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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Turkey Harvest, Hunting Opportunities Increase in 2023


Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications

LITTLE ROCK — With the last weekend of the 2023 Arkansas turkey season in the rearview mirror, hunters have tallied 9,193 checked birds. This is an increase of 21% percent from 2022 and the first time since 2017 that the harvest topped the 9,000-bird mark. 

Last year’s brood survey also indicates good reproduction, which should translate to more mature gobblers on the ground next year as well. Arkansas may not boast the turkey habitat of traditional turkey hotspots such as Missouri or Tennessee, but numbers are trending up thanks to favorable weather in some areas during the nesting seasons since 2020. Gobbler carryover appears to have been good last year thanks to the “No Jakes” harvest regulation and continued efforts by agencies and private landowners to put good habitat on the ground.

The harvest isn’t the only increasing number in Arkansas’s turkey woods. With the help of the Arkansas State Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, the AGFC has been able to add or open 3,206 acres of land for public access since 2018.

Through sales of its state license plate, created in 2015, the NWTF-AR board of directors direct revenue toward conservation and education across Arkansas. These efforts include land acquisition, habitat enhancement, scholarships and mentored hunting programs. 

The largest swath of public land added with the help of the NWTF-AR actually came by way of its partnership with the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission and The Nature Conservancy, when it helped procure the 1,376-acre Huttig Pine Flatwoods Natural Area in Union County. Primarily purchased to preserve open pine-hardwood flatwoods that can host the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. This area was included in the Beryl Anthony Lower Ouachita Wildlife Management Area and has received numerous habitat improvement awards from the Wild Turkey and Northern Bobwhite Habitat Cost Share Programto improve nesting and brood rearing habitat for wild turkeys.

NWTF-AR used its license plate fund to help with the purchase of a prime public hunting opportunity in White County as well. The 975-acre purchase of the Red Cut Slough Tract on Cypress Bayou was made possible with the help of the Trust for Public Land and a $100,000 donation from the NWTF-AR to help with due diligence costs. An additional 140 acres to this WMA also has been authorized in the last month, thanks to a $58,500 commitment from NWTF-AR.

Another large addition to Arkansas public hunting opportunities that NWTF-AR assisted in was the 550-acre addition to McIlroy Madison County WMA in 2022. The Nature Conservancy sold the inholding, which had seen substantial conservation enhancement work, at a heavily discounted price, and NWTF-AR added an additional $100,000 in funding toward the $1.6 million purchase price to secure this property for Arkansas hunters and Arkansas wildlife.

Greene County Wildlife Club and the NWTF-AR worked together on a land purchase in 2019 to remove an inholding from W.E. Brewer Scatter Creek WMA near Paragould as well. While not as large as some of the other purchases made possible by NWTF-AR, this 5-acre parcel had been identified for years as property that would benefit public land hunters using the WMA. 

An additional 160 acres near Scott Henderson Gulf Mountain WMA in Van Buren County also has been authorized for purchase to be added to public hunting access through the AGFC, thanks again to a $50,000 contribution from the NWTF-AR. 

The NWTF is only one of many partners the AGFC has in procuring public access for hunting, fishing and watchable wildlife efforts. Other partners, such as Central Arkansas Water, TNC, The Arkansas Forestry Commission and ANHC all have played vital roles in increasing hunting opportunity in Arkansas.     

AGFC Director spoke of these partnerships and the path ahead during his address at the April 20 Commission meeting held in Little Rock. Proposals to add Goat’s Beard Bluff Natural Area (540 acres), Sugarloaf Mountains-Midland Peak Natural Area (1,191 acres) and Hot Springs State Forest (2,975 acres) to the AGFC’s WMA system and provide more than 4,706 acres of new public hunting opportunity were proposed at that same meeting. A new long-term lease agreement with Central Arkansas Water in January expanded the Maumelle River WMA in Pulaski County by 2,395 acres.

“We formed The Natural State Tomorrow last year to be our guiding document for the next five years,” AGFC Director Austin Booth said. “We said that we would add at least 5,000 acres of priority habitat for wildlife and public access in five years. Thanks to partnerships and planning, we’re on pace to meet that goal in less than a single year.”

Thanks to the continued efforts of the AGFC’s network of partnering agencies, and with a little help from Mother Nature, the future continues to look bright for turkey hunting in The Natural State.

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Tammy Teague
Tammy Teague
Tammy is the heart behind the brand. Her tenacity to curate authentic journalism, supported by a genuine heart is one her many wholesome qualities.
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