Nov. 12, 2020
Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications
LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will accept applications for special permit hunts during the opening weekend of waterfowl season from Thursday, Nov. 12 through Sunday, Nov. 15. These weekly drawings will continue throughout the 2020-21 Arkansas waterfowl season.
More than 60,000 acres of publicly accessible, intensively managed wetland habitat is available to hunters through the AGFC, most of which is on a first-come, first-served basis. However, special hunts managed through drawn permit systems offer many hunters the opportunity to experience high-quality duck hunting without as much competition for prime pieces of habitat or the possibility of being encroached upon by another hunting party.
“Just like with permit-based deer hunts, we want to offer hunters on some areas the option of forgoing the wide-open nature of some of our traditional hotspots in exchange for a little different experience,” Luke Naylor, AGFC waterfowl program coordinator, said. “Some hunters gauge the quality of their hunt based on a competitive endeavor, but others would rather enjoy taking their time to get to their hunting location and knowing they have a place to themselves for the day.”
WRICE Weekend Hunts
The largest expansion to permit-based waterfowl hunts has come from the explosion of the Waterfowl Rice Incentive Conservation Enhancement Program. Thanks to a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, more than 3,800 acres of rice fields are available for weekend hunts to those who successfully draw through the AGFC’s permit system. About 40 fields will be available throughout waterfowl season, each of them being rested all week and only allowing hunting on the weekend. The late rice harvest has put preparations behind in a few fields, so those won’t be ready for opening weekend. Likewise, if problems (e.g. levee breaks) throughout the winter cause a substantial drop in water levels, the affected field will be removed from the draw until the problem is resolved.
“Applicants who draw a field will be able to have a total of four hunters in their hunt party and will be able to hunt the area for the entire weekend,” Naylor said. “That includes afternoon hunting, which is not available on most public lands in Arkansas. Access to the fields will be limited to the weekend of the hunt, so we want to give hunters enough time to adjust to the conditions and increase their odds of success.”
Naylor expects all fields entered into the application opportunities will have water on them by opening weekend, but says that water will be to benefit ducks over the long haul this season.
“You probably aren’t going to see knee-deep water on all of the areas on opening morning, or throughout the season,” Naylor said. “We are working with the landowners to vary water levels gradually throughout the season to offer as much habitat for ducks as possible, so some weekends may only see a couple of inches of water, while others may see deeper water, but it’s designed to maximize the food availability and bird use throughout the season.”
Visit www.agfc.com and click the “Buy Licenses|Check Game” button at the top of the page to apply for a WRICE field hunt. The applications can be found under the “WMA Applications” button on the licensing page launch screen. Applications cost $5 each and winning applicants will be notified the Monday after the application period ends.
Visit https://www.agfc.com/en/hunting/migratory-birds/waterfowl/special-waterfowl-permit-hunts for more information on WRICE field opportunities and a map of general field locations and notes to help guide your application decision.
Raft Creek and Cypress Bayou Drawings
In addition to the private land hunts through the WRICE program, Steve N. Wilson Raft Creek Bottoms WMA and Cypress Bayou WMA will host special hunts throughout the season for all hunters. On weekends, Cypress Bayou’s Red Cut Slough and a portion of Raft Creek will be drawn from online permit applications, but the majority of permitted hunting locations at Raft Creek will still be divided among hunters at an onsite draw. Both areas will allow open waterfowl hunting on Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the waterfowl season on these traditionally low-pressure days. More information about these areas can be found at https://www.agfc.com/en/news/2020/11/05/cypress-bayou-changes-to-permit-only-hunts-raft-creek-draw-modified.
Youth Duck-Hunting Opportunities
Two more AGFC-owned WMAs offer special permit-based waterfowl hunts for youth hunters and their mentors. The Conway George Tract of Sheffield Nelson Dagmar WMA and the west unit of Freddie Black Choctaw Island WMA all reserve special opportunities through online drawings for young guns to get a taste of duck hunting without the frantic races for prime locations seen on some other WMAs. Youth hunt permits for both locations are good for the entire weekend the applicant draws, and all-day hunting is allowed for the entire hunt party (which may include four people, with only one mentor per youth hunter).
Just as with other hunting permit opportunities, hunters can apply for youth permit hunts by clicking the green “Buy License|Check Game” button at agfc.com. However, the hunts will only appear if the applicant is signed in as the youth hunter. Anyone identified as older than 16 will not see Sheffield Nelson Dagmar or Freddie Black Choctaw Island WMA West Unit listed as opportunities under the “WMA Applications” tab.
Visit https://www.agfc.com/en/hunting/migratory-birds/waterfowl/special-waterfowl-permit-hunts to learn more about each hunt and apply.