LITTLE ROCK — Beginning this year all hunters who wish to pursue doves, ducks, geese and other migratory birds in Arkansas will need to register for the Harvest Information Program either online at agfc.com, through the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission smartphone app or at an AGFC regional office, nature center or shooting range. 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 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.

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 taken the time to fill out a registration on a “just in case” basis. 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.”

Naylor says the move to manage HIP registrations within AGFC offices and AGFC-owned resources is a good first step to ensuring any known hiccups are removed from the HIP system.

“As a duck hunter, I understand we’re going to have a few people that might see it as inconvenient to make that one extra phone call or visit to agfc.com to get that registration separately if they purchase their license at a sporting goods store,” Naylor said. “But as responsible stewards of our natural resources, we need to make sure the data we are using to manage our ducks and geese are as accurate as possible.”

HIP registration still is required by federal guidelines to hunt all migratory birds. Hunters who purchase their licenses at local vendors will need to either visit an AGFC office, call 800-364-4263, use the AGFC smartphone app or visit agfc.com and click “Buy Licenses/Check Game” to complete their free registration.

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