Some bowhunters have already found things different this season in the woods. The ice storm of last winter left extensive changes and potential hazards.
In the logging industry, they talk of danger from "widow makers." Hunters in north Arkansas also need to be aware of possible overhead perils.
A widow maker is a tree that is cut, but hangs up against another tree. For hunters, the danger is hanging limbs, results of last winter’s extensive ice storms.
Rick Chastain, assistant chief of wildlife management with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said, "There is a lot of debris in the woods all across north Arkansas. In some places it is going to be difficult for hunters to get around. Everybody needs to look up. Look for hanging limbs that could fall when you don’t expect it."
He added, "Some of these limbs have been hanging for months now, but with the colder weather and the passage of strong weather systems, they may break loose and fall." In some instances, vines may be holding the overhead limbs, and these vines will die back in fall and winter.
Hunters setting up stands should check carefully all around, not just the tree where they will put a stand or lean one against.
Campers, too, should take extra cautions in setting up on a site. A heavy limb crashing down on a tent in the middle of the night isn’t a pleasant occurrence.
Chastain said, "The agencies with public land in north Arkansas - AGFC, Corps of Engineers, Forest Service – all are trying to cope with restoring public access. Some secondary roads are not cleaned out yet, so hunters may have to find alternate routes."
The ice storm’s heaviest damage was in a swath across the Ozark National Forest and through northeast Arkansas into the Missouri Bootheel.
Chastain said, "The hard mast crop like acorns was affected in many places. This could potentially alter usual feeding patterns of deer and other wildlife, so hunters may have to adjust. There may be long-term benefits, though. The branches that are gone will let more sunlight reach the forest floor. Next spring forests should get a jump start on producing more browse in a lot of areas."
He said no AGFC wildlife management areas are closed to hunting. Contract crews are going to work cleaning up the debris, especially the hanging limbs and leaning trees, along public access routes such as roads, mobility-impaired trails, boat lanes and camping areas. The AGFC will work with contractor crews and make every attempt to not conduct debris clean-up activities on wildlife management areas during scheduled permit hunts, Chastain said.
Along with the areas popular with deer hunters, some AGFC management areas that host waterfowl in migration periods were also hard hit by the ice storm. Big Lake, Dave Donaldson Black River and St. Francis Sunken Lands had extensive damage that will impede boat traffic in some spots.
The AGFC has developed a link on its web page (www.agfc.com) to help keep the public informed about the ice storm clean-up activities. Everyone is encouraged to visit this site for updated information.