Duck hunters report good action in Arkansas, Louisiana, and elsewhere
With 2023 right around the corner, waterfowl seasons are closing in the northern parts of the Mississippi Flyway. In the core wintering areas in the middle and southern parts of the great highway in the sky, seasons are just hitting their stride.
Late December and January are prime time for Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Drier conditions have continued to complicate hunting in some areas, but recent weather has increased the number of birds in many spots and also improved the quality of hunting.
Luke Naylor, statewide Wildlife Management Division chief for Arkansas Game and Fish, said conditions there have been less than ideal but are improving.
It's been relatively dry in Arkansas, he said. We obviously love cold fronts, but the water that comes with them is what's really important. We have recently seen some rain, but we still need a lot more. Some fields have water, but that hasn't turned into major overbank flooding. Many of the famous Arkansas timber WMAs need overbank flooding since there isn't infrastructure to hold the water. Rising river levels push water into a lot of those areas.
Naylor says bird numbers have been increasing with the water levels.
Recent weather has moved some birds in, he said. Nothing terrible, but nothing fantastic. More water means more opportunity for more people. We could use some additional water to spread ducks around and spread people, which in turn spreads out hunting pressure.
If we continue to see more rain, ducks will probably come in from north of us, but plenty of birds will also come up from the south. This year has been unique. It seems like lots of birds skipped right to the coast since so much of the middle of the flyway has been dry. We don't know if those birds will stay on the coast or start pushing back north earlier than usual if a lot of the habitat around here opens up. It isn't likely that those birds would move north against a northerly wind, but if we get more water and get a good strong wind from the south, you never know.
Naylor's theory might be correct. Although dryer conditions in the middle parts of the Mississippi Flyway have created some atypical conditions, Louisiana is bursting at the seams. Jared Mophett, head guide and habitat manager for Honey Brake Lodge in Catahoula Parish, said numbers and excitement are high.
Everything looks great, he said. We're holding a lot of birds — everything you could imagine: pintails, mallards, teal, and lots of gray ducks. The first season was good for us but tough for some hunters in our area. Fields were drier than usual, but places that pumped water likely held a lot of ducks. Now the water levels, food, and ducks are just right.
We have recently received some rain that raised water levels to ideal levels. Right now, our numbers are up significantly from last year, but we need the weather to continue to help us out. As long as the weather holds, we should continue to hold good numbers of birds. Everything looks fabulous for the second part of our season.
Pat Pitt, founder of L'Anguille Lounge Duck Club in Harrisburg, Arkansas, agreed that rising water levels have helped hunting.
The Cash River has recently jumped by 11 feet, and that has sucked a lot of birds off the prairie and into the rivers, he said. We've had over an inch of rain recently, and colder weather is coming. Traditionally, hunting has been really good when we've had a freeze-thaw. That being said, birds appear to be under a tremendous amount of stress and are acting really shy. Hunting pressure is definitely something to monitor, and we could use some additional water to spread out available habitat. Right now, every inch of water has a hunter on it.
Pitt said waterfowl numbers have been high, but species distribution has been below targets.
We haven't seen mallards like I would like, but we're killing a lot of ducks, he said. We killed more ducks during the first 11 days of the season than all of last year. Wigeon and pintails are still hanging around and haven't pushed south. We also have gadwalls and teal in the area. Speck numbers have also been high. It's been a good season by the numbers, but we could use some more mallards.
Good luck to anyone who climbs into a boat or puts on a pair of waders during the next few weeks. Colder, wetter weather is on the horizon, and with it should come lots of birds and lots of memories.
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