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story.lead_photo.caption Alan Bland eyes a foggy sky for incoming mallards on Dec. 28 2019 during a duck hunt on Beaver Lake. High water and cold weather are the best conditions for waterfowl hunting at the reservoir. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff) ( Flip Putthoff)

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will offer an additional 3,828 acres of prime waterfowl hunting opportunity during the 2020-21 waterfowl season, thanks to the expansion of the Waterfowl Rice Incentive Conservation Easement Program.

The program allows rice producers to enroll fields to increase waterfowl habitat near popular public waterfowl-hunting areas and to offer limited public hunting opportunities on private rice fields through an online drawing.

The increase is possible through a $2.1 million grant from the National Resources Conservation Service’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program to be spread out during the next three years.

The expanded acreage will enable the Game and Fish to increase its rice conservation easement fields available for public draw from 10 to 42 for the 2020-21 waterfowl season. Each field will be available only on weekends, which will help reduce disturbance in an effort to keep birds using the areas and limit access only to hunters who draw.

The program serves two goals: to increase the amount of waterfowl habitat on agricultural fields during migration and to increase publicly available hunting opportunities on private land.

“We started the program with a focus on paying landowners incentives to keep rice stubble on the ground for migrating waterfowl instead of tilling it under to get a head start on next year’s crop,” said Luke Naylor, waterfowl program coordinator for Game and Fish. “But that contact led to us being able to test the waters for public hunting opportunities on these agricultural fields.”

Each successful permit holder will be allowed up to three companions during their hunt. Some locations have blinds or pits in place from previous leases or hunting efforts, but those structures won’t be maintained.

“If a person wants to go out with some blind material to brush up a blind, they’re welcome to do so, and we’ll have a description of where such facilities lie on the property,” Naylor said. “Just remember to pack out what you pack in.”

Applications for each field will be available at agfc.com the weekend preceding each hunt date. Drawings will be conducted and successful applicants will be notified the following Monday with the hunt area’s exact location and instructions for their hunt. All applications require a $5 processing fee.

Print Headline: Grant increases hunting land acreage

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