By KELLY STILES | The Arkadelphian
Six years in a row, Clark County has ranked second in the state for greatest amount of white-tail deer harvests, and is on track to maintain its record for the 2022-23 deer season ending on Feb. 28. According to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC), Clark County currently boasts 4,853 reported harvested deer this season, surpassed only by Union County, having harvested 5,606 deer thus far.
Clark County’s current harvest total includes 2,264 antlered bucks, 259 button bucks, and 2,330 doe. For the 2021-22 hunting season, hunters raked in a reported 5,457 deer.
While people often “flock” to Stuttgart, Ark., for duck hunting, Clark County attracts a mass of deer hunters to public hunting areas such as Big Timber Wildlife Management Area in Gurdon and other parts of the county.
“[Hunting] is a part of Arkansas heritage, a part of our DNA,” AGFC assistant chief of communications Randy Zellers said.
David Wilson, wastewater specialist for the Arkansas Department of Health and former AGFC employee, lives out Zellers’ sentiment. Wilson is a generational Clark County deer hunter, having enjoyed the activity with his father and grandfather. Wilson enjoys eating the fried deer meat his wife Ashton Wilson makes from his harvest, and looks forward to teaching his one-year-old daughter Adlee the ropes one day.
“I have been hunting since I could walk and talk,” Wilson said.
Both Zellers and Wilson acknowledge the importance of deer hunting, not only on a cultural level, but for the environmental and economic health of Arkansas.
“A deer doesn’t know that it’s eating from a garden or farm,” Zellers said. “It just knows food.”
Seasonal hunting keeps the Arkansas deer population in check, as an abundance of deer can contribute to the destruction of crops, and can inhibit animals of similar diets from obtaining necessary food. More deer also means more car accidents from people running into the jaywalking creatures.
“Hunting is a billion-dollar industry in Arkansas,” Zellers said. “There are Arkansas towns that thrive off hunting.”
The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies reports that recreational hunters and sport shooters contributed $149 billion to the United States economy, supported over 970,000 jobs nationwide, and created over $45 billion in wages and income in 2020.
Zellers has been working for AGFC since 2004, and now facilitates the creation of the monthly AGFC magazine, Arkansas Wildlife. There are three points of advice Zellers extends to hunters, as an employee of AGFC, and as a hunter himself.
“Stay in the stand longer,” Zellers said.
Zellers often deer hunts on public land, and notes that hunters will typically arrive just before dawn and leave around 10 to 11 a.m. for lunch. While deer are usually more active during this time of day, the animals feel more comfortable traveling when less people are around, making the traditional hunter departure time a prime opportunity.
He also implores hunters to always wear a safety harness while in a hunting stand, as stand accidents are the leading cause of hunting fatalities. Zellers notes of a tragedy involving a man falling from a stand that was only 7 feet off the ground and dying from the resulting head and neck injury.
“When I was a kid, I jumped from from heights with no problem,” Zellers said. “I was prepared for the fall. When people fall out of a stand, they are not prepared for it, and often fall in weird angles.”
Lastly, Zellers recommends that hunters look over the AGFC Code of Regulations at the beginning of each new hunting season, as there is always new or changed information from year to year. These regulations can be found at the AGFC website, at any hunter’s education course, and at most hunting supply stores.
“You can read it while you’re in the stand,” Zellers said.
The next Arkansas deer season begins Sept. 23, 2023.