I’m super stoked to have a guest post by my brother Jacob. Here he gives tips and reasons why you should explore an Arkansas WMA with your dog. You can read more about my and Jacob’s adventures here when we backpacked the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail.
Exploring Arkansas Wildlife Management Areas with Your Pup
By Jacob Kuhn
It was getting close to dark. As the sun was slipping away on the prairie, the sky was illuminated by a brilliant mix of orange and purple. Maggie and I were traveling along an old road that ran the border of a pine thicket. Maggie is my six-month-old beagle. I was busy investigating a briar patch when I heard Maggie bay. As her voice echoed across the prairie, my first thought was, “How did she get that far in front of me?” On our numerous trips to the prairie this winter, she had done a great job of sticking close to me. Best I could tell, she was several hundred yards in front of me. I quietly moved in a little closer, hoping to see an epic chase–rabbit trailed by Beagle. I did not even care about shooting a rabbit. To see the chase was all I wanted.
Then, I heard her bay again. A few moments later, she bayed in a different direction. I waited a few more minutes and nothing. I glanced at my phone. Ten minutes until hunting light was over. Still nothing. I told myself I would hold out until dark and then find her. I sat and listened.
The prairie was alive with birds flying in to roost for the night. Still no dog. Five minutes in, I gave in. I grabbed the whistle around my neck and blew the recall command. Nothing. My body was calm and collected while my brain started to race. I didn’t have a flashlight. I thought, “If I can’t find her, then I’ll call my wife. She can grab our Lab, and maybe we can track her down.” I hit the whistle again. I listened. I whistled again and started calling her name. Nothing. All of the sudden the briars exploded with a happy beagle. I took a breath of relief and handed her a treat out of my vest.
Maggie and I have spent the last month exploring the Warren Prairie Natural Area. The Warren Prairie is a 5,500-acre Wildlife Management Area (WMA) that is owned by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. It is maintained by the ANHC and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
Maggie is an aspiring rabbit dog. While our trips to the woods are considered hunts, our focus is more about letting her figure out the woods and exploring different scents and smells. It is about our exploring together, soaking up the essence of the woods, and getting off the trail while finding signs of all kinds of wildlife. It’s about bonding and training and watching amazing sunsets across an open prairie.
Why Arkansas WMA with your dog?
Wildlife Management Areas are state-owned lands designed for conservation and recreation that is centered on wildlife. That does not necessarily mean hunting. It also includes bird watching, enjoying wildflowers, hiking, and enjoying the uniqueness of Arkansas. Most counties in Arkansas have at least one WMA you can explore with your dog. This provides proximity. In my case, I live in Warren, Arkansas. My closest State Park is thirty minutes away (Moro Bay State Park) and offers limited hiking. However, Warren Prairie is only 6 miles from my house. The uniqueness of the prairie in the middle of timberland makes it seem like a different world!
Also WMA are more isolated and have less restrictions. Rarely do I see other people on the prairie. It provides me the sense of isolation I crave without a long travel from home. It also allows me to exercise my dogs without the constraints of the leash. (I only recommend this if you are comfortable with it.).
Why take Fido?
There are multiple reasons to take your four legged companion with you. As stated before, you are not hampered by leash restrictions. I once canceled a trip to the Buffalo River because of the dog restrictions. Not only do a lot of parks require leashes, but they required certain kinds of leashes. Many parks only allow leashes six feet and under. I don’t mean this as a dig at these regulations. State parks and national parks see a lot of visitors! Leashes provide an element of safety that is necessary. However, many WMAs are isolated. It gives your dog the freedom to run.
Once again, I emphasize that you only let your dog off the leash if you’re confident with the dog’s behavior. If you are worried your dog will run off and not come back, by all means utilize the leash. Both my Lab and my beagle are solid with the command “Here!” (Both vocally and by a whistle). But be sure to check with the WMAs regulations. In many, dogs are not allowed to run free during nesting seasons.
Another great reason to visit a WMA with your dog is the mass amounts of different smells. Dogs love to explore! On a WMA they’ll get the opportunity to smell deer, racoons, rabbits, quail, woodcock, and many more of the Natural State’s animals. Your dog will have a blast! While this may seem inconsequential to us, it is major is entertainment to our dogs! It’s the dog’s version of going to the movies or favorite microbrewery.
Take your dog to the woods, and you will see one happy dog for days. It is also great exercise for the dog. It gets your dog off the pavement and onto softer ground, and it gives them a chance to run. I’ve always wanted to hook a fitness watch up to my dogs just to see how much more distance they cover off the leash than I do. I’m pretty sure my Lab will double my distance–running back, and forth and across.
I also like taking my dogs as an added element of safety. Their noses and ears are much stronger than mine. They have an acute sense of danger. If a coyote, a wild hog, or a bear are near, they’ll most likely know before I do. If they sense danger, they will communicate it to you.
A Few Safety Items
Let’s start with the basics. Make sure you have water for yourself and your dog. Even in winter, your dog is going to get hot. Remember, they don’t sweat. In the lowlands of Southeast Arkansas, there is no shortage of water. My dogs can drink from creeks and puddles. (I’ve given up trying to stop them.) However, you may not be comfortable with that. So take plenty of water.
Make sure you have a way of knowing where you are. I use an app, OnX Hunt, that has downloadable maps and shows location and property lines. If you are comfortable using a topographic map and shooting an azimuth, awesome! Trails are not always well marked, that is if they are at all. You need to make sure you can get you and your dog back to your car.
Keep an eye out for your surroundings. That will help get you back to your car and help keep your dog safe. For instance a lot of WMAs are old farmland. They have the occasional barbed wire fence. Dogs do not know that will hurt them. Just be vigilant and pull your dog away from anything that may be dangerous.
Your dog needs to understand that wildlife is not for chasing (unless you’re hunting and then that’s the point). One way to help prevent this is to make noise as you explore. I talk to my dogs constantly. I’m glad I don’t usually see people; they may think I’m nuts! I can’t count the number of times I’ve taken my Lab to the prairie and have seen the white tails of deer hundreds of yards away running in the opposite direction. If you go in warmer months, be cautious of snakes, ticks, fleas, and such. Take the necessary precautions to avoid these.
Try to avoid major hunting seasons (like deer or duck season). Obviously, this is a safety issue. You run the risk of you or your dog being mistaken for hunted game. Also, you could run into conflict with an extremely upset hunter. If you do go during hunting months, it is a really, really, really good idea to wear a bright color, like hunter orange. While this may not be the most fashionable (who exactly are you trying to impress?), it is worth it for the safety. Also, you can find a hunter-orange vest for your dog.
Where to Start
You can find information on Arkansas’s WMA on the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s website and how to explore with your dog. Look for the title, “Where to Hunt” or click here. This has details on each WMA. You will be able to see maps, wildlife descriptions, conservation plans. The maps will show you hiking trails and terrain. You can also find general WMA regulations, as well as regulations for each specific WMA. If you have any questions, you can contact the Game and Fish. They’ve always been really friendly and happy to answer any questions.
Conclusion – Why Explore an Arkansas WMA with your dog
I hope I have opened a new door for you. I feel that supporting WMA can do nothing but increase conservation efforts in Arkansas. Happy exploring to you and your dog!