Nov. 2, 2022
Jim Harris Managing Editor Arkansas Wildlife Magazine
WARREN – Bradley County in southern Arkansas has been renowned for years for the private land hunting and quality deer available to hunters. The public has access to significant acreage and deer as well in the form of Warren Prairie Natural Area Wildlife Management Area, east of the city and the Saline River. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission manages the wildlife on more than 6,200 acres through an agreement with the owner, the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. A 40-acre parcel of the natural area is owned by The Nature Conservancy-Arkansas and 606 acres are controlled by divided interests.
In all, the acreage provides a getaway not only for hunters during fall deer and spring turkey seasons, but a yearlong respite for hikers on a 2.2-mile trail as well as areas for watching wildlife, including the possibility of viewing the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.
Hikers and wildlife watchers should be aware of modern gun usage during an annual disabled veterans hunt, which is Nov. 12-13 this season, and the annual youth hunt scheduled for Jan. 7-8, 2023. The rest of deer season is archery only, from Sept. 24-Feb. 28. A free WMA general use permit is required for hunting (see “Buy Licenses” on the agfc.com website). Chronic wasting disease movement restrictions are now enforced in Bradley, Ashley and Union counties after the discovery of CWD in a deer in late 2021 at Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge in Union County.
Longview Saline Natural Area WMA, which is also owned by the ANHC and is 10 miles south of Warren Prairie NA, also will hold a disabled veterans modern gun deer hunt Nov. 12-13. Special youth hunts are Nov. 5-6 and Jan. 7-8. Archery hunting is available from Sept. 24-Feb. 28.
“Yeah, it’s kind of a little bit of a sleeper area,” Mark Hooks, AGFC biologist based in Monticello, said of Warren Prairie Natural Area. “It has primitive weapons hunting, or archery hunting, with the only exception for a youth gun hunt we have and a disabled veterans hunt. By design, it has some older age class deer and it’s popular with the bowhunters. It’s not a place that would be as popular for bowhunting as, say, Trusten Holder WMA or (Freddie Black) Choctaw Island, but it’s hunted. You won’t see 25 or 30 vehicles like at those other areas.”
Hooks says, however, the standout game species for Warren Prairie Natural Area may be turkey – aided by a unique habitat with dwarf palmetto glades of the saline barrens amidst a variety of hardwoods and pines, and by the management of red-cockaded woodpeckers, which were reestablished in the area in 2011-12 from donor populations elsewhere in Arkansas and Louisiana.
“It’s manipulated habitat and super good for turkey hunting,” Hooks said. “It’s good enough this year in popularity that we used a hybrid permit hunt where you would only be able to hunt the first three days by permit, then it would open up to all hunters afterward. We’re now trying to regulate at least the first few days of turkey season there.”
The ANHC began acquiring the land that became Warren Prairie Natural Area in 1983. The dwarf palmetto glades throughout the natural area give it an unusual-for-Arkansas look. As part of the Gulf Coastal Plain, the land consists of a mosaic of salt slicks, saline barrens, Delta post oak flatwoods, mound woodlands, pine flatwoods and woodlands, as well as bottomland hardwood communities near the river. The ANHC says that soils at the site contain naturally high amounts of sodium and magnesium salts, which account for the sparse and irregular distribution of trees and the resultant dominance of grasses and other herbaceous vegetation throughout.
To reach Warren Prairie, take U.S. Highway 278 East out of Warren for 4.5 miles, cross the Saline River and turn right (south) at the intersection with Arkansas Highway 172. The parking lot and sign for the area will be 2 miles south on the left.
The hiking trailhead begins at the parking lot and contains a number of interpretive panels that will inform visitors on the flora, fauna and management of the property. The trail meanders through pine flatwoods and saline barrens. After a short distance, the loop trail splits, and visitors will find many great wildlife observation opportunities.
The first special, out-of-season disabled veterans deer hunt, organized by Freedom Defender Outdoors and operated through the AGFC, was held at Warren Prairie six years ago. The late October event, in which disabled veterans were invited to participate, was moved to Choctaw Island WMA West Unit because that area had a covered facility to host the veterans, volunteers and AGFC staff. The AGFC decided to schedule in-season disabled veterans at such WMAs as Warren Prairie and Longview Saline and open them to any veterans who qualify.
Longview Saline Natural Area is younger than Warren Prairie and under the Heritage Commission’s oversight, too. It is a slightly smaller tract (6,020 acres) with unique habitats and is being managed like Warren Prairie with an emphasis on restoration of red cockaded woodpeckers, Hooks said, though more of the birds are found at Warren. Longview Saline NA is just east of the Saline River and south of Arkansas Highway 8, on County Road 452. Signs mark the turn off Highway 8 to the natural area.