Outdoor Briefs: Women make strong showing in elk hunt

Published Monday, December 22, 2008

COMPTON The just-ended December elk hunt in the Buffalo River country was notable from several aspects.

Women hunters dominated the successes.

It closed the 11th year for elk hunting in Arkansas, an event of the Arkansas outdoors that draws thousands of applicants for the coveted free hunting permits from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

And the latest hunt reinforced the accepted theory that elk hunting continues to get more difficult as the big animals increase their wariness in the rough, mountainous habitat where they live and thrive.

Although the December 2008 hunt had the most permits issued yet, it resulted in the fewest elk taken by hunters of any of the previous sessions, excepting the 2000 December hunt shortened by an ice storm to just two days.

Eleven elk fell to hunters on public land this time, and two of these were illegal kills. One other elk was taken on private land. One public land permit winner died before the hunt, and another did not participate.

The illegal kills were accidents. One hunter shot an elk, and the bullet went through and killed another standing behind. The other was by a hunter with an antlerless permit, and a 2X2 bull elk with misshapen, downturned antlers was killed across a field. Both hunters were issued warning citations by AGFC wildlife officers and were required to pay for processing of the elk, with the meat donated to needy families in the area.

Of the 12 elk taken, four came early by men and boys, then the rest of the were taken by women. The eight women who won permits were the most yet in the 11 years of elk hunting.

The application period for the 2009 public land elk hunts will be the month of May. Applications can be obtained then at AGFC offices and online.

New coyote regulations

LITTLE ROCK As the modern gun deer season winds down, sportsmen may want to consider taking advantage of increased opportunities available for coyote hunting on Wildlife Management Areas owned by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. This year the coyote hunting season has been expanded on most Commission-owned WMAs and is open during daylight hours from July 1 through Feb. 28, and reopening the first day of spring turkey season and running through June 14 with no bag limit. Firearms restrictions on these areas have been relaxed and hunters can now use rifles up to .30 caliber to take coyotes during the entire season.

While the extended coyote season applies to all WMAs, hunters on areas managed cooperatively with other agencies are still restricted to the use of either a .22 caliber rifle or whatever equipment is legal for other open seasons. Hunters should refer to the Commission's 2008 Hunting Guidebook for complete regulations.

Regulations approved this summer also make it legal for feral hogs to be taken during any open daytime hunting season on WMAs using the weapons legal for that hunt, including the large caliber firearms approved for use in the coyote season on Commission-owned areas.

Feral hogs, which are not native to the state, have become an increasing problem in Arkansas since they compete for food with game species, damage fields, levees, crops and timber, and can also carry diseases that can result in significant negative economic impacts on domestic livestock. Because of the damage they cause, the Commission would like to totally eradicate them from all of its WMAs and would encourage private landowners not to tolerate free-ranging feral hogs on their property either. Blake Sasse, the Commission biologist leading feral hog control efforts, said, "We're not interested in managing them for sustainable populations like we do for other wildlife species. We do not consider the existence of feral hogs on Commission property compatible with our mission to wisely manage our native wildlife species and their habitat. Commission personnel will be gearing-up with new equipment and using a wide variety of trapping and shooting methods to remove feral hogs from all Commission-owned WMAs. We see the efforts of hunters as another key component contributing to the success of our eradication efforts."

The Commission would especially like to encourage people to shoot feral hogs on these areas with very high hog populations: Cut Off Creek WMA (Drew County), Gulf Mountain WMA (Van Buren County), Petit Jean WMA (Yell County), Dr. Lester Sitzes Bois d' Arc WMA (Hempstead County). Though hog populations are not as high on the following WMAs, the Commission would also urge more feral hogs to be shot on Gene Rush WMA (Newton and Searcy County), Harold E. Alexander WMA (Sharp County) and Shirey Bay Rainey Brake WMA (Lawrence County).

If you visit a WMA just to shoot feral hogs, you can do so long as you posses a hunting license, except during special permit hunts when only permit holders may take them. Feral hogs which have been killed by a hunter can be taken from the area or left where they were shot. Hogs may not be taken with the use of dogs or bait, and cannot be trapped or removed alive from the area.

