Landowners Voice Concerns Regarding Deer Dog Hunting

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It’s a controversial subject in Arkansas sportsmen circles - the use of dogs to hunt deer. At a December 13th Arkansas Game and Fish Commission meeting, two landowners from north-central Arkansas gave commissioners several chilling accounts of confrontations with deer dog hunters on their property.

The two landowners said they had received threats and had been assaulted by deer dog hunters. The retribution came after the landowners were confronted by hunters who were using dogs on their property.

Another landowner said that deer dog hunters shot at a deer crossing their land forcing them to lie down or risk being hit by a stray bullet. Other related stories included fences being cut, dead animals being placed in yards, verbal threats and many other types of harassment.

Commissioner Sheffield Nelson of Little Rock said these types of stories could result in a ban of hunting deer with dogs in Arkansas. “I want to be very clear that we have the health and safety of our citizens at risk here. I want to address it from the standpoint that we look at what other steps we should take - up to a partial or total ban of dog running if that becomes necessary,” Nelson said.

On Oct. 29, the AGFC won 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 has appealed the trial court’s ruling to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

There has 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 AGFC has prohibited hunting of deer with dogs anywhere in the state during the archery and muzzleloader deer seasons. During the last 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 that 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.

A 1998 statewide survey conducted by a Virginia-based market research firm revealed that 62 percent of Arkansas hunters surveyed expressed displeasure with 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.