In Pursuit of White-Tailed Deer

Arkansas deer are bigger and better than ever

By: Clay Newcomb  Photography: Clay Newcomb

Scoring white-tailed deer has become a popular pastime among Arkansas hunters. Here, hunter Ronnie Cartwright of Greenland checks the antlers on a 140-inch white-tailed buck.

Scoring white-tailed deer has become a popular pastime among Arkansas hunters. Here, hunter Ronnie Cartwright of Greenland checks the antlers on a 140-inch white-tailed buck.

 
 

It’s fall. Powerful premonitions of future hunting success have, by now, taken over your subconscious thoughts in moments that don’t demand full mental acuity. Slight increases in heart rate, though subtle, are detected each time you glance across open fields into the dark timber beyond. While driving to work, it’s now become a challenge to keep your eyes on the road. Your pupils ramble and rove, following the curves of the timber while looking for flashes of brown fur and ivory antler. White-tailed deer season is upon us in Arkansas. 

It’s hard to describe our fascination and love of these deer. Much of it has to do with the animal’s biological success and widespread distribution. In every corner of our state you’ll find excellent hunting and incomparable public hunting opportunities. The cultural palate of Arkansans, additionally, is hooked on the delicious lean protein provided by organic, free-range venison. Once the meat of “poor folks,” venison is now the envy of the masses. Fueled by the trend of eating healthier meat, more and more people, even urban non-hunters, are looking to the ancient ways of hunters with an envious and hungry gaze. We’ve now become the cool kids on the front edge of a trend that we created but never left. 

Deer Harvested 2015-2016 Antlered: 90,666: Button Buck: 14,148: Does: 108,124

We’re also fascinated with white-tailed deer antlers. Each buck is unique. Every year they increase in size, and when their antlers drop off, hunters embark on a grown-up treasure hunt every winter. White-tailed deer antlers have a range of phenotype diversity that is unique among all the deer species. Scoring whitetails is becoming increasingly popular in Arkansas as the headgear of our bucks seems to be increasing. In 2015, the longstanding typical white-tailed deer state record (held for 40 years by Thomas Sparks) was broken by Jacob Ayecock in Desha County with a buck that scored 195 2/8 inches. This is a big deal. 

The good news of Arkansas deer hunting has been tainted with the discovery of Chronic Wasting Disease in the state. However, it’s not all gloom and doom. Our deer have likely had the disease for a long time. The north central Ozarks (where the disease has been found) still has strong white-tailed deer numbers despite the disease. 

With the abundant rainfall we’ve had this last summer, I predict that some big bucks will be killed in the 2016-17 season. Archery deer season starts September 24 and runs through February. Modern gun season starts on November 12 statewide and runs through December 4 in most regions. 

CLAY’S PICKS
The Arkansas Delta along the Mississippi River.
Washington and Madison Counties in northwest Arkansas.

 

BAG A TROPHY BUCK

Don’t miss opening day — be prepared! Here’s when you can go after a monster white-tailed deer, plus the method you’ll need to use to bring it down.

Deer Season Opening Dates
Archery: Saturday, September 24. Long, recurve and compound bows must have at least a 35-pound pull. Crossbows must have at least a 125-pound pull. All arrowheads must be at least 7/8” wide.

Muzzleloader: Saturday, October 15. Muzzleloading rifles must have a barrel of at least 18 inches and be at least .40 caliber. Handguns must have a barrel of at least 9 inches and be at least .45 caliber.

Modern Gun: Saturday, November 12. All modern guns are allowed with only a few exceptions: .410 shotguns with buckshot, air guns, centerfire rifles or pistols smaller than .22 caliber and handguns with barrels shorter than 4 inches are all forbidden.

Once you’ve bagged that buck, remember that deer tags should be filled out immediately — before you move the animal. 

When your tag is completed, fasten it to the deer’s ear or antler, then be sure to check it with Arkansas Game and Fish with their smartphone app (available from Google Play and iTunes), their website-based system (see agfc.com for details) or by calling 866-305-0808.