Thursday, April 18, 2019

Improving Quail Hunting

EARLE – Walker Morris, who farms 250 total acres near Earle in Crittenden County, describes himself as a “recovering quail hunter.”

“I’m just not getting through the first step,” of recovery, he says with a laugh. His addiction to hunting quail began when he was 11 years old, in 1954. When he concluded a 33-year career as a pilot for Northwest Airlines out of Memphis International Airport, he looked for land as an investment. He and a longtime friend, Percy Magness, who already had a large holding near Earle, settled on new acreage nearby on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River. About 13 years ago, they sought to enroll some of the acreage in the federal Conservation Reserve Program, which provides landowners rental payments in exchange for the owners taking that land out of farming and making the landscape more conducive to wildlife. Morris’ partner died, but his partner’s son, Lon Magness, is now in the investment with Morris, who says he does all the “hands-on” stuff on the land, which includes prescribed fire and disking.

“We looked at enrolling in CRP but we had to wait a year,” Morris recalled. “So, in the spring of 2007, we enrolled as much as we could of our 250 acres in CRP. We had some cropland in the center and the CRP acres around it.”

Ball is Rolling to Maintain Trout Fisheries

LITTLE ROCK — With the signing of Senate Bill 486 on April 11, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the Arkansas General Assembly have started the ball rolling to maintain the fantastic trout fishery that draws thousands of anglers from across the country to The Natural State each year. The act will increase the cost of Arkansas’s resident trout stamp from $5 to $10, with the additional proceeds devoted to trout management and hatcheries in the state. The AGFC will hear the first reading of a similar price increase on nonresident trout permits at next week’s regularly scheduled Commission meeting in Springdale.

“Amendment 35 specifies that any resident license fee change still must go through the state legislature and governor, but nonresident fee changes are the responsibility of the Commission,” said Ben Batten, AGFC chief of fisheries. “We’re very appreciative of all the representatives, senators and governor that made this much-needed funding boost possible.”

The increase is the first for resident anglers in 32 years, and would be the first for nonresident anglers in the last 16 years if passed by the Commission. In that time, costs of operation for hatchery work, trout management and increased access for anglers have increased. The increase will enable the trout program to continue providing the world-class trout fishing experience for anglers that has made Arkansas a bucket-list destination for many fishing enthusiasts.

Prescribed fire promotes habitat for turkey and other ground-nesting birds

LITTLE ROCK — As hen turkeys begin to nest and hunters continue searching for a receptive gobbler, an occasional image is shared throughout coffee shops and social media that causes hunters to cringe - a failed turkey nest sitting in an area cleared with prescribed fire. Controversy surrounding growing-season burns is ignited every year when an outdoors enthusiast happens upon such a site, but improved habitat across thousands of acres creates far more opportunities for nests and brood-rearing than the single nest or two seen after a prescribed fire.

Few and far between
Jeremy Wood, turkey program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, has spent years in the field researching the direct impacts of prescribed fire during the growing season on nesting wild turkeys, and during his research found the risk of nest loss to prescribed fires is actually very low.

“The majority of research done suggests less than 5 to 6 percent of nest sites could potentially be exposed to fire during the egg laying/incubation period, and the percentage of those nests that fail directly due to fire are even lower,” Wood said. “I won’t say a turkey nest has never failed due to fire, but the number of nests that get burned is not enough to impact turkey populations locally or statewide in Arkansas.”

Bullfrog Season is Underway

LITTLE ROCK – Unusually cool weather may have set back some of the choruses of bullfrogs this year, but for those hunter/angler hybrids waiting to skim a pond’s surface with a spotlight, bullfrog season opened April 15 and will run through Dec. 31, 2019.

It may not come with the fanfare of opening day of deer season, and no one’s ever joined a “gigging camp,” but the men and women willing to put forth some effort can be handsomely rewarded for their “legwork.”

In Arkansas, only bullfrogs may be harvested, and a valid fishing license is required. The limit is 18 frogs per day, measured from noon one day until noon the next day. Bullfrogs may not be sold except by fish farmers with a valid commercial bullfrog permit.

Frogs may be harvested with bow-and-arrow, hook-and-line, gig or simply snatching them up by hand. By far the most popular method is to use a 10-foot long pole tipped with a barbed gig point or spring-loaded jaw. Wading along the shallows of a pond, scanning the surface of the water will reveal the glowing eyes of the frogs. Froggers will keep the light trained on their prey, dazzling them much like deer in the headlights, and slowly ease within range of the frog to take a quick stab at it. If their aim is true, the frogger needs to act quickly to pull the frog from the gig and place it in a cooler or mesh sack before it pulls itself loose. Wire fish baskets used by bream anglers come in very handy, as they don’t give the frogs an opportunity to escape like a cooler lid being opened.

If the pond is too deep to maneuver along the bank, a small canoe or jon boat works well with an electric motor or paddle, but it’s best to have at least two in the boat. Giggers in boats can take turns keeping the light focused on the frog and paddling or controlling the trolling motor while the other gigger focuses on making a good stab at his prey. Grabbing frogs by the hand is done much the same way except that it requires you to get much closer. 

Hook-and-line frog enthusiasts focus their “fishing” attempts during the day, when frogs are focused on flying insects. Using a long cane pole, anglers dangle a small fly in front of the frog, attempting to fool it into thinking it’s an easy meal. Once the frog takes the bait, the angler snatches it up quickly and adds it to their catch.

