The Final Thought: Time Will Tell
Remarkably, you are reading the 10th anniversary edition of Greenhead and what a ride it's been. The magazine has graduated from a one-year, let’s-see-if-this-will-work project to an award-winning, can’t-wait-until-it-comes-out publication.
With the popularity and history of Arkansas duck hunting, we had an idea the magazine would be well accepted. But thanks to voracious readers, supportive advertisers and a talented team of writers, photographers and designers, Greenhead has grown to a must-read for Arkansas waterfowlers.
Over the past 10 editions, the duck hunting community, especially in Arkansas, has seen more than its share of change as well. Seems like we have a lot more to worry about nowadays with climate change, habitat loss and a couple of lousy duck seasons. Toss in the social media explosion, advancements in gear and improved hunting opportunities to our north, and duck hunting here may be at a proverbial crossroads.
Climate change gets a lot of play globally, as the impact of these trends has implications far beyond duck hunting. Time will tell if the predictions are true, but Little Rock is on track to have the same climate as Hammond, Louisiana, in 60 years if reductions aren’t made to greenhouse gas emissions. For reference, Hammond is about 45 miles northwest of New Orleans. If so, that’s scary stuff considering the need for cold weather to push ducks.
The recent lack of snow cover up north, frequency of El Niño events and mild winters may hold some short-term merit. But like most things, weather comes in cycles, so surely some harsh winters are in our future to funnel mallards into the Delta like in the good ol’ days.
I truly hope when the 20th anniversary edition of Greenhead hits newsstands, we won’t be writing about Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area in the past tense. Habitat loss in state-owned, green-tree reservoirs like Bayou Meto, Hurricane Lake and others wasn’t more than a blip on anyone’s radar in 2010. Now, after several years of late-winter and early spring rains lasting into the early growing seasons, the duck-friendly, acorn-producing red oaks are feeling the pain.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is on high alert with new water control methods in place in an effort to slow or mitigate the damage. Everyone knows Bayou Meto’s role in duck migration so it is hard to imagine the Grand Prairie without that flyway. Once it goes it’s truly gone for our lifetime, and likely our children’s lifetime, with very little optimism it will return to its legendary status.
No one can question the explosion of social media since the debut of Greenhead in 2010. Facebook had around 370 million daily users in late 2010. There are over 1.52 billion now. Instagram wasn’t even invented when the magazine launched. The duck hunting community is huge and very active on social media with countless “brag” photos providing an almost instant hunting report. If only everything you see and read on social media can be believed. Yes, there are people posting dated photos to give the impression they are whacking them when everyone else in the area or state is struggling.
The duck hunter ego and expectations have definitely grown over the years, and social media has a lot to do with that.
Waders as comfortable as overalls? Technologically-advanced apparel? Shallow-drive mud motors? Seasons ebb and flow but the equipment keeps getting better and better. Who had ever heard of Sitka in 2010? Even the Duxbak brand of my youth has returned. The “cut down” style duck call wasn’t a thing beyond old-timers in the White River bottoms and a handful of guides, but now every callmaker seems to produce one and the cult-like following even has their own calling contests.
Last season Arkansas set a record for duck stamps sold with 104,741 (53,833 resident, 50,908 nonresident), the highest total since 2014 (104,629) and only the fourth time since 1992 that sales topped 100,000. Compared to 2010, that is a 37% increase overall and a whopping 72% increase for nonresidents. Incredibly high participation rates are awesome for retailers, guides, lessors and so on, but all those license holders put a wealth of hunting pressure on the ducks. It’s doubtful we can go much higher, as there aren’t enough hunting holes to cram into and I expect a downturn after a tough 2018-2019 season.
Who knows where the sport will be when we check in after another 10 editions? There are so many elements that could influence duck behavior and affect hunter participation. If harvest rates continue to decline, one would naturally expect an exodus of the fringe duck hunters. I would suspect the sport would lose some veterans as well if they start questioning whether the effort is worth it.
If hunting improves, can the sport afford and accommodate another large influx of waterfowlers? Time will truly tell.