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Arkansas Outdoors

Today’s topics:
Squirrels give good reason to get ‘stuck in a rut’
Tiptoe through the trout streams during the fall spawn
Give the gift of habitat to a fish with your Christmas tree this year
Wildlife of Arkansas 2018 Student Art Contest accepting entries
 
 
Squirrels give good reason to get ‘stuck in a rut’
            LITTLE ROCK - The deer rut isn’t the only game in town when it comes to winter hunts that get the blood pumping. Mid- to late December beckons an intense period of breeding activity for another animal in the deer woods, and most people have watched it happen while sitting in their tree stand.
“Most folks will get on their deer stand during the Christmas deer hunt and see a parade of squirrels, chasing each other, barking, and creating so much noise you’d think there was a herd of deer walking behind you,” said Clifton Jackson, small game program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. “You’ll see a bunch of them, nine or more even, all chasing each other around chattering back and forth. What’s going on is that a female is in heat and all the males are picking up on that scent.”
            Because they belong to the same family of mammals as rodents like mice and rats, squirrels often are thought of as year-round breeders, pumping out litter after litter of young. In fact, gray squirrels and fox squirrels are seasonal breeders, much like deer. Squirrels typically only breed once or twice per year, depending on their age and available mast crop. According to “Squirrel Dog Basics” by David Osborne only 20 to 40 percent of adult squirrels will breed twice per year, even after exceptional mast crops.
Jackson says the spring rut usually occurs in mid-May, when squirrel season opens in Arkansas. This is when the young squirrels born in early spring leave the nest and the female becomes receptive again if enough food has been available. The second rut occurs in December, once the squirrels have cached a fair bit of acorns and nuts for winter.
            “Squirrel hunting can get tough before the rut because the squirrels won’t stay still,” Jackson said. “In early fall, you’ll see them sit still and work on a nut or acorn. That will give you time to get off a good shot, but later in fall, they’re moving all over the place. Last weekend, I went with three other dedicated squirrel hunters, and we only killed about three squirrels with rifles. We saw dozens, but they wouldn’t sit still long enough for a clean shot. Once the rut kicks in, they get distracted and are much easier to get close to. They also will stop and chatter with each other and hold still long enough for a good shot.”
            Late-season squirrel hunting offers a different challenge than October outings. The leaves have fallen from the trees, which makes it easier to see them, but it also makes you easier to see as well.
            “A shotgun might help gather some for the freezer with all the movement you get this time of year, but getting close to them is much more difficult in December,” Jackson said. “Not only are the woods more open, but the leaves are on the ground and sound off to every step you take.”
            Jackson always prefers a rimfire rifle, but really touts its use during late season because it will offer at least a chance at a longer shot instead of being busted trying to get within range.
            Where to train your eyes to look for squirrels also changes with in winter. In early fall, you scan the trees for shaking branches and listen for acorn hulls raining to the forest floor. In winter, Jackson suggests keeping your focus lower when slipping through the woods in search of squirrels.
            “Most of the acorns have either fallen to the ground or been tucked away in caches by now,” Jackson said. “So I try to look at chest level and below for movement.”
            Squirrels usually don’t try to cause as much racket when the trees are bare and the leaves are piled high on the ground. They will run along logs, careen off tree trunks and work their way through branches to avoid giving away their position. That is, unless they’re in pursuit of a female in heat. Then they tend to lose their better judgment.
            “I also look for areas where they are still scratching around in leaves, especially as dry as it has been this year.”
            Jackson says that although much of the acorns in the woods have been eaten or “squirreled away” by now, those left are still in good condition because the drier than normal conditions have prevented them from rotting or germinating. Squirrels will still bury a few here and there, and hunters can see where they are kicking up leaves to get to them.
            The late season also offers the advantage of being able to catch a few more minutes of shuteye before heading to the woods. Hunters walking the woods during early season may have to watch a lot of movement before the sun peaks over the horizon to present a clear shot. In winter, the bushytails tend to wait until they have a little light before venturing from their nests and dens to warm up.
            Getting up a little later makes it much easier to convince kids to join you in the woods as well. Sitting still for hours isn’t required, you’re likely to at least see some squirrels on every outing, and if you time it right, there are plenty of opportunities to catch a bushytail off guard and let kids take a few shots. The cold may require a little more clothing, but squirrels aren’t too picky about camouflage. After all, they’ve been barking at hunters wearing blaze orange all deer season.
Visit https://www.agfc.com/en/hunting/small-game/squirrel for information on squirrel season dates and limits. 
 
