In a previous column, I stated that waterfowling this season had a chance to be very good. My reasoning behind that statement was based on the drought conditions that occurred in the Midwest and the reduced corn crop resulting from it. Since then, hurricane damage to the unharvested rice crops will no doubt benefit waterfowlers in Arkansas, Mississippi, the Missouri Boothill, and to a lesser extent Louisiana.
When Katrina and Rita hit, 36 percent of rice was unharvested in Arkansas, 40 percent in Mississippi, and 80 percent in Missouri. Rain from Rita and wind from Katrina have lodged much of the remaining unharvested rice crop.
The crop was indeed a good one this year and harvestable, but because of the damage from the hurricanes harvest took longer than normal, putting a great demand on draper headers. As a result, farmers are leaving acres of rice on the ground in Arkansas and Mississippi.
If I am correct in my assumptions, northeast Arkansas will lead the way in Arkansas as it produces 58 percent of the rice crop in that state.
Why won't the Grand Prairie lead the way? One reason — there are many others — is that northeast Arkansas has more rice acreage. In the early 1970s, for example, northeast Arkansas and southeast Missouri had 165,000 acres of rice compared to 1.06 million acres in the early 2000s, while the Grand Prairie had 161,000 and 298,000 respectively. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that there's more feed available in northeast Arkansas and southeast Missouri.
Moreover, I expect the southeastern portion of Missouri to siphon away more ducks each year because of increased production of rice in that state and less hunting pressure.
If I were looking for a lease in Arkansas, I would set my sights on Jackson, Cross, and Poinsett counties, because those three are the leaders in rice acreages (in 2004: 103,100; 107,000; 135,000).
And for Mississippi waterfowlers, I expect your waterfowling to be the best (along with Missouri). Don't worry though, for I won't tell the rest of the Mid-South that your state is the diamond in the rough. We will keep that secret to ourselves.
For Louisiana, I am not sure about your forecast as you had harvested 92 percent of your rice crop before the hurricanes struck. One would think that coastal Louisiana would have a poor season because of the saltwater damage from flooding.
There is one kicker in my optimistic forecasting which may make the early part of the waterfowling season a downer before it picks up in the middle to latter part of the season. Recently, I traveled to Vermillion in Alberta, Canada, for goose hunting with my waterfowling friend, Kaneaster Hodges Jr. of Newport, Ark. This is the wettest summer and fall they have had in 15 years, and the most ducks and geese they have had in the same period of time.
Because of the wet conditions, the farmers are late in harvesting their grain, especially barley. Therefore, they will not have time to harvest their entire crop before winter weather sets in. This may be detrimental to our early season if it remains warm enough to keep open the rivers and large lakes because the ducks will linger there. Even with snow on the ground, they will be able to walk on the snow and feed on unharvested barley and will continue to do so as long as they have open water to go to.
Let's hope they have a cold, early winter, which will drive all those ducks down to us. In addition, with the reduced able to linger there as long as they would have liked. So we will see what kind of forecaster I am. Stay tuned.
Wayne Capooth — outdoorsman, writer, and physician — has hunted extensively in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas for 50 years and has written four books. On the Internet, go to www.waterfowling.org.