Game cameras have their lenses trained on wildlife 24 hours a day, every day of the year at Arkansas’ largest state park.
Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area in east Benton County has 12 game cameras set up around the 12,000-acre state park, said Mark Clippinger, superintendent. The camera takes one or more photos of an animal whenever a deer, fox or other critter gets close. Cameras get the picture whether it’s high noon or the middle of the night.
Thousands of photos have provided park staff with an overview of the wildlife population in the park and their numbers. Game cameras have been in use at Hobbs since 2010.
“Before long, we were seeing things in the park we didn’t even know we had,” Clippinger said.
Photographs show deer are plentiful in the park, and the number of heavy-antlered trophy bucks is increasing. The cameras snap more pictures of deer than any other animal, he added. Armadillos are second. One buck with a distinctive scar may be a camera ham. That same deer has shown up in several photos.
A limit-permit system for deer hunting started at Hobbs in 1998. Deer hunting was unlimited at the park during the statewide deer season before then. Anyone with a hunting license could hunt deer at Hobbs before the permits. Clippinger said there was one hunter for every 20 acres. The result was few, if any, bucks with large racks of antlers. Most bucks were spikes and fork horns.
“Those cameras gave us 24-hour-a-day evidence and confirmed that we didn’t have many large bucks because of the unlimited hunting of the past,” Clippinger said.
Permit hunting has resulted in more trophy bucks today. Hobbs is the only Arkansas state park that allows hunting.
The photos help the park staff determine how many deer hunting permits to issue for its short muzzle-loader and modern gun deer seasons. Dates differ from the statewide seasons. Hunters apply for the permits that are awarded by random drawing. Currently, 150 permits are issued for muzzle-loader deer hunting and 150 for modern gun. Clippinger said 60 to 65% of the permit holders use their permits.
Bowhunting deer is allowed without a permit.
All manner of wildlife has been photographed with the cameras. Wild turkeys, black bears, raccoons, ‘possums, coyotes, even snakes are part of a collection of photographs that numbers in the thousands. One unique photo shows a raccoon and a snake squaring off. Another shows a bobcat carrying a chipmunk.
Fewer wild turkeys are photographed from year to year. There’s no turkey season at Hobbs and won’t be until the wild turkey population rebounds, Clippinger said. If turkey hunting resumes, it’ll be on a permit basis.
Clippinger and three volunteers — Steve Sampers, Jon Hobson and Darrell Rice — work the game camera project. Volunteers go into the woods each month and remove the camera’s memory card and slip in a blank one. They check batteries and the condition of the cameras. Friends of Hobbs, a group that supports the park, helps fund the project. Volunteers have spent an enormous amount of time on the project over the years.
“It’s a commitment,” Clippinger added.
They monitor the cameras and Clippinger analyzes the hundreds of wildlife photos.
Rice has been a volunteer for several years and monitors three of the cameras. On a clear, cool day in March, he hiked through the forest to check the cameras under his watch. It takes about three hours for Rice to hike to all three.
How he finds them is amazing to a visitor tagging along. Rice walked part of a hiking trail, then bushwhacked a fair distance through the forest to his first camera. He knew right where it was.
“I hike anyway, so it’s something you can do that gets you out in the woods,” he said. “The last time I did this, it was after a snow. It was fun and so beautiful.”
Visit Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area
Hobbs is Arkansas’ largest state park spanning 12,054 acres. The park has 54 miles of trail that include routes for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. It has a public shooting range, 11 back-country primitive campsites, with six accessible by mountain bikes. The visitor center includes exhibits about the park’s natural resources, landscape and history. Interpretive programs and workshops are held through the year.
Information: (479) 789-5000, arkansasstateparks.com
Source: Arkansas State Parks