by Flip Putthoff
Hunters sporting blaze orange vests, jackets and caps will brighten the fading colors of fall when modern gun deer season opens in Arkansas at the crack of daylight Saturday.
Scores of hunters will take to the woods on private and public land for the popular hunting season. Modern gun deer season runs through Dec. 6 in most of the state. A brief second season is Dec. 26-28.
Arkansas is divided into several deer hunting zones. Season dates and regulations vary across the state. It’s a hunter’s responsibility to know the regulations as written in the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission 2020-21 Hunting Guidebook or at agfc.com.
It’s even more vital with regulations in place the past few seasons regarding chronic wasting disease. The regulations address mostly where and how deer may be transported from zone to zone.
Hunters have high hopes of bagging a buck or doe, but time with family and friends is what’s special in this long-time ritual of deer hunting. Adults will mentor young hunters at deer camps from the Ozarks to the Delta. Sumptuous campfire feasts will be shared and stories told as flames flicker into embers.
In homes, hunting families will set two, maybe three alarm clocks, to wake long before daylight.
Major excitement for parents is seeing their youngsters bag a first deer. Greg Bohannan of Bentonville has hunted most of his life, but there’s no equal to the joy of the past few seasons when he’s hunted with his son, Brock, 11.
“I’ve taken some big deer, but there’s nothing more special than the two deer Brock has killed when we’ve hunted together,” Bohannan said.
That includes a bruiser of an 8-point buck Brock shot with his muzzle-loader in October. Father and son were hunting at a friend’s place in Madison County when the 11-year-old squeezed the trigger.
“Being there in the woods together, we talk about everything. About how he’s doing, how he’s doing in school and about life,” Bohannan said.
There’s a good chance dad and son will team up to bag Brock’s second buck soon. Deer are plentiful in every Arkansas county, according to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Bohannan has seen plenty so far this fall.
“I’ve seen a lot, but I’m not seeing the number of big bucks I’d like to see,” he noted.
Logging hours in a tree stand or ground blind is key to success. Deer hunters don’t come much more dedicated than Rick Sayre, who lives near Rogers. He’s won more than a dozen Triple Trophy Awards from Game and Fish. The award recognizes hunters who kill a deer with archery, muzzle-loader and modern gun in a single season.
“I’ve hunted almost every day since archery season opened on Sept. 26,” he said.
No doubt 2020 has been a year of the weird, and it’s playing out in the deer woods, Sayre said. He likes to set up game cameras that automatically snap a picture when a deer or other animal walks by day or night.
“I got some good bucks on film early, but now it’s like they’ve all of a sudden disappeared,” he said. “It’s been a weird season.”
Reports from hunters indicate the acorn crop is ample this fall. That can deter deer movement. Acorns are a main food for deer in the Ozarks. When they don’t have to roam far to find food, hunters may see fewer deer.
Sayre hopes deer will be on the move when the rut, or deer mating season, kicks in.
“A lot of people say the rut has started, but I’m not seeing that,” he said. The hunter hasn’t seen any bucks chasing does, which is an indicator that the rut is on.
Chip Wiseman hears the deer stories from customers where he works at Hook, Line and Sinker archery and fishing store in north Bentonville.
“Everybody’s seeing deer, and they’ve killed some nice ones,” he said last week.
Archery season is open now and the first segment of muzzle-loader season was Oct. 17-25 in Northwest Arkansas. A second muzzle-loader season will be Dec. 12-14. Archery runs through Feb. 28.
“The rut isn’t on yet,” Wiseman said. “Could be that it’ll get going right about the time gun season opens.”
During the last five or six years, hunters have averaged a harvest of just over 200,000 deer for archery, muzzle-loader and modern gun seasons combined.
Most of those are taken during modern gun season, which opens at first light on Saturday.
At a glance
Modern gun deer season is an exciting time for hunters. It is the responsibility of every hunter to know the rules, which vary from deer zone to deer zone across the state.
Here are some basic regulations for deer zones 1, 2, 6 and 7, which take in Northwest Arkansas. Check the 2021 Arkansas Hunting Guidebook for complete regulations. It’s available at sporting goods outlets or at agfc.com.
- Season dates: Nov. 14-Dec. 6; Dec. 26-28.
- Zone limit is five deer, no more than two bucks.
- Button bucks count as antlerless deer. They do not count toward a hunter’s buck limit in these zones.
- Chronic wasting disease regulations apply.
- During modern gun deer season, hunters must wear at least 400 square inches of hunter orange, chartreuse or blaze camouflage above the waist and a head garment of those same safety colors.
Source: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission