All right, the main event for a sizable segment of the Arkansas population is under way. Modern gun deer season has begun.
This could be a good one, possibly among the best ever in terms of the number of deer taken by hunters.
The preliminaries of early bow season and the first muzzle-loading season have resulted in impressive numbers of deer checked by hunters. Something of a counter to this was apparently light participation in the first doe-only season for much of the state. That was five weekdays, Oct. 31-Nov. 4.
Any talk of a good deer season depends on two major factors, and both are beyond control of either hunters or regulating agencies. One is weather. The other is mast, meaning natural food for deer.
When the modern gun hunt opened at daybreak Saturday, more than 65,000 deer had already been checked by hunters in those early activities — archery, including crossbow, muzzle-loader and the doe gun hunt. This is running a little ahead of recent seasons. Weather forecasts are generally favorable for the first part of modern gun hunting.
In general, the woods are damp but not wet across the state. It’s been a fairly quick turnaround from the extreme dryness of late summer and early fall. Damp woods are desirable because they are close to ideal conditions for deer hunting. Hunters can move with a minimum of noise — those hunters who rely on stealth.
Dust is not a factor. Dusty conditions are uncomfortable for deer, and some hunters believe dust makes deer spooky.
Good deer hunting weather in November, to most hunters, means cool and even nippy mornings then warmer but not hot days, with evening bringing drops in temperatures. Hunters tend to dress in layers, shedding or adding items for comfort.
Recent rains have been showers in some places, heavy downpours to cause runoff in other locales. But flooding is absent. Back roads and trails are passable for the most part.
Most of the state has yet to experience a killing freeze, so green growth is plentiful for deer to eat. So are acorns and other items in the mast category. Plentiful acorns can be a good news-bad news situation for deer hunters. With abundant acorns in woods, deer tend to move around the edges much less, meaning they aren’t as visible to hunters.
In modern Arkansas deer hunting, the hunter waits in one spot for deer to come to him or her. Stalking of deer on the ground is a virtually lost art.
As modern gun hunting opened, Union County in southern Arkansas was again leading the reports of deer taken by hunters. Union was well ahead of Clark County in southwestern Arkansas, Washington County in the northwest and Sharp County in the northeast. These ranked second, third and fourth.
The peak season in Arkansas deer hunting was 1999-2000 when 194,687 were checked by hunters. The numbers declined through 2003-04 due to both weather conditions and regulations restrictions of several types. Then numbers climbed again to close to the record of a dozen seasons ago.
Last year, the deer total was over 186,000, just a tad below the total of the previous year.
Still another factor in the possible high count for deer checked in the current year is liberalizing of the seasonal deer limit.
A hunter can take six deer this year but only two bucks statewide. But zone limits have to be observed. Only one zone has a six-deer limit — Zone 12 in southern Arkansas. By hunting more than one zone, a hunter can accumulate that six-deer maximum. Wildlife management areas and national wildlife refuges are each a zone, so a hunter conceivably could take deer in a management area, cross a border road and take more deer.
Realistically, however, comparatively few hunters will reach that six-deer maximum.
Most Arkansas deer hunters will fall in the broad category of “I got a deer. This is a good year.”
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.