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OPINION | ARKANSAS SPORTSMAN: Weather pushed ducks back into good habitat

by Bryan Hendricks | January 9, 2022 at 4:06 a.m.

Fowl Al's evasiveness told me everything I needed to know.

I called Alan Thomas Friday for a duck hunting report. Thomas, a longtime hunting companion mostly at Lake Dardanelle in years past, now devotes his time hunting flooded timber in Southeast and Northeast Arkansas. He works hard at it, too, hence his "FOWL AL" license plate.

"Where are the ducks flying?" I asked.

"In the air," Thomas replied.

"Aha! So they are flying!" I said.

Thus cornered, Al shared an account of a very good hunt in Northeast Arkansas on Friday that should have produced three limits. Because of what Al said was abysmal shooting, that trio left the woods with only eight ducks.

Recent rain and cold have pushed more ducks into the state, but ducks are well scattered across freshly hydrated habitat. As has been the pattern in recent years, ducks are concentrating in fields where there is no hunting pressure.

Another curious trend is the concentration of diving ducks in areas where dabbling ducks typically gather. From Lodge Corner to Humnoke, I usually see mallards, pintails, green-winged teal and northern shovelers in flooded fields. In late December, I saw more diving ducks in these spots than dabbling ducks.

In good duck habitat, ducks were plentiful in sloughs and flooded timber in the vicinity of the White River National Wildlife Refuge and elsewhere for much of December. The thunderstorms that hit around Christmas dispersed the ducks. A source in Monroe County said that you could not shoehorn another duck into his place a week or so before Christmas. After the storms, the ducks were gone, and they have not returned in comparable numbers.

Finally, water levels are rising in Bayou Meto WMA to create what should be good duck hunting conditions. On Friday, the water level at Upper Vallier was at 179 feet and rising. A slow rise is excellent for green timber duck hunting, but more rain in Central Arkansas this weekend should accelerate the rise.

The Government Cypress green tree reservoir was at 179.25 feet and rising on Friday, which is also a baseline for good duck hunting conditions.

Whether ducks are using the area is a different matter, but rest assured ducks are in those woods somewhere. As Alan Thomas says, if you want to know, you gotta go.

Covid in deer

Not only will white-tailed deer destroy your car, but they might give you covid, too.

In early November, the New York Times reported results from a study conducted in Iowa that sampled deer for coronavirus. According to the article, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources found that about 80% of 300 deer sampled between April 2020 and January 2021 were infected with covid.

Researchers speculated that deer contracted coronavirus from humans, and they fear that deer could serve as reservoirs for coronavirus and migrate back to humans in a more virulent form.

According to the article, researchers found covid-infected deer all over Iowa. Genomic sequencing suggested that the infected deer contracted coronavirus from humans.

The infection rate among deer was said to be 50 times greater than its prevalence among Iowa's human residents during the peak of the pandemic. However, researchers reported no evidence that coronavirus infection made deer noticeably sick.

Vivek Kapur, a veterinary microbiologist at Pennsylvania State University, said that the same thing is probably happening in other states where deer are present.

The article offered no theories explaining how humans might pass coronavirus to deer.

According to the article, the United States contains about 38 million deer. If deer are indeed a reservoir for coronavirus, and especially if they circulate a refined or evolved virus, it could complicate efforts to contain and control coronavirus.

In response to this information, several states advised deer hunters in the fall to wear gloves and masks when handling deer.

Several years ago, when migratory waterfowl were reported to carry the N1H1 virus, Dr. Terry Yamauchi of Little Rock advised duck hunters to take precautions to avoid contracting that virus from ducks they shot. The existence of coronavirus in deer suggests that all hunters should consider the possibility of infection from the game we kill.

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