LITTLE ROCK — Hunters who haven’t found a lease but still want the opportunity to hunt agricultural land this duck season may want to turn to a WRICE field. “WRICE” isn’t a typo; it stands for Waterfowl Rice Incentive Conservation Enhancement, a new program from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to increase waterfowl habitat and hunting access in The Natural State.
Rice field The program, now in its second year, offers money to rice producers to forego tilling their fields in fall and leave the waste grain for the ducks instead of turning it under.
“Fall tillage is a growing practice with Arkansas farmers,” said AGFC Waterfowl Program Coordinator Luke Naylor. “They’re trying to get a head start of next year’s crop, but by doing so they are reducing the amount of food energy from agricultural land that’s available to ducks. We’re hoping this program can give them more incentive to leave that food on the ground and not till it under.”
A new wrinkle to the WRICE program for this year is the addition of some limited hunter access on these private fields.
“There have been a lot of discussions in our Wildlife Management Division in the last few years about gaining more access for public hunting on private land,” Naylor said. “The WRICE program is a great way to continue moving that effort forward.”
Naylor says leasing private land for public access is not new for the AGFC. Many thousands of acres of commercially owned forested properties are leased every year to create large leased land wildlife management areas in portions of the state where the AGFC does not own property to offer hunting access. These leased land WMAs normally focus on deer, squirrel and turkey, but recent programs focused on agricultural landowners have had some positive results.
“We’ve been working with private landowners to provide managed dove fields for public draw hunts for the last three years and have seen a good response from both the landowners and the hunters,” Naylor said. “This is a continuation of that effort to expand our public access on private land and offer hunters different hunting experiences than our traditional WMAs provide.”
Hunting by permit only sign For this year, 11 locations enrolled in the WRICE program will be open to hunting through a public draw, much like the permit draws for dove fields offered through the AGFC. Each location will be available every Saturday and Sunday of regular duck season and during the Youth/Veteran waterfowl hunts. Applications for each hunt will be accepted on Thursday through Sunday of the preceding weekend.
“We’ve conducted the online draws for (Steve N. Wilson) Raft Creek WMA this way for the last few years with good participation and success,” Naylor said. “If people can apply for every weekend at once at the beginning of the season, there’s a much higher chance of other plans getting in the way and the hunting area being left vacant during the hunts. We want people to enjoy this special opportunity.”
Hunters can visit www.agfc.com and click the green “Buy License|Check Game” button to go to the AGFC’s licensing site. All waterfowl permit hunts are listed under “WMA Applications.” Locations will be listed by county and the town nearest the hunting location. Hunters may apply for a first and second choice. Each application costs $5. Successful applicants will be notified by email. They will receive a map with directions to the hunting location and parking area for their hunt, and will be able to choose up to three hunting partners to join them.
“Only the party that drew the hunt will be able to access the property, and they’ll have the location for the entire weekend,” Naylor said. “They can’t access the property before the Saturday of the hunt, but may view it from the road and parking areas to scan where they want to set up for their first hunt.”
Naylor says no hunting will be allowed on WRICE fields other than during the hunts. This will benefit the ducks with increased habitat as well as hunters looking for less pressured birds.
With the first application period for WRICE fields beginning Nov. 14-17, Naylor is optimistic that hunters will embrace this new opportunity and be respectful of the landowners and the property they are offering for the hunts.
“We just ask everyone to take care of these places as though they were their own and not leave trash or ruts or anything out on these farmer’s fields,” Naylor said. “This program could really be the start of something great for Arkansas duck hunters, farmers and the ducks that migrate through the state. The more positive experiences landowners have with the program, the more we can make this opportunity grow.”