Judge Rules in Favor of AGFC in Deer Dog Case

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A long-running conflict between the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the Arkansas Dog Hunters Association may be coming to an end. Last week, Judge Willard Proctor ruled in favor of the AGFC in a case dealing with the agency’s decision to ban deer hunting with dogs in certain areas of the state.

The case dates back to July 2000 when the group filed suit challenging the AGFC’s regulations that expanded the area in northern and eastern Arkansas where deer hunting with dogs was prohibited. The group now has 30 days in which to file an appeal.

There have been a variety of statutes and regulations in Arkansas restricting the use of dogs for hunting deer dating back to the early 1900s. Since the early 1980s, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has prohibited hunting of deer with dogs anywhere in the state during the archery and muzzleloader deer seasons. During the past 20 years, the AGFC also has prohibited the hunting of deer with dogs during the modern gun deer season in some, but not all, of the designated deer management zones in Arkansas and in the majority of state wildlife management areas.

The zones where chasing deer with dogs is prohibited are primarily in the mountainous areas in northern Arkansas and agricultural areas with large fields and small woodlots in eastern Arkansas. In the mountains, deer have regular crossings that have been used for many years, and it’s relatively easy for a hunter or group of hunters to cut off the escape route for deer running along a particular ridge or hollow.

By contrast, deer in the heavily wooded flat areas, such as the Gulf Coastal Plain in southwest and south-central Arkansas, have much less predictable travel routes. They also have more cover and a greater choice of escape routes, including many creeks, lakes, swamps and bayous which often enable them to lose a pack of trailing dogs.

Opinion surveys commissioned by the AGFC reinforced the decision to ban hunting deer with dogs in certain regions of the state. An April 2000 telephone survey prepared by the College of Professional Studies at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, confirmed that residents in north and east Arkansas who opposed the use of dogs in deer hunting clearly outnumbered supporters by a margin of 21 percent.

Reasons given by residents for their opposition included: the chasing and harvesting of deer with dogs is not sporting or fair; it increases the chances of trespassing on private lands; it interferes with hunting by other hunters; and it increases the chances of hunting accidents and illegal harvest of deer.

Similarly, a 1998 statewide survey conducted by a Virginia-based market research firm revealed that 62 percent of Arkansas hunters surveyed expressed displeasure with seeing dogs chasing deer. Since the 2000 amendment, expanding the area where hunting dogs are banned, there have been fewer reported problems from landowners and hunters.