Taking a hog won't be easy, even on these problem areas since they move around a lot and are usually only active during the day around dawn and dusk. When scouting for feral hogs concentrate on low, wet areas where they may have a wallow and also search for areas of thick brush where they may be sleeping during the day. Hog sign, such as tree trunks with mud rubbed on them or large areas of ground they have rooted up in search of food, is usually easy to find in an area they are using frequently. In order to take as many as possible, consider using a multi-shot, high-powered rifle, though they can also be brought down with more primitive weapons.

Make sure feral hogs are dead before approaching them as their tusks can cause serious injury. Smaller-sized hogs can be good eating, but you should wear plastic or rubber gloves while dressing the carcass and cook the meat thoroughly.

Want to become a wildlife rehabilitator?

LITTLE ROCK - Arkansas is blessed with an abundance of wildlife and their offspring. Throughout the year, it is not uncommon to come across unattended baby wild animals. During this time, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission gets flooded with calls about abandoned animals and what to do with them.

Many people discover apparently lost or abandoned wildlife young and take them in, thinking they are doing the right thing. This almost always does more harm than good as in most cases the animal hasn't actually been abandoned. However, for those animals that have already been separated from their mothers or those that have been injured, there are a few people in Arkansas, known as wildlife rehabilitators, there to help.

AGFC nongame mammal coordinator Blake Sasse says that the state's rehabilitators tend to get overloaded with requests to take animals, especially in the spring, and more rehabilitators are needed. The Commission only has 68 permitted wildlife rehabilitators and the Fish and Wildlife Service has only licensed 13 people in Arkansas to rehabilitate birds. The most commonly cared for animals are opossums, squirrels, and rabbits, most of which are taken in as babies.

"Rehabilitators spend an enormous amount of their time and money to help Arkansas wildlife," Sasse said. "It takes a strong person to be a rehabilitator because about a quarter of the animals you handle don't make it and even when you're successful you have to put them back into the wild after working with them for weeks," he added.

Here's a few things that potential rehabilitators need to think about before signing up.

Should I become a rehabilitator?

Anyone thinking of becoming a wildlife rehabilitator should spend time considering whether this is an avocation that is right for them. Some factors to consider are:

*Do you have adequate space separate from people and pets in which to house and care for wildlife?

*Do you have the money needed to buy food and supplies to care for wild animals?

*Are you prepared to see and care for animals with serious injuries or disease? Are you prepared to euthanize animals for which treatment cannot be effective?

*Can you keep from getting emotionally attached to animals in your care so that you will be able to release them when they're ready?

*Do you have the time to care for wild animals? It may require 1 or 2 hours or more each and every day in order to provide adequate care.

*Is it legal in your town? Some towns have rules prohibiting the possession of any wildlife.

What do I need to do?

In order to get an Apprentice Wildlife Rehabilitator permit from the Commission you will need to find a currently permitted wildlife rehabilitator that will agree to assist in your training, a veterinarian that will provide support, and those that live inside a city will need a letter from the city saying that your facility wouldn't violate any city ordinances.

You can find permit applications and complete regulations at the AGFC wildlife rehabilitation web site at http://www.agfc.com/wildlife-conservation/rehabilitators.aspx <http://www.agfc.com/wildlife-conservation/rehabilitators.aspx> or by calling Blake Sasse at 877-470-3650. Those wishing to work with birds can call Commission biologist Karen Rowe at 877-873-4651 and she can provide information about getting a permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service for bird rehabilitation.

Stocking restriction lifted on Greers Ferry tailwater

HEBER SPRINGS - Just a few weeks after improved dissolved oxygen conditions on the Bull Shoals and Norfork tailwaters allowed the AGFC to lift stocking restrictions on those trout waters, the same restriction has been lifted on the Greers Ferry tailwater. The restrictions on Greers Ferry were lifted on Dec. 16.

The improvement in dissolved oxygen on the tailwater is directly related to the destratification of Greers Ferry Lake, which began on Dec. 11. Matt Schroeder, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Trout Management Biologist, explained that destratification is a result of decreasing temperature and increasing density of the top layer (epilimnion) of Greers Ferry. "When surface temperature and density of the epilimnion reach that of the bottom layer (hypolimnion) the lake mixes or turns over," Schroeder said. "Once these two layers are mixed with the aid of wind, the bottom layer of the lake is again recharged with dissolved oxygen," he added.

Greers Ferry Tailwater was the last of the trout waters to have a stocking restriction in place. Now, normal stocking schedules will resume for all trout waters around the state.

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