Northeast Arkansas Duck Hotspots
September 24, 2010
Arkansas is generally a duck magnet, with its public area exerting some of the most powerful attraction. These four are among the best our state has to offer.
When it comes right down to it, most hunting sports wind up as a feast-or-famine proposition. Take Arkansas' 2001-02 duck hunting season: Some areas were complete losers, while spots only a few miles away functioned as veritable "suck holes" that pulled in every passing duck. Such was the case last season for me and fellow Dixie Guide Service owners Shorty Jones and Jason Taylor.
We had taken every precaution to ensure some high-quality waterfowling for ourselves and our clients - leasing a rice field near the L'Anguille River, doing our homework on the river itself as well as other flyways within a 50-mile radius: that sort of thing.
Our Georgia clients rolled in right on schedule, as did a few more ducks, but, with the exception of one mallard and one gadwall, our morning in the rice field was uneventful. Owing to an overabundance of rain that made everything around us a duck and goose smorgasbord, birds were spread thin all over the area.
Shorty and Jason made a late afternoon run up the St. Francis River, near Trumann, and found a likely-looking area for the morning - which is when Jason and I met our clients at the Oak Donnick access ramp south of Trumann and motored 20 minutes upriver to the hole to place our decoys out before shooting light. Mallards and wood ducks could be seen and heard cruising the treetops in the pre-dawn darkness, and Jason and I both had the gut feeling that this was the day that would make the hard work and effort worthwhile.
As shooting light came, a small group of mallards bailed into the hole without warning, and we managed to pull two greenheads from the flock. Within the next hour 14 more mallards fell to our guns, neatly finishing out our limit of mallards for the day. We were fairly sure this wasn't a one-shot wonder - and, sure enough, more than 300 mallards were taken from the same hole over the course of two weeks.
THERE WILL BE HOMEWORK, CLASS Public duck hunting is a research-intensive species of the sport; to be successful with any regularity, you have to do your homework. Modern duck hunters have the luxury of being able to search the Internet to acquire valuable information about a given area's duck numbers, water levels, harvest statistics and so forth. But the old school still has something vital to add: Cruises - both morning and evening, by both boat and land vehicle - are hard to beat for finding ducks. This method actually puts you out where you can see at first hand what your quarry's doing.
Northeast Arkansas is a waterfowl mecca. Several wildlife management areas, predominately flooded timber areas and riverways, lie within a short distance of Jonesboro. In the following review, we'll discuss a few of the area's hotspots and how to get to them, and detail resources that'll make your next hunt your best ever.
Photo by Garykramer.net
BAYOU DE VIEW WMA Bayou De View Wildlife Management Area is in Western Poinsett County near Wiener. "The Bayou" (as it's generally known) is a mix of hardwood flats, sloughs and buckbrush. The 4,254-acre WMA consists of three separate parcels of land: Thompson, Oliver and Martin tracts. The Thompson and Oliver tracts, the most-used areas of the WMA, were developed with wintering waterfowl in mind. Water levels are stabilized by pumping when necessary, so even in conditions drier than normal, some water is virtually guaranteed.
Fowl Timber Duck Calls pro staffer and expert waterfowler Shorty Jones prefers bright, clear and bitter-cold days for hunting the Bayou. "When the weather gets clear and cold," he said, "the Bayou seems to pull in lots of ducks. We try to stick to holes up and down the main boat run, and even hunt the boat run itself."
Jones, who hunts 50 or more days each season, by and large sticks to setting out smaller numbers of decoys - from two to four dozen for most of his applications. "Small numbers of decoys are easier to carry," he explained, "which makes you much more mobile. Mobility can be the determining factor in consistently killing ducks, especially when ducks start hitting holes out in the woods. Oftentimes you can hunt a hole with success early, but as the morning wears on the ducks will begin hitting other spots. Most times, if you can load up and get there quickly, you'll kill ducks."
When asked about his preferences in calling, Jones replied, "You've got to be able to read the ducks. What works today may or may not work next week. But as a rule you can get by calling a lot in the timber - especially when you have a flight of new ducks in."
