LITTLE ROCK — Hunters interested in scouting a new piece of public hunting land may want to take a look at the recently published 2020-21 Arkansas Deer Summary Report to look for top prospects in their corner of the state.
The report, produced each year by the AGFC deer program coordinators, includes data collected from checked harvests as well as voluntary hunter surveys during the season. Not only does it give detailed breakdowns of statewide harvest, it also offers some insight on biological data, such as body weight and antler size of deer seen and harvested by hunters.
Last year’s white-tailed deer harvest of 216,835 was the highest harvest on record. It also was the eighth year in the last decade that Arkansas’s checked deer harvest topped the 200,000-mark. The state’s lowest deer harvest during a legal season on record was in 1938, when only 203 deer were checked statewide. Thanks to extensive restocking and management efforts by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and its partners in conservation efforts, Arkansans now enjoy hunting seasons spanning six months and sustained high harvest rates.
According to last year’s data, the three public hunting areas with the highest reported harvest include Ozark National Forest Wildlife Management Area (824 deer), the South Unit of Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge (630 deer) and Piney Creeks WMA (588 deer). Those high harvest numbers may be impressive, but that doesn’t necessarily mean these areas hold the best opportunity to fill your tag. Hunters should recognize the large size of these three public areas when making comparisons. Ozark National Forest WMA is 126,889 acres, the White River Refuge is 160,000 acres and Piney Creeks WMA measures a whopping 504,643 acres.
Many other public lands throughout the state offer some high harvest rates when the harvest is compared to the acreage of each area listed in the 2021-22 General Hunting Guidebook. Mike Freeze Wattensaw, Moro Big Pine and Trusten Holder WMAs all produced impressive numbers of deer in 2020-21 for their size, with Trusten Holder being one of the best in the state at a harvest rate of one deer taken for every 61 acres.
In addition to proper habitat management and excellent habitat conditions, most WMAs with high harvest rates on smaller acreages also have firearms hunts that are regulated by a drawn permit system which is conducted each June. This helps maintain a high-quality hunting experience for hunters who draw these areas. Bowhunters still may hunt on these areas when permit hunts are not being conducted, but hunting with a muzzleloader or modern gun is not allowed unless you were fortunate enough to draw a permit.
If you did not draw a permit for one of these areas earlier in the year, there are still many areas with very good success rates available to hunt this fall. Some of the best chances at public land deer hunting during the modern gun season are available in the AGFC’s Leased Lands WMA program. These properties, found on Page 74 of the 2021-22 Arkansas Hunting Guidebook, are owned by various private landowners and timber companies. The AGFC pays their lease prices and opens the land up to the public. People 16 and older must pay for a $40 annual permit to hunt, fish or trap on a leased land WMA, a fraction of the cost of an actual lease. Leased lands WMAs often fill a void in portions of the state that don’t have much public land available for hunters. All leased land WMAs have standard hunting seasons with no special permit draw required to hunt, and all have good to excellent harvest rates for deer. Lafayette County WMA stands out even among the leased lands WMAs with 156 deer harvested last year on only 16,739 acres.
In addition to raw harvest numbers, the annual deer summary report also gives valuable information about the condition of the deer herd, relative abundance and various biological characteristics of male and female deer within the different ecoregions of Arkansas. For example, the average gross Boone and Crockett score for bucks is fairly consistent throughout the state, but bucks in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley showed slightly higher antler growth compared to the other ecoregions.
According to the AGFC’s deer program coordinator Ralph Meeker, “The abundance of information provided in the annual deer summary report is a great starting point for hunters to pre-scout from their computer. Beyond the use of trail cameras, being able to track changes in regional harvest, biological, and observation trends is a great way to help formulate hunting plans prior to the start of deer season.”
Visit https://www.agfc.com/en/hunting/big-game/deer/deer-harvest-reports/ for downloadable copies of annual white-tailed deer reports from 2000 to 2021.
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