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Sulphur River WMA: remote, wild and varied

FOUKE - Sulphur River Wildlife Management Area has secrets. One is it is a throwback to the Arkansas 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, said, “A boat trip on Sulphur River WMA will take you back a hundred years.”

The management area is the largest remaining tract of bottomland hardwoods in the Red River valley of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.

Put a boat in 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 and 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.”

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.

Migrating ducks in late fall and winter make extensive use of Sulphur River WMA. 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, a few 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.

Turkey hunting is by permit on Sulphur River WMA.

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. Mathis said, “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.

A 500-acre waterfowl rest area is named for Henry Moore, a former AGFC commissioner and Texarkana resident.

The management area is a site of survey work by biologists to monitor and track nongame birds. They also trap and band some of the migrants for research purposes.

For more information on Sulphur River WMA, phone the AGFC’s Hope Regional Office at 1-877-777-5580.


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