LITTLE ROCK — Duck hunters have been cleaning and painting decoys, scouting property, brushing blinds and cleaning shotguns in anticipation of the opening day of duck season on Nov. 21. Every year a handful of them forget their most important pieces of equipment: a valid hunting license, including federal and state duck stamps and Harvest Information Program registration.
Beginning this year, the only way to register for the Harvest Information Program is either online at agfc.com, through the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission smartphone app or at an AGFC regional office or nature center. In an effort to improve the quality of data being submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arkansas HIP registration will no longer be offered at license vendors such as sporting goods stores.
Any hunter 16 and older who chases migratory birds, from dove to ducks, has likely heard the message to “Get HIP,” during the last two decades, meaning to register for the federal Harvest Information Program before hunting migratory birds. The nationwide program was initiated by the USFWS in cooperation with states in 1999 to gather consistent information about how many birds of each species were being harvested across the country and how many hunters pursued them.
How HIP derives total harvest estimates by state still is a bit of a mystery to most duck hunters, and is often one of the most criticized topics wildlife managers answer every season.
There’s much more to the program than a simple question at a cash register.
“The few questions you hear at a license vendor are not used for the final harvest estimates, but they are very important to the way the program works,” said Luke Naylor, waterfowl program coordinator for the AGFC. “Those questions are used to categorize all migratory bird hunters by the number of migratory birds they harvest so proper surveys can be distributed.”
The real surveys used in HIP are hunter diaries, submitted from a handful of hunters, and wing surveys, where certain hunters are asked to mail in a wing of each bird they harvest during a season for verification of species, age and sex.
“A few thousand hunters are chosen each year for those two surveys, and they decide who gets those surveys based on categories developed from responses to the registration questions,” Naylor said.
Unfortunately, because the HIP registration is free, many hunters who do not hunt migratory birds have still registered “just in case.” Additionally, license clerks at some outside vendors may not have much experience processing the registration, leading to incomplete or inaccurate data.
“That data is very important to harvest estimates used in harvest management, including determining regulations such as season structures and limits,” Naylor said. “If we’re not working with good data, we’re not able to manage the populations for the best benefit of the birds or the hunters.”
The easiest way to get all of your licenses purchased is through the AGFC’s website at www.agfc.com. Just click the “Buy Licenses|Check Game” button at the top of the page to get started.