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Finally, ducks have arrived in Arkansas.

We were worried, but apparently bad weather in Missouri moved some ducks south. A friend hunted in southeast Arkansas on Monday and reported an abundance of many species. He and his companions shot mallards, pintails, green-wing teal, blue-wing teal, snow geese and white-fronted geese.

Better yet, one of the greenheads was banded.

That should restore happiness to the Arkansas duck hunting community.

If I were more empathetic, I would have been out there more often to share in the misery of the last few weeks, but my threshold for wasting time gets increasingly smaller.

Even the ever optimistic Purple Hull Society has yet to hold a single meeting of its 16-gauge fraternity. We usually do that fairly early in the season, but our reluctant chairman has not seen fit to drag everybody out to the meeting hall to look at duckless skies.

Maybe the last 30 days will make up for the first 30.

Duck hunters have long grumbled that "Missouri is holding all our ducks."

Yes, it does.

Missouri is a much more hospitable place for waterfowl than it was 20 years ago. Oklahoma is, too.

Like Arkansas, those states have fish and wildlife management agencies that are keenly attuned to the bottom line, and to which the sale of hunting licenses contribute immensely. They are keenly aware of factors that attract hunters to their states, and to the effect that hunters have on their economies.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has prescribed 60-day duck seasons for more than 20 consecutive years, and according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife duck population monitoring trends, that looks like the reality for a long time to come.

That stability makes it worth investing in a perpetual 60-day duck season because it generates big money. The Missouri Department of Conservation and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation long ago committed to develop the duck hunting segment of their economies. Missouri has an advantage because the MDC has a ton more money than any other state wildlife agency.

To that end, both agencies devote a lot of resources, manpower and real estate to attracting and holding waterfowl. They maximize use of their abundant water resources, and they plant an awful lot of waterfowl food.

If a duck has food and open water, it has no need to continue south until sleet, snow and ice make food and habitat unavailable.

Because of mild winters, that is happening later and later.

I worked for the Missouri Department of Wildlife Conservation from 2000-2005. I hunted three conservation areas (wildlife management areas) almost daily at Lamine River, Overton Bottoms and Eagle Bluffs.

All are along the Missouri River, and all are planted in partnership with local farmers with a rotational succession of crops. The farmers are required to leave a percentage for wildlife.

Lamine River CA has a large marsh of flooded milo and millet that few knew existed when I was there. It was rife with ducks until the water froze.

Overton Bottoms CA was my favorite haunt. It covers about 4,000 acres abutting the south bank of the Missouri River near Columbia. It also was lavishly planted with various types of waterfowl-friendly food. It is pockmarked with "blew holes" that the river gouged into the sand during floods. It also has a lot of ephemeral pools that are waist-deep at most, with acres and acres of food surrounding them.

It's hard to hunt, but it is phenomenal.

Across the river is Eagle Bluffs CA. Developed in partnership with the City of Columbia, it is a segmented network of marshes that takes in treated municipal wastewater. The water is warmer than ambient water, and it attracts many of the ducks in the area. They fly to Overton Bottoms to eat and loaf.

The refuge area at Eagle Bluffs is reminiscent of the classic photo of Arkansas' Claypool Reservoir. I've seen it when you couldn't have wedged a knife between ducks from one end to the other.

Those are just three duck hotspots in a tiny geographic area. Missouri is a big state, and it's full of places like that, including Grand Pass CA, Four Rivers CA, Fountain Grove CA and many others.

Of course, that part of the country usually froze by early December in the early 2000s, so it didn't significantly delay the migration into Arkansas.

Obviously, that has changed, but while Missouri's and Oklahoma's advances might inconvenience Arkansas hunters, they are tremendously good for waterfowl on the whole.

Sports on 01/06/2019

Print Headline: Missouri, Oklahoma make bids for Arkansas ducks

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