Life in the duck hunting capital of the world

spectr17

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Duck hunters flock to Arkansas, pumping millions into economy.

Associated Press

1/27/02

STUTTGART, Ark. (AP) – In Stuttgart, the self-proclaimed duck capital of the world, you can sum up a dislike for someone by simply saying, “I wouldn’t share a duck stand with him.”

Located in the heart of Arkansas’ Grand Prairie and the Mississippi Flyway, Stuttgart attracts duck hunters from around the world.

At one time, the Grand Prairie was a vast landscape of native grasses “as tall as a man,” some say. Early settlers came to the area to graze livestock and sell hay to northern states.

“The settlers would get off of their covered wagons and step down and you couldn’t see their heads,” says Pat Peacock, director of the Stuttgart Agricultural Museum.

Stuttgart’s skyline is dominated by grain silos, giving the impression of skyscrapers from a distance. The surrounding land is flat and flooded, the tall grass now replaced by a checkerboard of backwaters, bayous and fields of soybeans and rice. Two of the world’s largest rice producers are based in Stuttgart.

The term “Duck Capital” refers both to its claim as the nation’s top duck-hunting area, and the money that hunting provides.
Celebrated ducks
The town of about 10,000 is home to the Wings Over the Prairie Festival in November, which includes the annual World Championship Duck Calling Contest. The first winner, back in 1936, used only his mouth to simulate the duck call and won a $7 hunting coat. The 2001 winner, using a $150 acrylic duck call, took home about $40,000 worth of prizes.

The festival also includes the annual Queen Mallard beauty pageant that began in 1957.

Peacock was the city’s first Queen Mallard and is the only woman to win the World Championship Duck Calling Contest. She took home the prize two years in a row – in 1955 and 1956.

“I wasn’t too popular with the guys,” Peacock said. “But I used the money to go on to college.”
Big economic shot
During the two duck hunting seasons – Nov. 18-Dec. 20 and Dec. 26-Jan. 21 – hunting-related activities pump more than $2 million a day into the state’s economy, $1 million into Stuttgart alone. Annually, duck-hunting related retail sales funnel $55 million into the state’s economy, including about $3 million in sales tax and $1 million in income taxes. The sport provides about 1,700 jobs.

George Young, known locally as Junior, can make as much as $2,500 a day plucking, skinning, cleaning and packing the duck kills of hunters. He sells certain feathers for fly-fishing lures and saves the necks and feet for local hog farmers to use as feed.

“I was a welder, but I had a lung taken out from cancer, so I’m doing this,” says Young, a dead duck dangling from one hand, a bloody hatchet in the other.
Retail rising
The story of Mack’s Prairie Wings sport shop epitomizes the local duck hunting phenomenon.

As more duck hunters began arriving in Stuttgart in the 1930s, McCollum’s Hardware Store, located on Main Street, began stocking hunting supplies. In 1944, a separate small store was opened for only hunting supplies.

Within 30 years, the hunting supply business expanded to include a 3,200-square-foot store. Today, Mack’s is located in a 90,000-square-foot store dedicated solely to waterfowl hunting and has a mail order operation that sent out 1.7 million catalogs this year to customers around the world.

The store’s hours of operation, to accommodate hunters, are 4:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week.
Good for ducks and rice
Bayou Meto (pronounced by’-o-me’-duh), which snakes through central Arkansas, is the largest state-owned public shooting ground in the country, with about 34,000 acres of flooded timber.

Ducks fly south en masse to escape the northern winters and return to cooler locations to raise their young in the spring. They come down along four separate flyways, the largest being along the Mississippi River. Arkansas has 8 million acres of the 24 million-acre Mississippi River Alluvial Plain, better known as the Delta – more than any other state.

Arkansas drew 100,000 duck hunters last year, and historically it has attracted the likes of William Faulkner and Clark Gable, as well as several presidents, from Teddy Roosevelt to the first George Bush. Legend has it that before early settlers came to Arkansas, the Quapaw Indians would mount stuffed ducks on their heads, swim underwater to a floating duck, then grab its legs and pull it under.

