Jan 6, 2023
Mid-Season Waterfowl Report
By Brent Birch, contributing editor
The Holidays have come and gone, so that means duck season is in the home stretch. Despite being at the halfway point in the sixty day Arkansas season, January 31st no longer seems way off in the distant future. The mad scramble is on to find ducks while contending with Mother Nature.
Up to this point, the 2022-2023 Arkansas duck season has been pretty good for a fair amount of hunters. An early cold snap hit the middle section of the country to start the season in mid-November, and that provided a nice push of mallards into the state. With Arkansas now blessed with plenty of water, the ducks will be able to find more than enough habitat to get them all prepped for the trip back north in six to eight weeks. Breeding pair bonds and courtship flights will become the norm as hens seek suitable mates.
By all accounts, there are still quite a few mallards well north of Arkansas. Whether there is another push of ducks South is yet to be determined. Those ducks loitering well north of Arkansas are just tough, and they will hang out as long as their bodies can handle the conditions. Short blasts of cold will not move them. Light snow won’t either. So unless there is a prolonged sub-freezing blast or a big time snow, what we have in Arkansas now might be all we get. And that is ok. Hunters should be prepared to hunt harder, smarter, and unconventionally to end the season on a high note.
The season will end January 31st whether the hunting is good, bad, or indifferent. There is a contingency of waterfowlers that would like to see the season extend into February, but the season framework set by the US Fish & Wildlife Service prevents that from happening. And for good reason.
By the time late January rolls around, the ducks are building up their bodies and reserves to make the grueling trip back to the breeding grounds. Given they’ve been shot at, disturbed, and harassed since they left Canada in September, ducks are at their weakest point in late January. All while trying to pair up for breeding purposes here with the hopes of making it back to the prairie pothole region to make next year’s batch of ducks. It’s our job as hunters and conservationists to be good stewards of the ducks while they are temporarily here. The better condition we can put them in to make a successful journey back north, the better the hatch will be following spring.
I personally would like to see Arkansas and other surrounding states end their seasons earlier for that very reason. Many hunters would throw a fit if the season was shortened, but there is another contingent that are burned out and ready to move on in late January. If duck populations and hunter success continue to be substandard, that may be a required option to build the ducks back up.
Good luck and make the most of your remaining days afield this season. Make some memories, whether you shoot limits or not. And most of all: be good to those ducks, especially the hens, so they can go back and have a banner hatch to get the skies full of ducks again.
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.