A group of 21 northeast Arkansas duck hunters won an opening skirmish with the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission. Now both sides will prepare to do full battle in court.

At issue is the commission’s authority to end the traditional use of blinds and decoys in three state wildlife management areas. The WMAs — Big Lake, St. Francis Sunken Lands and Dave Donaldson Black River — span 63,320 acres in six northeast Arkansas counties.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Jay Moody upheld the group’s lawsuit in a preliminary ruling that will allow the plaintiffs to invoke protections outlined in Amendment 88, passed in 2011 and guaranteeing the right to “hunt, fish, trap and harvest wildlife.”

Also at issue is whether or not hunters at these WMAs are receiving special privileges not afforded other hunters. As George Waldon reported in Arkansas Business last fall:

The commission doesn’t allow hunters to cut trees or remove brush on any other WMAs in Arkansas. Duck hunters at all other WMAs are required to remove decoys daily. As with the permanent duck blinds, the practice of leaving decoys in place overnight implies ownership of hunting space on public land.

These local traditions at the three WMAs, tolerated for years by the G&F Commission, sometimes led to disputes between hunters where first-come, first-served is supposed to be the norm on all public land.

The group is seeking class action status for its suit. Stay tuned…