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Despite all the grumbling about last year's lousy duck season, hunters killed more mallards in Arkansas than they did in 2017.

In August, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published "Migratory bird hunting activity and harvest during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 hunting seasons." Its data shows that hunters killed 477,817 mallards in Arkansas during the 2018-19 season, an increase of 50,338 over the 2017-18 season.

Overall, Arkansas hunters killed 1,006,200 ducks last year, compared to 1,006,700 in 2017. That's a statistically insignificant difference of only 500 birds.

However, the data also show some notable subcurrents. For example, there were 8,600 more hunters in Arkansas last year than in 2017, and they spent 130,700 more hours afield than in 2017. However, hunters averaged 16.6 ducks last season compared to 19.3 ducks in 2017.

In summary, more hunters spent a lot more time afield to kill virtually the same number of ducks.

A persistent theory among self-credentialed duck experts in the internet message board community is that agricultural practices in Missouri discourage ducks from coming to Arkansas. They keep ducks in Missouri until late in the season, and hunters kill a large percentage of ducks before they can migrate into Arkansas, These people insist that Missouri's "duck farming" practices have actually altered duck migration patterns.

Missouri's harvest numbers don't support that theory.

In 2018-19, hunters in Missouri killed 172,749 mallards, 63 percent fewer than in Arkansas. That's also 41 percent fewer than the 244,342 mallards killed in Missouri in 2017-18.

Also, there were 3,700 fewer hunters in Missouri last year, but they spent 36,800 additional hours afield. They killed 12.5 ducks per hunter in 2017, compared to 9 ducks per hunter last year.

Fewer hunters worked harder to kill a lot fewer ducks in Missouri.

On the other hand, hunters in Oklahoma killed significantly more mallards, from 79,361 in 2017-18 to 118,270 in 2018-19. Oklahoma also enjoyed increases in gadwalls and wigeon. The public and private sectors in Oklahoma have transformed the Sooner State into a sleeper hotspot for duck hunting, and it will become more prominent.

Hunters in Louisiana have long complained that mallards don't reach their state, and they have a point. Hunters killed a mere 23,391 mallards in 2018-19, down from 86,315 in 2017. The only reason a state as duck hunting crazy as Louisiana killed so few mallards is because mallards weren't there.

Overall, hunters in the entire Mississippi Flyway killed 1,407,353 mallards last year, compared to 1,643,472 in 2017-18. Besides Arkansas, only Indiana, Iowa and Tennessee reported increased mallard kills, and Tennessee increased by only about 1,000. Hunters in those states combined killed 192,104 mallards.

On the other hand, Arkansas hunters killed fewer of almost every other species except for wood ducks and buffleheads. It was even a down year for devotees of the great northern shoveler. They bagged 52,428 spoonbills last year compared to 69,000 in 2017-18.

Teal hunters experienced a conspicuous reduction as well, downing 154,947 green-winged teal compared to 175,466 in 2017-18.

Interestingly, we hit rock bottom for black ducks, goldeneyes, ruddy ducks and long-tailed ducks. Arkansas hunters did not kill any of those species last year.

Those species are not widely pursued and are generally incidental kills, but I notice any time a category goes to zero. That only happened in two other states. Mississippi zeroed in ruddy ducks and goldeneyes. Tennessee zeroed in ruddy ducks.

Other states, however, recorded some species being killed last year compared to zero in 2017-18. Tennessee, for example, killed 2,372 greater scaup last year compared to none the previous year. Iowa came out of the cellar in scoter harvest.

Also, hunters in the Mississippi Flyway killed 2.59 mallard drakes for every hen they killed, up from 2.49.

Iowa was the only state in the Mississippi Flyway that experienced an increased duck harvest, up 20,100 birds.

Notably, hunters killed 450,840 mallards in Canada last year. Saskatchewan contributed 168,068 to that number, which is comparable to the number of mallards killed in Missouri. Saskatchewan's ducks migrate down the Mississippi Flyway. Much smaller numbers were killed in Manitoba and Alberta, which also contribute some ducks to the Mississippi Flyway.

Cumulatively, those ducks were culled before they had a chance to fly to Arkansas, and that number will increase as Canada becomes increasingly popular as a destination for guided duck hunts. At some point it will increase to a number that matters.

Sports on 09/08/2019

Print Headline: State duck harvest almost identical to prior year

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