Bullfrogs can be found across Arkansas, but the heaviest concentrations usually are found along the many ponds, slow-moving streams and fish farms in the eastern half of the state. It may take some door-knocking and asking for permission, but some small private ponds can prove worth the effort once you break out the gigging gear.

Be sure to scan the bushes along the banks before making an approach on any frog. Plenty of spiders set up shop along the shore’s edge to catch their prey, and the webs can be a pain. Snakes also climb into low-hanging branches of brush along the water’s edge. Many tales of men walking on the water during a frog-gigging trip begin with a snake falling into the boat. While most water snakes are not venomous, it doesn’t make it any less frightening when one plops in the boat next to you. Learning what to look for in identifying a venomous snake can set your mind at ease. The AGFC has a downloadable snake guide available at www.agfc.com/en/resources/brochures, or you can visit www.herpsofarkansas.com, a nonprofit website devoted to the study of reptiles and amphibians in The Natural State.

Cleaning the frogs after a night of gigging is relatively simple. Cut it in half just above the waist, then peel down the skin from the legs with a pair of pliers. Snip off the bottom feet and the legs are ready to be grilled or rolled in your favorite breading and fried. The old quote, “It tastes like chicken,” likely originated with a parent getting their child to eat frog legs for the first time. Anyone who’s enjoyed these treats from the swamp will tell you chicken doesn’t compare to the flavor and texture offered by this treat that’s the ultimate in organic, locally sourced protein.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Backwoods Trap Shooters Sr. Team 1Places 2nd

BackWoods Trap Shooters SR. Team 1 Placed 2nd at the Camden Gun Club Tournament on March 30,2019.

They shot a 216/250 Team members are left to right Dalton Bigham, Weston Hembree and Blake Forrest.  Not pictured are Josh Nichols and Chandler Harrod.

Backwoods Trap Shooters Jr. Team Place Second in Tournament

BackWoods Trap Shooters Jr. Team 1 placed 2nd at the Camden Gun Club Trap Tournament March 30th.

They shot a 199/250 team members are left to right
Carson Slaughter, Chance Stephens, Lee Johnson, Gunner Wilkerson and Alex Wardlaw
Lee Johnson Shot a 48/50 he won the top shooter in the Jr. division.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Planting Food Plots for White Tailed Deer

LITTLE ROCK – One of the most popular habitat management strategies utilized by landowners is planting food plots.  This is done primarily to enhance wildlife habitat by improving nutrition and the overall productivity of a piece of property.

In some cases, properly implemented food plots can offer up to 10 times the amount of digestible energy and proteins when implemented in conjunction with properly managed forests.  By supplementing the natural vegetation that is available for deer, the effects of nutritionally stressful periods can be minimized.

The first step in developing a successful food plot is to determine the objectives of the food plot.  These objectives include but are not limited to: wildlife species, time of year, and wildlife nutritional needs.  This article will be aimed at meeting objectives for spring food plot plantings for white-tailed deer.  These food plots will provide quality nutrition for deer from early spring throughout the summer months.  As with any planting, a soil test and proper seedbed preparation should be performed.   A lot of money can be wasted by not conducting these two simple but essential steps.

The second step is deciding how much to plant.  There is no magical acreage an individual piece of property needs to have, but it is probably a good idea to start out with 1 to 5 percent of the total property.  Over time, if the plot becomes over-utilized, more acreage can be devoted to food plot plantings.  Generally, food plots planted for forage plots should be in the ½-3 acre range.

Next is deciding what to plant.  Various broadleaf herbaceous plants make up a majority of a deer’s diet throughout the growing season.  Iron-clay cowpeas, Quail Haven soybeans, and Roundup Ready soybeans are three types of legumes that meet this broadleaf category well that deer will find quite attractive on your property. 

Iron-clay cowpeas will provide excellent forage for deer throughout summer and fall especially after the palatability of most native vegetation is decreased.  These plants are also more drought tolerant than other species of legumes.  Another advantage to planting these types of peas is their grazing tolerance.  In areas of high deer populations, this would be an ideal plant to consider.  Plant 70 pounds per acre.

Quail Haven soybeans are a re-seeding forage type soybean.  These legumes are one of the most highly preferred forages of whitetail deer.  The only drawback to these types of legumes is their susceptibility to grazing.  It would be recommended to plant this type of legume in areas of lower deer populations or where there is ample acreage that can be devoted to planting this type of plant.  Plant 40 pounds per acre.   

The last type of plant is the Roundup Ready soybean.  By utilizing Roundup Ready soybeans, highly nutritious plots can be kept weed free cheaper and easier.  Like the Quail Haven soybean, these legumes are subject to overgrazing as well, so caution should be taken to planting these in areas of high deer densities.  Plant 45 pounds per acre.

Planting dates can vary across the state from north to south, but generally these legumes can be planted from April through June.  Contact your county extension agent or an AGFC private lands biologist for specific dates for your area and for other food plantings to consider.

Food plots are an excellent way of providing supplemental nutrition for white-tailed deer.  However, this should be utilized as only one part of habitat management.  Management strategies such as: food plots, timber management, early successional habitat management, and population management should all be used in combination to achieve optimum conditions for white-tailed deer.

For more information on benefits and establishment of food plots for white-tailed deer contact an AGFC private lands biologist at: Eureka Springs, 866-253-2506; Calico Rock, 877-297-4331; Jonesboro, 877-972-5438; Fort Smith, 877-478-1043; Mayflower, 877-470-3650; Batesville, 870-569-8124; Brinkley, 877-734-4581; Perrytown, 877-777-5580, Monticello; 877-367-3553, or Little Rock, 501-539-0889.