Sulphur River Wildlife Management Area

Zoie Clift

Keith Stephens of the Arkansas Game and Fish
Commission wrote an informative article highlighting the Sulphur River Wildlife
Management Area. Am posting it below. Enjoy!

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.
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