Deer hunters ready to fire modern guns
Nearly half a million hunters in Arkansas will be afield today for the opening day of modern gun deer season.
Although Arkansas is famous for its world-class duck hunting, it is also one of the top deer-hunting states in the South in terms of both numbers of deer taken and quality of bucks, or male deer. Opening weekend of the modern gun deer season is also the state’s biggest event in terms of participation.
Keith Stephens, chief of communications for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said about 300,000 licensed hunters will hunt today. If you include youths younger than age 16 and seniors over age 65, he said the number is actually closer to 500,000.
“As Arkansans, I think deer hunting is in our DNA,” Stephens said. “It’s not only the hunt. It’s about spending time with family and friends in the woods. I enjoy being in a stand and just watching the woods come alive at daybreak.”
“Of course, there’s nothing like the adrenaline rush of watching a deer move through the woods as you wait for that clear shot.”
Ralph Meeker, the Game and Fish Commission’s deer project leader, said that opening weekend of modern gun deer season is a vital part of Arkansas culture.
“Opening weekend of modern gun deer season in Arkansas is a historical event,” Meeker said. “We will harvest between 35,000 and 40,000 deer on Saturday and Sunday. That’s a pretty significant percentage of our total deer harvest, which we expect will be over 200,000.”
Modern gun deer season is historical, Meeker said, because deer were nearly extirpated in the early 1900s because of unregulated hunting. Through restocking and conservative management, deer herds recovered to such abundance that hunters have taken more than 200,000 deer per year for nearly a decade.
“What we’ll all experience tomorrow is a culmination of all deer management efforts,” Meeker said. “Families getting together at deer camp and enjoying the bounty that
we have is a testament to past management efforts.
“It’s like an early Christmas for a lot of folks.”
Modern gun season is also when hunters kill the biggest percentage of the deer of the season. Of the 205,220 deer that hunters reported killing in the 2017-2018 deer seasons, about 75 percent were killed during the modern gun season, Meeker said. Of those, according to AGFC data, 36,884 were killed during the opening weekend, more than any other weekend.
Arkansas schedules its modern gun deer season to coincide roughly with the rut, or the whitetailed deer’s breeding period.
The peak of the rut varies across the state, but rutting activity should be occurring in all parts of the state right now.
For the third consecutive season, the AGFC will sample large numbers of deer for chronic wasting disease, a fatal, communicable disease to deer that, so far, is concentrated in the Ozarks region. Meeker said he encourages hunters to take their deer to the stations for sampling.
Detailed information about chronic wasting disease in Arkansas is available online at arkansascwd.com. The site also lists CWD testing locations, as well as veterinarians
and taxidermists who are participating in the sampling effort.
For those who don’t hunt private land, Arkansas offers more than 3 million acres of public hunting in the Ozark and Ouachita national forests. About 25 percent of Arkansas’ deer hunters pursue their game on public land.
Some areas in eastern Arkansas, specifically Flood Prone Zone C, are closed to deer hunting because of flood conditions. Meeker said that Henry Gray Hurricane Lake Wildlife Management Area will probably reopen, and that its controlled modern gun deer hunt will proceed as planned. Rex Hancock Black Swamp WMA will probably remain closed, Meeker added.
Deer hunters are required to wear a fluorescent cap and vest or jacket during the modern gun season.
They also must possess a hunting license and proper tags and should carry an ink pen and a rubber band, length of wire or zip tie so they can fill out their tag and attach it to their deer before transporting it.
Successful hunters can check deer using a smart phone with the AGFC’s game check application, online at agfc.com, or by calling (877) 731-5627.