Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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AR: Sulphur River WMA: remote, wild and varied

FOUKE – Sulphur River Wildlife Management Area has secrets. One
is it is a throwback to the Arkansas that early explorers and
settlers found. The second is its duck hunting.

And just for variety, visitors have chances at spotting
alligators, eagles and black bellied whistling ducks – the latter a
new and growing wildlife story for Arkansas.

Garrick Dugger, a wildlife biologist with the Arkansas Game and
Fish Commission who has worked on the area, said, “A boat trip on
Sulphur River WMA will take you back a hundred years.”

The 16,520-acre management area is the largest remaining tract
of bottomland hardwoods in the Red River valley of Texas, Oklahoma,
Arkansas and Louisiana. It is in Miller County, south of Texarkana,
west of Fouke. This is the extreme southwestern corner of Arkansas,
with the management area touching the Texas state line on the west
and extending to about nine miles north of the Louisiana state line
on the other end. Access is off Arkansas Highway 253 and U.S.
Highway 71.

Sulphur River WMA was created in the early 1950s, partially with
mitigation lands from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the
building of Wright Patman Lake just across the land in Texas. Other
tracts were purchased later, including two in 2002.

Put in a boat at one of the ramps reached off Arkansas Highway
253 or at the ramp downstream at U.S. Highway 71, motor a short
distance, and you are deep in a setting of bottomland hardwoods,
swamps. The reality of what you see and hear pushes aside any
fantasizing or wild imagination in recalling they made a movie
about a fictional denizen of the region, “The Fouke Monster.”

Migrating ducks in late fall and winter make extensive use of
Sulphur River WMA. Retired AGFC biologist Gregg Mathis said,
“Waterfowl hunting here is a hidden secret.”

But numerous duck hunters from Texarkana, from east Texas and
northwest Louisiana know about Sulphur River and come prepared with
mobile blinds built on flatbottom boats. If ducks have come to the
area, the hunters seldom go home empty handed. They may set up
facing a bit of open water but with a huge cypress tree covering
their backs.

As with many of Arkansas’s wildlife management areas in
bottomlands and swamps, the deer are surprising. They are large,
there are good numbers of them – but they are difficult to hunt.
Deer and the other wild animals know instinctively how to get
around the water-dominated surroundings. Humans have to learn.

Raccoon hunters make use of the management area, too, and there
is a plentiful and usually constant supply of their quarry in the
region. Squirrel hunting is popular, as is rabbit hunting, with the
rabbits often the big swamp rabbits as well as the more familiar
cottontails.

In recent years, some black bellied whistling ducks have taken
up residence on Sulphur River WMA and at other spots in southwest
Arkansas, expanding their range from South Texas. There’s not a
hunting season on them in Arkansas, but they draw curious stares
when seen by hunters as well as interest from birders. The black
bellied whistling ducks are cavity nesters, like wood ducks, and
are easily distinguished by long necks and long pink legs.

Fishing can be extremely productive. Anglers work the main river
and also head into long and sprawling Mercer Bayou and into Days
Creek. The usual largemouth bass, bream of several species, crappie
and catfish are the attractions for fishermen.

Water levels in the management area are managed through a system
of water control structures, but overall, they depend on releases
from Lake Wright Patman flowing down Sulphur River. In the winter,
most of the management area is flooded for a month or so. The
control structures include dams, stoplog structures, gated pipes,
levees and canals.

The AGFC works 340 acres of wildlife openings on the area, with
about 140 acres in wildlife food plots. About 900 acres are
management as moist soil units, devoted to plants adapted to this
environment and used extensively by a variety of wildlife.

A 500-acre waterfowl rest area is named for Henry Moore, a
former AGFC commissioner and Texarkana resident.

 

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