Duck hunters have a reason to be excited about the upcoming season due to a rise in breeding populations. Habitat conditions are also excellent and that translates into good duck production.
What this all means is more ducks in the fall flight including younger ducks that are easier to hunt, according to former AGFC duck program coordinator Mike Checkett. Checkett recently resigned from the AGFC and accepted a similar position with Ducks Unlimited in Memphis. He will continue working with waterfowl in Arkansas and AGFC biologists.
"A strong breeding population of 36.2 million ducks (up more than 16 percent from last year), as well as good production and higher July pond numbers indicates an increased fall flight," Checkett said. "The predicted fall flight estimate for the mallard population is 10.3 million birds, which, is up 11 percent from last years estimate of 9.2 million birds and similar to the 2001 estimate of 10.5 million," he said.
Checkett also said he the season may be as high as 60 days, but added that commissioners from the AGFC will make that decision at its Aug. 28 meeting in Little Rock. Bag limits will also be set at that time.
"A recommendation has been made for the 2003-04 season, favoring the use of the federal bag limit, with an added restriction allowing only one mallard hen per limit instead of two. The commission is struggling with this. They may be more restrictive as they did last year when they only allowed five ducks -- three mallards with only one hen," he explained.
"Recommendations on the mallard and other species bag limits are strongly influenced by breeding population estimates and information from July pond and brood production," Checkett added.
Sportsmen should be reminded that weather is a major factor in determining success during duck season. "Weather and habitat conditions drive migration, hunting opportunity and success," Checkett said. "In other words, hunting opportunity and success is not decided by duck numbers alone; weather and habitat conditions are the determining factors throughout the flyway and local hunting areas. The weather must cooperate."
With all of the preliminary information pointing toward a favorable season, hunters may see a rebound of hunting success from the past two seasons that were below Arkansas standards.