 
Tiptoe through the trout streams during the fall spawn
            MOUNTAIN HOME – Native to Europe, the German brown trout found in the tailwaters of Beaver, Bull Shoals, Norfork and Greers Ferry dams, typically start their spawning run during fall and winter, offering die-hard anglers a chance at some fantastic fishing. But biologists ask anglers to keep a conservation mindset when chasing these gems of the tailwater so everyone will be able to enjoy them for years to come.
            Chief among fishing faux pas with the wading community is the destruction of trout nests, called redds, which serve to keep the population going.
Christy Graham, trout program coordinator, says anglers should be aware of spawning activities and the damage caused when redds or spawning trout are disturbed.
            “The AGFC Trout Management Program recommends anglers be mindful of spawning activity during this time of the year and to be careful when wade fishing to avoid trampling over redds,” Graham said. “Anglers should also be aware that there are some seasonal regulations in effect that coincide with the brown trout spawning season on both the White and Little Red Rivers.” 
Trout are nest guarders, and they can be nest robbers. Removing a large brown trout from the redd it is guarding not only can cause harm to an already stressed fish, but enables predators, including other trout, to destroy the redd. Simply walking through a trout redd can have disastrous results, which is why the Bull Shoals Catch-and-Release Area along Bull Shoals White River State Park is closed to angling from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31 each year. An additional area becomes catch-and-release angling only during this time, to ensure spawning trout are not removed from the tailwater during the spawn. 
            According to Graham, trout redds can be identified fairly easily. They appear as clean, oval patches of small to medium-sized gravel and are typically 2 to 3 feet in diameter. The gravel in them is typically lighter-colored than surrounding gravel. There may be a small depression or mound, where gravel has been excavated and deposited over the eggs.
            Fishing the trout spawn can produce some exciting action because extremely large brown trout tend to show themselves a bit more and become more aggressive during this time. But many dyed-in-the-wool trout anglers will avoid fishing for spawning fish entirely. Rainbow trout and cutthroats often produce some exceptional fishing on egg patterns and corn during this time because of their tendency to capitalize on brown trout eggs that become dislodged from nests and float downstream.
            “If you do end up fishing around spawning areas for browns, there are a few things you can do to lessen the damage caused by angling during this time,” Graham said. “We always want anglers to use the best possible catch-and-release practices, but it’s even more critical during the spawn.”
            Graham says aside from avoiding the spawning fish entirely, anglers can help provide next year’s fish by following a few simple steps. Avoid snagging fish, no matter how tempting it can be to “set the hook a little early.” Use barbless hooks to minimize damage to the fish’s mouth and land the fish as quickly as possible. Wet your hands to land the fish and minimize the amount of time it stays out of the water, so that it may return to its redd as soon as possible.
            Visit www.agfc.com/en/fishing/sportfish/trout for more information about trout fishing in Arkansas.
 
 
Give the gift of habitat to a fish with your Christmas tree this year
LITTLE ROCK – Once the wrapping paper has been thrown away and the last drop of egg nog has been consumed, few people have a use for that evergreen tree that graced their home during the holiday season. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has a new job for those leftover trees – as fish habitat.
The AGFC has drop-off locations across the state to let your old Christmas tree have a second life as underwater cover.
Clint Coleman, assistant coordinator for the AGFC’s Family and Community Fishing Program, says the Christmas tree program functions just like a “take-a-penny, leave-a-penny” tray, except it’s for fish.
“Anyone who wants to drop off a natural tree can place it at a location on the list, and anyone who wants to sink a few trees to create their own little honey hole can do that as well,” Coleman said. “You just need to bring your own parachute cord, wire, rope and cinder blocks to sink the trees.”
Coleman says artificial trees are not allowed at the drop off locations, and all trees should be cleaned of ornaments and tinsel before being dropped off. 
Christmas trees typically only last a year or two before all that’s left is the main trunk, so Coleman suggests anglers sink groups of trees together. This way, the site is still attractive to baitfish and sport fish long after the smaller branches and needles have rotted away.
Trees can be dropped off at any of the following locations until the end of January:
 