One of the best things about Bayou De View is that it's entirely surrounded by rice and soybean fields, which attract and hold large numbers of ducks. These ducks fly in and out of the fields - and, throughout legal shooting times, into the Bayou. Another point of interest is the proximity of Claypool's reservoir - an area that holds unbelievable numbers of ducks. Many will remember the famous photo and the television program that aired from the area in the mid-'50s, which showcased some 300,000 mallards on the reservoir.
Bayou De View is best traveled to via county road from the town of Wiener. You'll get to most of the better hunting with a boat. However, some walk-in access is available. Launch facilities and parking are located on the Thompson tract, and, as is the case at all Arkansas Game and Fish Department WMAs, shooting ends at noon.
SHIREY BAY/RAINEY BRAKE Another notable hotspot in northeast Arkansas is Shirey Bay/Rainey Brake WMA, in the Clover Bend and Lynn areas, respectively. Shirey Bay/Rainey Brake straddles the Black River, a natural flyway for migrating waterfowl that funnels thousands of migrating ducks through the area annually. Most waterfowling opportunities will be found in the Rainey Brake portion of the WMA. Rainey Brake consists of large stands of hardwoods and mixed green timber; logging roads and holes appear here and there around the area. Water is nearly guaranteed in the WMA, as it's flooded by drainage from nearby Lake Charles. To allow adequate flooding of the WMA and to give birds a chance to hit the area prior to duck season, gates open well in advance of the hunting. Note that a portion of the WMA is off limits to waterfowling until the last three days of duck season. This rest area can and does hold thousands of ducks on a day-to-day basis.
When water conditions are normal, a large part of the WMA is negotiable by hunters in chest waders. There are, of course, plenty who are more accustomed to lugging their equipment around by boat.
to Rainey Brake, follow Highway 63 to the town of Black Rock, take the first right past the bridge on Highway 25, and then follow the AGFC signs to the community of Lynn. Follow the signs first to County Road 318 and then to the Coffee Access area of Rainey Brake.
DAVE DONALDSON/BLACK RIVER WMA Near the small community of Brookings, Dave Donaldson WMA is widely celebrated as one of the top public-land waterfowling areas in the United States. Various publications and organizations - including the Arkansas Duck Hunters Almanac and Ducks Unlimited - have chronicled the fantastic hunting success here.
Dave Donaldson is a large WMA, its 25,000 acres lying in Clay, Randolph and Greene counties. Around 7,000 acres of prime green timber are flooded by the AGFC annually, and this large area lures in phenomenal hordes of ducks.
To hit the honeyholes, you've got to navigate the Black River, so if you're looking to enter the best areas of the WMA, you'll be getting there by boat. As a result of its extreme popularity, the area is sometimes fairly crowded. Keeping this in mind, try to leave a little early in order to lock down your favorite spot.
The most-used access point is the boat launching area near Brookings. Exercise caution when you're motoring through the WMA, as water levels are constantly changing.
WHITEHALL WMA/L'ANGUILLE RIVER Whitehall WMA, southwest of Whitehall in Poinsett County, is a small one - just over 100 acres of old, overgrown fish ponds on one side of the river and flooded timber sloughs on the other. When exploited correctly, this spot is a sleeper - a point underscored by events during 2000's unusual duck season.
Two friends from Wisconsin and I had hunted with limited success amid the near-deep-freeze conditions during the week of the split. Cold weather had moved in to drop the temperatures into the single digits, blanketing the entire state with a thick layer of ice. The big chill had pushed nearly all of the ducks deeper south into Louisiana, virtually guaranteeing misery and ducklessness for hunts to come. Shorty, Jason and I ultimately decided to hunt the open L'Anguille River on the first few days of the reopener - and were richly rewarded for the decision.
