese. If you want any action, you have to keep this in mind.

Use big decoy spreads if possible, so passing birds can spot them from a distance. Combined with good loud calling, a properly set spread usually will attract several flocks of birds daily so you can enjoy plentiful shooting opportunities.

CORPS IMPOUNDMENTS
If you don't mind facing sometimes rugged weather and the other problems that can be associated with reservoir hunting, some of Arkansas' U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lakes can provide you with exceptional waterfowling opportunities. Diving ducks find these impoundments attractive throughout the winter, and when the water on a given lake rises high enough to flood surrounding woods and vegetation, puddle ducks often congregate to feed as well.

Several of the lakes have adjacent wildlife management areas where you can hunt, including Dardanelle, Greeson, Beaver, Blue Mountain, Bull Shoals, Greers Ferry, Millwood, Nimrod, Ozark and Norfork. If you use good judgment, however, and stay well away from developed sites such as marinas and homes, you can hunt practically anywhere on the Corps lakes without problem. You'll need a big boat to hunt effectively (waves and winds can often be treacherous), and though you won't often kill a limit of birds in a hurry, there tend to be enough ducks to provide shooting at scattered intervals. At times, however, when water levels, weather and other conditions are just right, hunting can be spectacular.

Each lake has different characteristics, so the best hunting methods vary with location. Bull Shoals, for example, is deep, and thus tends to attract more diving ducks than it does dabblers. Millwood, on the other hand, is a shallow, timber-filled lake that attracts numerous mallards, gadwalls and other puddle ducks in addition to scattered flocks of divers. Scout before hunting, and you'll enjoy success more often than not.

OVERLOOKED WMAs
Some wildlife management areas such as Bayou Meto and Black River attract hunters from throughout Arkansas and across the nation. Lesser-known WMAs can be somewhat crowded with local hunters at times, but, on weekdays in particular, many receive hardly any hunting pressure at all. These are worth checking if you have time for some pre-hunt scouting.

One such area is Whitehall WMA on the L'Anguille River in Poinsett County. The area is tiny - just over 100 acres of overgrown fish ponds on one side of the river and flooded timber sloughs on the other. At times, though, the area is covered up with mallards, gadwalls, teal and other ducks. The WMA is on Highway 214 between the communities of Fisher and Whitehall.

Another sleeper honeyhole is St. Francis National Forest WMA, whose 21,000 acres lie in Lee and Phillips counties. Although much of this area is atop Crowley's Ridge, the entire eastern edge is made up of bottomlands along the St. Francis, L'Anguille and Mississippi rivers. At times, you'll find blue-ribbon waterfowling along the rivers, oxbows and backwaters.

Other good bets include Benson Creek Natural Area along Bayou de View on the Monroe-Woodruff county line, Pine Tree Research Experimental Station WMA in St. Francis County, Beryl Anthony/ Lower Ouachita WMA on the Louisiana line in southeast Arkansas and Galla Creek WMA in Pope County.

(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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