Central Arkansas
·         Arkansas River – Alltel Access beneath the I-30 Bridge
·         Greers Ferry Lake – Sandy Beach (Heber Springs), Devils Fork Recreation Area and Choctaw Recreation Area (Choctaw-Clinton)
·         Lake Conway – Lawrence Landing Access
·         Harris Brake Lake – Chittman Hill Access
·         Lake Overcup – Lake Overcup Landing
·         Lake Barnett – Reed Access
·         Lake Hamilton – Andrew Hulsey State Fish Hatchery Access Area
 
Northeast Arkansas
·         Jonesboro – Craighead Forest Park Lake boat ramp
·         Lake Bono – Boat Ramp Access
·         Lake Poinsett – Dam Access Boat Ramp
·         Lake Walcott – Crowley’s Ridge State Park Boat Ramp Access
 
Northwest Arkansas
·         Beaver Lake – Highway 12 Access and AGFC Don Roufa Hwy 412 Access
·         Lake Elmdale – Boat Ramp Access
·         Bob Kidd Lake – Boat Ramp Access
·         Crystal Lake – Boat Ramp Access
 
Southeast Arkansas
·         Lake Chicot – Connerly Bayou Access Area
·         Lake Monticello – Hunger Run Access
·         Cox Creek Lake – Cox Creek Lake Access Area
 
Southwest Arkansas
·         Bois d’Arc Lake – Kidd’s Landing or Hatfield Access
·         Millwood Lake – Cottonshed, White Cliffs Recreation Areas and the Millwood State Park ramp on the point
·         Dierks Lake – Jefferson Ridge South Recreation Area
·         DeQueen Lake – Any U.S. Army Corps of Engineers boat ramp
·         Gillham Lake – Any U.S. Army Corps of Engineers boat ramp
·         Lake Greeson – New Cowhide Cove and Self Creek Recreation areas
·         Camden – AGFC Regional Office on Ben Lane
·         Upper White Oak Lake – Upper Jack’s Landing
·         Magnolia – Columbia County Road Department Yard on Highway 371
·         El Dorado – City recycling center drop-offs: one behind Arby’s and one on South Jackson
·         Smackover – Recycling Drop-Off Center (these will be transported to El Dorado)
·         South Fork Lake – South Fork Lake Access
·         Terre Noire Lake – Terre Noire Lake Access
·         Hope – AGFC Regional Office on Hwy. 67 East 
 
 
Wildlife of Arkansas 2018 Student Art Contest accepting entries
            LITTLE ROCK –  The Arkansas Wildlife Federation and the Little Rock-based nonprofit organization Creative Ideas have come together to promote wildlife education through the arts in the Fifth Annual Wildlife of Arkansas Student Art Contest.
            Young artists are encouraged to study and immerse themselves in Arkansas’s natural surroundings, then recreate their visions from that scenery on paper or canvas. They can then submit their work to the contest for a chance at awards, certificates of recognition, money and the opportunity to display their work around the state.
The contest is open to artists from kindergarten through 12th grade. Only one entry is allowed per student and it must be completed in the 2017-18 school year.
“A panel of professional artists will judge the submissions and will choose a first, second, third and honorable mention winner for each grade level,” said Sharon Hacker, founder of Creative Ideas, who works alongside contest organizers to manage the hundreds of entries each year.
“Last year we had right at 1,100 submissions, but we’re really wanting to expand the program in new areas of the state,” Hacker said. “We’re working to spread the contest’s message to the south part of Arkansas, where we tend to have fewer entries.”
Hacker says one criteria that has to be met in the artwork is that the image represents animals and scenes found in Arkansas. The artwork does not have to be a portrait of an animal, but artwork depicting animals not found in The Natural State will not qualify for the contest.
“We have had some very good work that had to be returned to the artist without being judged because it was of an exotic place or animal,” Hacker said.
In addition to winners in each grade level, one piece will receive the “Best of Show” award, which comes with an additional cash prize.
“We will hold the awards ceremony at Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center later this year, where all winning pieces will be displayed for a month before moving to the Forrest L. Wood Crowley’s Ridge Nature Center in Jonesboro,” Hacker said.
The display will travel to all four of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s nature centers throughout the year. It also will be displayed at the Arkansas Wildlife Federation’s annual Governor’s Conservation Awards Banquet. A calendar also will be generated from winning artwork.
Submissions will be accepted until February 23, 2018. Visit www.arwild.org or call Hacker at 501-837-0462 for more information.
 
 
 
For the latest in Arkansas Game and Fish Commission information go to www.agfc.com or call the Wildlife Information Hotline, 800-440-1477.