Warmer-than-normal weather had started the birds heading north and, thus, back into northeast Arkansas. The kicker was that, even as the giant surge of birds was throttling up, the fields were still covered in ice, and tremendous numbers of ducks were obliged to resort to the open river channel all throughout the day. With a little scouting, we found an ideal location for the next day's hunt. Placing around four dozen decoys, as well as our motorized decoys, right in the main river channel, we waited. And the wait wasn't long: A large flock of mallards responded to a hail call by dropping like bombs into the spread. Soon we had our limit of mallards, as well as a trio of green-winged teal.
For those interested in hunting the L'Anguille, or Whitehall WMA, follow Highway 1 south from Jonesboro and through the town of Harrisburg until you get to the Whitehall community. Take a right on Highway 214 and go about five miles until you hit the bridge over the river. Boat ramps are on both sides of the bridge.
USEFUL TIPS Expert waterfowlers are familiar with the virtues of organization. Far too many hunters jump in the truck, hook to the boat, load the dog and decoys and ease to their hunting spot without checking everything prior to the hunt. One of the most frustrating experiences in the duck hunting world is to realize only after you've arrived at your favorite area that your decoys are unusably disarrayed, or that the boat won't start. "You have to spend time on your equipment to make sure everything is in place and in working order if you want to kill ducks," Taylor cautioned. "It's a sick feeling watching boats cruise by you, heading to their holes, while you crank on a lifeless motor or listening to ducks calling and shots being fired while you untangle your decoys." So spend a little time oiling the shotgun and charging the boat battery before you go afield.
Another tip: Practice your calling, and maintain your calls. As a call maker, I can assure you that this can make or break a successful hunt. Practice calling year 'round to hone your skills, and don't be afraid to try different calls to find one that's right for you. Ducks are often very picky, and realism is essential for consistently fooling ducks time after time. A number of tapes and videos useful for helping you to sharpen your skills are on the market, but there's no substitute for listening to actual birds. Pay attention to rhythm, cadence and volume; many hunters call too loudly or too often, which can flare birds and educate them for the next hunt.
Also, carry a repair kit for calls consisting of a resealable plastic bag containing precut reeds and corks and dental floss for cleaning under the reed. It's also a good idea to have a spare call or two in your blind bag in case yours are lost or left at home.
Firearms should be attended to as well. Check and recheck guns for plugs, dirt and grime, and scrutinize barrels carefully for obstructions. Always carry a small cleaning kit to ensure that your favorite autoloader doesn't turn into a single-shot on the best morning of the year.
One of the most important contributors to a successful duck hunt is timing. You can't expect to hunt public-land ducks by getting to the boat ramp 15 minutes prior to shooting hours. Leave an hour earlier than is normal, thus enabling yourself to get to your hole in time to set up properly, and to deal with the problems that inevitably crop up.
Speaking of problems: From time to time, you'll find other hunters set up and ready to go in that favorite hole of yours - but it's not the end of the world. Politely take your leave and go to a secondary spot; more often than not (provided that ducks are in the area in the first place), you'll take a few birds in the alternate location. In the meantime, the other "interlopers" are likely to limit out and vacate your hole. Many hunters get frustrated and leave if they don't get "their" spots, but great action can be had after 9 a.m. - if you're there and waiting when the hole clears.
As more and more waterfowlers take advantage of Arkansas red-hot public duck hunting, confrontations among hunters are growing more and more common. Please remember: This is everyone's land, not just yours. So if you find someone in your honeyhole, be good-natured about it and find another area for the morning's hunt. Don't crowd other hunters, as this will end up making the hunting harder for both parties. If the groups are small, most parties will as often as not be glad to let you join them for their morning's hunt, which will give everybody involved the opportunity to make new friends and to learn from each other's expertise.
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No matter where you hunt in northeast Arkansas, the duck action is as good here as it gets anywhere else in the nation. With the proper setup, tips and tactics - such as those we've described - your most rewarding hunt ever could take place on the public l
ands of northeast Arkansas.
For area-specific WMA details, water levels, and hunting reports, log on to the AGFC's Web site at www.agfc.com.
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