BRINKLEY – Along with several fields annually prepared for public dove hunting on the state’s wildlife management areas, and the four private land fields being prepped for permit hunts, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has partnered with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to offer two fields for public dove hunting in 2019 in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge.
Sixty acres near Biscoe and 30 acres north of Cotton Plant called the Howell Tract have been planted with sunflowers by the AGFC in preparation for dove season, which opens Sunday, Sept. 1. All that is required to hunt the fields is a National Wildlife Refuge sign-and-carry permit, which can be obtained at the USFWS website, https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/regulations/cache-river-national-wildlife-refuge-hunt-fish.pdf.
Hunters should note, however, that only nontoxic shot is allowed for hunting on a national wildlife refuge. Hunters must use steel shot instead of the traditional lead shot associated with dove hunting.
Jacob Bokker, assistant regional supervisor in the AGFC’s Brinkley office, said Garrick Dugger, now assistant chief of the AGFC’s Wildlife Management Division, and Keith Weaver, project leader at the Cache River NWR, had talked in the past about working together on shared hunting fields. “Then Garrick moved into the job in Little Rock and Johnny Waldrup moved up to supervisor position here, and the torch was passed to Johnny and he passed it on to me,” Bokker said.
“(AGFC Conservation Technician) Wade Allwhite and I met with (Cache River NWR Deputy Project Leader) Jonathan Windley. Long story short, they had new ideas on public hunting opportunities and were receptive to a partnership. They have the high ground, but they don’t have the staff or the equipment for the staff to run. We have the staff and equipment but not the high ground. So, we entered into an agreement where we’d do the work and they’d handle the invoices.”
With the handshakes and the acreage secured to use for dove fields, Bokker and the AGFC staff pulled soil samples, ordered the amount of seed required, and let the USFWS people know what was needed.
“The Biscoe tract has always been a good spot for doves,” Bokker said. “The ground is sandy and the doves can get the grit they need to help digest their food. Also, there is a 20-or-so-acre dove field across the road from there. I believe folks there have had that field 15 or 20 years and have had a lot of dove in the past.”
The refuge made 90 acres available at Biscoe, but 30 of that was under water so long this spring that planting efforts were focused on the drier 60 acres. The flooding caused this field’s planting to be delayed so long that it will not be ready for opening weekend, but should provide excellent dove-hunting opportunities for the later part of September through October. The smaller Howell field will be ready by opening day. The entire area has a history of success with dove hunting thanks to agricultural operations.
“Jonathan told me the people who had the field before it was purchased for the refuge had hunted dove there and were successful,” Bokker said.
The AGFC is preparing other free dove fields on its wildlife management areas and will release a list and dove field maps in early August of areas that can be hunted when the season begins Sept. 1. Hunters may also start applying Aug. 1 for one of the four private land dove hunts being made available this year by the AGFC. The application fee for the private land hunt is $5, and applications will be available at www.agfc.com under the “Buy Licenses/Check Game” tag on the website or smartphone app.