LITTLE ROCK — Spring is a great time to stretch your legs and do some woodland exploration, especially for those people who are experiencing some added cabin fever this year. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission urges hikers and other outdoors enthusiasts to be aware of hunting activities that may be taking place while on public land this spring.
Arkansas’s turkey hunting season opens is April 13-28 in most of the state, with a special youth turkey hunt available April 11-12. Some areas may close earlier than that, while others hold special “permit only” hunts where only permit holders may be on the area. It’s best to avoid areas that are popular with turkey hunting even before the season, as increased foot traffic can cause the birds to leave or not behave normally. Details on hunting seasons and other restrictions on each wildlife management area may be found at https://www.agfc.com/en/hunting/where-hunt.
Even in areas where turkey season is not open, it is still a good idea to follow some practical advice to stay safe. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you head to the woods this spring.
Stay on designated trails as much as possible. These areas have been set aside for hiking, not only to prevent user conflicts between hikers and hunters, but they’ve been chosen because they often take you through the best scenery and settings to be had on an area. Hunters are looking to get away from crowds, so they typically avoid setting up near designated trails, but you may see one or two coming and going to their hunting location on your travels.
Wear brightly colored clothes, but try to avoid red, white and blue during turkey season. The head of a male turkey can be a vivid red, powder blue and white during spring. Avoid hats, bandanas or other small patches of these colors during spring hikes. Blaze orange, yellows, pinks and other bold colors stand out in the green backdrop of the woods and immediately identify you as a non-turkey.
Sleep in before your hike. Hunting activity peaks in the early morning during turkey season when birds are most active. The best way to avoid any conflicts is to plan your hike during the lower-pressure times around noon and early afternoon. Starting your hike well after sunup also lets you avoid the chill of early spring mornings.
Keep pets on a leash. It should go without saying that people should keep their pets on a leash when in public parks, but sometimes the openness of a wildlife management area tempts people to unhook the leash to let their dog roam. Not only can this cause problems with other hikers and hunters, it can get your pet into trouble with wild animals they may smell and decide to visit, like venomous snakes, skunks, bobcats and coyotes. Also be sure to give your pet a brightly colored collar, leash or other covering so people can easily identify it as a pet.
If you hear a turkey, don’t investigate. Hunters are in the woods making the sounds of the hen turkey, trying to convince a gobbler to come to them. This can cause a gobbler to sound off. When that happens, hunters may be moving to that bird with the prize on their mind. Some hunters even use a gobble call to sound like a young bird challenging the larger birds in the area. While this practice is not advised for hunters because of the same safety issue, some still produce this sound to get a turkey’s attention.