Contact: Chris Horton, Senior Director, Federal Fisheries Policy and Midwestern States
The first day of dove season is often a much-anticipated tradition in the South. While the early September opener (first Saturday of the month for Arkansas) is usually met with lingering summer heat and humidity, it’s the first opportunity for hunters to take to the field and a signal that cooler weather is not far behind. However, for hunters who do not have access to private land managed for doves, finding a good place to dove hunt can be a challenge. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) is working to overcome that challenge for a few lucky hunters.
In addition to the traditional first-come, first-served public dove fields planted each year on 21 of the AGFC’s existing wildlife management areas (WMA’s), the agency continues to expand on a relatively new program that partners with farmers to provide additional, high-quality dove hunting opportunities on a limited basis. Each year in May, select farmers from around the state enter a contract with the AGFC to plant fields with sunflowers, control weeds, and manage the fields for opening day. The contract includes funding for planting, herbicides, and irrigation (if needed), in addition to leasing the rights for public access for the first 2-3 weekends of the season. More recently, they have expanded the program to corn farmers who are willing to leave some standing corn for hunting stations and who top-sow the harvested field with wheat. The farmer is compensated for the public access opportunity, as well as any corn left in the field. Funding is provided through a leased lands Wildlife Restoration grant, part of the American System of Conservation Funding.
Beginning August 1, hunters apply for the limited hunt opportunity by selecting a field and a preferred weekend through an online application process. Successful hunters will be randomly drawn after the August 15 application deadline, and each permit holder can bring one additional hunter. This fall, a total of 302 private land dove hunting permits will be available.
As the program’s popularity with both farmers and hunters continues to grow, more fields will likely be added in the future as funding allows.
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?