LITTLE ROCK – Waterfowl season in Arkansas officially opens 30 minutes before sunrise Saturday. In what has become standard in the state for two decades now, Arkansans will enjoy a 60-day duck season with two splits secheduled. Also, this year’s season will go longer than any previous one, with the final day being Jan. 31. Typically, the Arkansas season has ended on the last Sunday of January, but a change at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service level allowed Arkansas to extend to the very end of the month.

A couple of cold fronts that passed through the state recently, along with colder temps to the north of Arkansas, appeared to push a good number of ducks into parts of the state this past week, according to observations and anecdotal reports. However, temperatures had begun to rise again in Arkansas this week, so it’s hard to say how that might affect the opening weekend. The good news in Arkansas is that many of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s public lands have excellent habitat conditions in terms of food for the migrating birds (note the habitat list of all WMAs that follows this story).

Evidence this spring in the duck breeding grounds indicates that duck populations are similar to last year’s count. But as hunters can easily recall, last year Arkansas was swamped from border to border with rainfall that spread the waterfowl population far and wide across The Natural State and affected hunting in many spots that usually see better harvest numbers. The overall harvest estimates in Arkansas, though, aligned closely with past figures.

Luke Naylor, AGFC Waterfowl Program Coordinator, warms that even if population totals were similar to last year, actual duck production this nesting season (which isn’t assessed until after duck season), different weather patterns and habitat conditions in Arkansas once winter arrives can change each hunter’s outcome in this complex system. “In general, we like to think we have a good enough handle on things to do a sort of pregame prediction,” Naylor said. “I just want hunters to be realistic about their expectations when they see the totals and say it’s going to be a great year. I don’t think anyone can predict that.”

The daily bag limit for ducks remains six, four of which can be mallards (only two of those may be hens). However, there are been some other changes to the daily limit that are worth noting. Canvasback and black duck limits were increased from one to two per day. But the daily bag limit for pintails decreased from two to one per day.

Also new this year is a Veterans Hunt, another move on the national level which was adopted here, which will take place on both of the days scheduled for Youth Hunts, Dec. 7 and Feb 8. Both active duty military and veterans may hunt on those days, which are not part of the 60-day scheduled season. Youths under 16 may hunt on those days as well, as long as they are accompanied by a mentor — those youths who have not completed the Hunter Education course must be accompanied by a mentor 21 or older; those who have completed the course can be accompanied by a mentor 18 or older. The mentor cannot hunt but can call the ducks.

On those same days, members of active duty military and military veterans may harvest ducks, geese, coots and mergansers. Active duty military includes members of the National Guard and Reserves on active duty (other than for training). Veterans must have served in active military, naval, air service or Reserves and National Guard on Title 32 orders in a combat zone and must have been discharged or released under honorable conditions. Hunters will need to have one of the following or copy during the hunt: DD214, Veteran Benefit Card, Retired Active Military I.D., Veteran Hunting License (VLF, VLH, VLC or VLL) or Active Duty I.D. card. Shooting hours and bag limits are the same as regular duck and goose seasons. Hunters may hunt on wildlife management areas from 30 minutes before sunrise until sunset these two days. WMA General Use permits are required for active military and veterans; they are NOT required for youth hunters.

Other regulation changes of note: The nonresident 5-day WMA waterfowl hunting permit is now good for any WMA during the 5-day hunt period. Also, nonresidents have been lmited to only being able to hunt on WMAs on certain dates this season.

Along with ducks, coots and mergansers, hunters may also take snow, blue and Ross’s geese, as well as white-fronted geese (specklebellies) and Canada geese during the 60-day season. Refer to the AGFC’s Waterfowl Hunting Guidebook for daily bag limits and restrictions.