Duck season continues through Jan. 31 in Arkansas, providing ample opportunities for waterfowling enthusiasts to enjoy some time in flooded timber or fields before the season ends. Many will head for well-known public hunting areas such as the Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area near Stuttgart or the Dave Donaldson Black River WMA south of Corning. Some of the best hunting, however, is on lesser-known public lands often overlooked by the majority of waterfowlers, including these five management areas, where a day in the woods or on the river could produce unforgettable results.
Shirey Bay-Rainey Brake WMA
This 10,528-acre area in Lawrence County seldom draws much attention outside a hardcore group of local duck hunters. But thanks to its location in the Black River corridor, Shirey Bay-Rainey Brake tends to hold an above-average number of mallards and other ducks each year. The east side of the area — Shirey Bay — got its name from an old oxbow off Black River. Rainey Brake, on the west side, is so called due to a large pond or “brake.”
The best hunting, as one might imagine, is during years when the Black River rises and floods the bottomland
woodlands. The Ozark Mountains lie nearby to the north, but when you’re standing knee-deep in water calling to the ducks circling overhead, it’s easy to imagine you’re in Bayou Meto or Black Swamp.
To reach the area, follow Arkansas 25 to Black Rock, and turn right under the Black River bridge. Continue on
Arkansas 25 to Lynn, where you’ll see signs directing you into the WMA.
Trusten Holder WMA
The Trusten Holder WMA in Arkansas and Desha counties is owned by the Game and Fish Commission (4,406 acres), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (1,490 acres) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (4,372 acres). This public real estate is divided into two large sections, one on the White River and the other 15 miles northeast of Dumas near Pendleton Bridge on the Arkansas River.
Most years, hunters will find that wintering ducks — especially mallards, wood ducks, teal and gadwalls — are plentiful in and around the flooded woods, oxbow lakes and small streams within the WMA. The river itself can be hunted as well, and one will likely find a mixed bag of dabblers and divers traveling the waterway. Geese are rarely taken by area hunters, although Canadas, whitefronts and snow geese may turn up occasionally.
To reach the Arkansas River portion of Trusten Holder in Desha County, take U.S. 65 south from Pine Bluff toward Dumas. Travel approximately 30 miles to Gould; then take Arkansas 212 east for 10 miles to the junction of Arkansas 212 and U.S. 165 at Pendleton Bridge on the Arkansas River. Continue east on Arkansas 212 toward the Corps of Engineers’ Pendleton Park Area and Dam 2. Signs indicate area boundaries.
Petit Jean WMA
This 15,000-acre Yell County area doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Duck hunting here is rarely on a par with that found on Bayou Meto or other large east Arkansas WMAs, but this western-Arkansas management area sometimes swarms with birds. The nearby Arkansas River funnels ducks from the Central Flyway into Petit Jean, so hunters are more likely to take a mixed bag of mallards, gadwalls, wigeons and other species here than on many Delta WMAs. It may seem strange to be hunting waterfowl on a bottomland area with a mountain backdrop, but when the sun rises over the peaks surrounding the WMA, flocks of ducks start dropping into the timber along the Petit Jean River and smaller tributaries. Most hunters here set decoys in timber flooded with shallow water and call to scattered flocks of birds that pass sporadically, trying to work them in to the spread.
Access is available from Arkansas 10, which borders the area on the south, from Arkansas 154 on the north, or from Arkansas 7, which bisects the WMA. Arkansas 7 connects with Interstate 40 at Russellville, 15 miles north.
Sulphur River WMA
In the minds of most Arkansas duck hunters, going west is the wrong way. The primary arteries for ducks migrating south are in the eastern Delta. In comparison, western portions of the state seem lacking. One exception to this rule is the Sulphur River WMA, which encompasses more than 16,000 acres of magnificent old-river lakes, sloughs, cypress brakes and bottomland hardwoods that attract a multitude of wintering ducks. The management area contains the last large wetland tract remaining in the Red River Valley.
Sulphur River runs 10 miles in and along the boundaries of the WMA. Another major waterway, Mercer Bayou, flows 8 miles through the heart of the area. These streams provide the primary access for visiting duck hunters, who find travel largely limited to boats. Most hunting is in small open pools, where waterfowling enthusiasts take a mixed bag of birds that may include everything from mallards to cinnamon teal.
The Sulphur River WMA is 16 miles south of Texarkana in Miller County.
Dr. Lester Sitzes III Bois d’Arc WMA
The Bois d’Arc WMA south of Hope in Hempstead County encompasses 7,500 acres of bottomlands in the Bois d’Arc Creek drainage. This is an ideal environment for ducks, with 12 square miles of hardwoods, lakes, bayous and sloughs. The area lies 2 miles from the Red River, a flight path for ducks coming through Oklahoma and the southwest corner of Arkansas.
Mallards account for about 60 percent of the duck harvest on Bois d’Arc, with wood ducks making up most of the remaining percentage. It’s typical green-timber hunting. Hunters stand in the shadows of trees in shallow water, calling birds in to decoys in the timber. The area receives lots of pressure early in the season. Locals do rather well late in the season, but they hunt every day and know when new ducks move into the area.
Bois d’Arc Lake, which covers 750 acres, serves as a waterfowl rest area near the WMA’s southern end. North of that is a green-tree area, 600 acres of which is flooded for green-timber hunting. South of the lake is a 150-acre section called the Little Grassy Area that is also flooded for hunting during duck season. Bois d’Arc Creek runs the length of the management area.
Most of Bois d’Arc is accessible only by boat. It can be reached off U.S. 67 or Arkansas 355 near Spring Hill.
For free hunting permits and detailed regulations that govern duck hunting on all public-land hunting areas mentioned above, visit the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s website at www.agfc.com. On the website, you also can view the weekly waterfowl report that will let you know water conditions and waterfowl numbers on all these WMAs.