By John Criner Outdoors Columnist This coming weekend will put the wraps on the 2015-2016 duck season. It has been a strange season to say the least. It was hot and dry at the start with very few ducks. Then it changed with a warm rainy stretch about Christmas vacation time for the kids with poor hunting conditions and still a shortage of ducks. We finally got some cold weather these last couple of weeks but with the rivers flooded bank to bank, the ducks are really spread out. I have talked to several hunters lately and the results are mixed. Several hunters talked about having a good year, a couple saying it has been their best year. What’s odd, these hot spots are spread out many miles and counties apart. Most duck hunters are complaining about how poor the hunting has been with no hot spots. Many sportsmen complain that if they have a good shoot, the next day is a bust with few birds. I have talked with several hunters over the weekend and they are seeing more ducks due to the cold weather. Maybe a good batch of new ducks will make up for a weak season. Arkansas Game & Fish in their weekly news letter report that normally there are over a million ducks in the state this time of year. Latest aerial surveys report 600,000 to 650,000 birds at this time, about a 40 percent reduction in numbers. Mallards are about half normal numbers. Even Ducks Unlimited is admitting that the Arkansas duck numbers are way down. DU is usually very optimistic. With the rivers flooded bank to bank, giving the birds plenty of places to eat and loaf, its no wonder our duck hunting has not been what we hoped back in mid November. Last week we talked about accidents happening to hunters and fishermen. Since that time, a duck hunter was killed near Marianna when his ATV turned over and pinned him under it in shallow water. He had a hunting companion with him, but the ATV was too heavy to get off him. By the time more help arrived, it was too late. One of my clients, a recently retired military man in super shape was hunting near Hatachie Coon Club near Trumann. He was adding more camo to his floating blind and he took one step too far and fell into the frigid waters. He managed to get to the bank and was only about 100 yards from the club house. In less than five minutes he made it to the camp, dropping his sopping clothes, and into a hot shower. He said his legs and hands were already numb and had lost a lot of feeling and mobility. This man is in superb shape. An old hunter like me would not have made it. As we prepare for these last few days of hunting, lets hope for a grand finale with full limits and a good ending for the season. The river waters are receding and that big cold event up north should be pushing new ducks into our hunting grounds. Let’s give it one final try. A month from now, we will wish we could go to the duck blind. I am always glad to see picture of kids in the paper with their trophies. I had rather see a young hunter get a duck than me getting a full limit. These boys and girls are a blessing to our sport. Let’s make dedicated sportsmen out of them. It’s up to you to take them and get them started the right way. Good hunting and please be careful. Send me pictures and stories. Papa Duck Lakeside Taxidermy 870-732-0455 or 901-482-3430 jhcriner@hotmail.com

By Chuck Livingston Sports Editor

Earle’s first possession last night featured three missed lay-ups, followed by three offensive rebounds before the fourth shot finally rang true. The opening sequence was more or less a precursor for how the game would go for each team. Earle won 67-42, avenging an earlier loss to Riverside that the Lady Bulldogs led until late in the game, before poor execution cost them down the stretch. “We felt like we gave one away when we went there,” explained third-year Earle head coach Corey Garrett. “We had a number of miscues on our part, missed lay-ups and other things.” So Earle (16-6 overall, 7-4 2A-3) set out to set the tone early on against their visitors from Searcy. The Lady Bulldogs dominated the Lady Rebels on the glass 45-27, including a decisive 12-1 edge in the first quarter and Earle would lead 18-8 after that period. Earle pushed ahead 33-14 at halftime as they forced 10 Riverside turnovers in the opening 16 minutes. In addition, Earle hit 15 of their 28 field goals, many of which came inside the painted area as the Lady Bulldogs stayed aggressive and attacked the rim. In the second period, Riverside was only able to notched a single field goal make in nine attempts. “We did feel like we could dominate the lane and we wanted to get out and run since they only had seven or eight players,” Garrett explained. “Anytime we grabbed a rebound, we wanted to get out and make them chase us a little bit.” Earle opened up a 30-point lead (48-18) on an Aundrea Allen lay-up from a fast break. Allen would lead all scorers with 15 points. Allen was just one of four double-digit scorers for Earle. Tekelia Baker hit for 13, while Cadonnia Childs and Michelle Smith pumped in 10 apiece. Riverside got 14 points from Haven Robertson and 12 from Bailey Asher. Though Garrett’s strategy was to wear down the Lady Rebels, Riverside responded well into the fourth quarter as the visitors had their best shooting quarter of the night, hitting seven of their 17 shots, but perhaps more importantly, losing no turnovers. “I think we kind of lost focus out here a bit, and to be honest, it kinda ticked me off a little bit,” Garrett said. “That’s something I got on them about in the locker room. It was one of the only areas I could really get on them tonight.” The win moved Earle into a third-place tie with Riverside with three games remaining in the conference race. If the teams finish with the same record, the Lady Bulldogs would take the tiebreaker thanks to margin of victory. Since losing to Marmaduke in early January, Earle hasn’t lost and the Lady Bulldogs have a key league date left, on the road against defending Class 2A state champion Marmaduke. “I feel like we’re playing pretty well right now. It’s the right time of the year to playing well and we may be playing as well as anybody in our classification,” Garrett said of his team. “Our goal is to finish in the top two of the league, because that guarantees us a trip to the regional.” Earle lost to Buffalo Island Central in the quarterfinals of the district tournament, missing the regional completely. The Lady Bulldogs are at home tonight against Cross County at approximately 6 p.m.

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