What a long, strange trip it’s been. Some might recognize that as the title of the Grateful Dead song, others might say it describes the past 18 months as we crawl out of these unprecedented times. The weirdness of last duck season certainly falls under that description. Aside from the quirky COVID-19 protocols for lodges and duck blinds across the state, the ducks just flat didn’t do right.
A cold blast in October hurtled ducks our way, only to see a quick warmup send waterfowl back from where they came, never to really return. The weather of the 2020-2021 Arkansas duck season quickly got stale with mild temps and never really changed. At least not enough to entice ducks to get up and push this way.
Because of the pandemic, May pond counts weren’t conducted on breeding grounds for the first time since 1955. Waterfowl biologists and conservation organizations were flying blind, pun intended, on just how last season’s production was going to sort out. With COVID-19 lingering, the Canadian border was closed in the spring, so two years will pass without the May pond count being conducted. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) uses these counts to set season frameworks every two years and will have little to no data to use to set a new cycle in 2022.
The good news is ducks and geese aren’t really affected by COVID-19. They are affected by dry conditions on the Canadian prairie and that is exactly what we have this breeding season. A couple of years of poor hatches and 2021-2022 looks like it may be another tough one. There will still be a good number of huntable ducks if and when the weather will motivate them down the flyway.
On a brighter note, our 12th annual edition of Greenhead is full of reads to get you fired up for this season. We have a mix of personal interest stories and conservation and land management insights. And, of course, awesome photography.
We took an in-depth look at what makes today’s ducks move. In the past, everything was predicated on a cold front — a north wind blows and ducks move our way. That’s not the case anymore as GPS telemetry data and the eye test confirm. AGFC Wetlands Biologist Jason “Buck” Jackson offers tips and tricks to managing moist soil units that have become a duck magnet.
This year’s Greenhead includes a profile of what many will argue is the best catfish restaurant in Arkansas, Murry’s in Hazen, and we also take a look at art of taxidermy in a visit to Chipmunk’s Taxidermy of North Little Rock.
The choices and options for utility terrain vehicles (UTVs) are expansive but there is not much differentiation in the common makes and models. For fun, we dig into the not-so-common conveyances some hunters are using to stand out from the crowd.
World Champion Duck Caller and outdoor industry celebrity Jim Ronquest of Hazen is profiled in this issue, and we visit Dr. Jonathan Bradshaw, a veterinarian with a focus on sporting dogs. Beauty queen and outdoorswoman Maggie Williams shares her unique story of getting hooked on duck hunting.
We also profile the 2021 class of Arkansas Waterfowler Hall of Fame inductees and get tips and hunting stories from some of the state’s executive hunters. And we hope you enjoy this year’s photo essay on sporting dogs.
Remember, duck hunting is more than achieving the duck pile photo for social media. Make the most of the fun and fellowship, regardless of how heavy your duck strap is each day. I guarantee a lot more smiles and satisfaction that way.
Best of luck this season,