End of Season Waterfowl Report

By Brent Birch, contributing editor

Remarkably, the 2022-23 Arkansas duck season has nearly come and gone. The season, like most in this part of the country, will end on January 31st with some in good spirits and many longing for the “good ole days” of fewer hunters, shorter seasons and smaller bag limits but in their eyes…more ducks and better opportunity.

If anything can be said about this season, it has been consistently inconsistent. 

Wild temperature swings in December only to be followed by abnormally mild, never that cold conditions in January. A secondary push of birds never materialized, which seems to be more common than not. Essentially, Arkansas has been hunting the same bunch of birds for a majority of the season. Some days they are motivated to move, usually with a local weather event, and some days they aren’t. That leads to an up and down season. 

Arkansas gets a really substantial migration of big ducks (mallards, gadwall and the like) around Halloween each fall and those birds tend to stick out here until the end. Sure a few make their way to Louisiana, southern Mississippi or bounce back and forth between eastern Oklahoma and west Tennessee but not in any remarkable numbers. But for the most part, that is our push and the size of that early fall flight sets the tone for the season.

Based on reports, there doesn’t seem to be a significantly higher success rate in Northeast Arkansas compared to the Grand Prairie region around Stuttgart or any other duck friendly region in the state. This late in January, sometimes the duck will start edging north, especially with big south winds, but that doesn’t seem to be the case just yet. 

The geese definitely have as the specklebelly population has dwindled significantly since the last round of thunderstorms with blustery south winds about two weeks ago. There is a decent amount of snow geese around but doesn’t appear to be enough to get anyone real excited about the upcoming conservation season. Perhaps some will leak this way from Louisiana and round out what has become a growing attraction for those looking for huge spins of white geese with electronic callers, unplugged shotguns, and no limits. 

I don’t get the feeling the masses are going to say it was a banner season. Most won’t even say it was a decent season. The weather was way too mild in January and the ducks got lazy and very habitual as their food intake never spiked like it should when they are burning calories trying to stay warm. That puts them in eating once a day mode, if that, and trips to the buffet typically happen at night followed by a retreat to the woods and big bodies of water to loaf until the next feeding. With no significant cold weather in January, the ducks got very stale and their routines didn’t benefit hunters. 

Which begs the question…do we really need to be hunting this late in January? A large population of the hunting community believes we have to hunt this late because that is when the ducks arrive and the weather is the coldest. As evidenced by this year and many of the recent winters, betting on the come of a big huge push of mallards and fresh ducks for a late January grand slam just isn’t happening. Would we be better off ending the season in mid January and letting the ducks build back up their reserves for the tough trip back north? Would we be better off hunting more days in December when the ducks are fresher and less educated? 

Valid questions that are a whole other topic for another day. 

Good luck the rest of the way and remember to let those hens go. Any hen that makes it to this point in the hunting season deserves a chance to go back north and make more ducks.

About the Author

A lifelong waterfowler who cut his teeth duck hunting in the White River Bottoms at Crocketts Bluff as well as rice fields and reservoirs across Lonoke, Prairie, and Arkansas counties, Brent Birch is the publisher of The Grand Prairie: A History of Duck Hunting’s Hallowed Ground, which details the legacy of Arkansas’s rich waterfowling history. He is also co-creator and editor of Greenhead: The Arkansas Duck Hunting Magazine and co-founder of the Arkansas Waterfowler Hall of Fame located in Stuttgart, Arkansas.