Though Arkansas is second to Louisiana in the number of all types of ducks killed annually – 1.5 million, compared to Louisiana’s 2.5 million – it is No. 1 for mallards, the prized green-headed variety.

“Arkansas and mallards are to duck hunting what Augusta National Golf Course is to the golfer,” says Arkansas Game and Fish Commission spokesman Len Pitcock.

But the ducks don’t typically come in on what hunters call “a bluebird day.”

“A lot of people like to think of tourism season as sunny and warm,” says Stuttgart Chamber of Commerce executive director Stephen Bell. “We like it cold and rainy. That’s our tourism season.”

Scott Drummond’s Pintail Peninsula hunting lodge caters to the corporate crowd.

At $600 a day, Pintail is a high-end hunt club – once dubbed the “Taj Mahal of duck hunting” by The Wall Street Journal.

“I wanted some magnificence,” Drummond says. His 14,000-square-foot log cabin lodge has elk antler chandeliers that hang from a vaulted ceiling. Plush couches and carved wooden furniture surround a huge stone fireplace in the gathering room, its walls are mostly windows looking out onto the flooded prairie.

Others like to duck hunt in the old tradition of camping in the woods and eating the daily kill for dinner. And there are more than 60 duck hunting guide services listed in the Stuttgart business directory.

About 10 miles from Pintail is Carlton Crosby’s Wild Wings Hunting Club.

More like a home than a vacation lodge, it offers full service hunting trips at half the cost of places like Pintail.

A former farmer, Crosby now devotes his 1,275 acres to hunting – ducks, deer and dove.

He says he used to gross about $250,000 a year growing soybeans and rice, but had to put most of it back into the business. Now, he says he is grossing about the same amount, with fewer expenses.

“Duck hunting around here is a tradition,” Crosby says. “And because I’ve got hunting in my blood, this is something I’ve always wanted to do.”
 

Spec

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I wonder if they stay on top this year with the slow shooting they had in ARk, some  other state might get top honors this year
 

KID CREOLE

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Arkansas can brag about being the best but numbers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say Louisiana is number 1. Although these two states placed ahead of California we still have great duck hunting here in California.
 

2curljohnny

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i hunted the last 10 days of the season in AR. with out a doubt it was an off year but we still had some great hunts. i hunted 70 or so miles north of stuttgart in the "real"duck capital, atleast that's what i was told.2 days in the timber,8 in the rice.saw as many sprig as i do at home, which was pretty shocking. the mallard flight never really happened there this year. heard it was a bust in the southern part. just like out here , the cold snap everyone was waiting for up north is just now happening. i highly recommend to every serious waterfowler , make a trip and hunt in the timber a few days.even slow days leave a good enough taste in your mouth to want seconds. still, it's awful hard to beat a good green day in nov. at L.K. or  freeze up along the columbia.i love hunting in AR, but they ain't got nothing on us boys out here on the left coast.  
 

huntducks

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I would like to add a little to this post, YES I would like to spend 3 days at the Taj -Mahal at least once in my life, but I also want to hunt Argentina, and New Zeland before I pass on to full time duck hunting.

Like J2curls said EVERYONE should have at least 1 day of hunting in green timber, man there is nothing like it, watching 10-20-40 navigate throught the trees into the decoys is something you can only believe by seeing, then trying to pick your shots without shooting too much of the tree away.

The thing about hunting back in say Bayo-Meto vs Sac. or SoCal is cammo is appropriate dress rather then the exception.

Yes much to many surprise back there we have duck hunting here on the left coast, even thought they don't seem to think so.
 

Arkhunter

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Louisiana is number 1 in total ducks killed but they count coots and everything else that flies!   :)

It dont get no more better anywhere when things are right than it does right here in Arkansas.

If youre a duck hunter, you owe it to yourself to at least one time in your life watch a couple of hundred fat rice fed mallards drop into your hole in the timber!

There aint nothin' like it.
 

Megadeth

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How about the woody shootin in Ark. All that timber should relate into some serious numbers of woodies.It would be interesting to see personal hunter bag numbers. One thing we have that they dont, 107 days of shooting with no split.
 

Arkhunter

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Youll see some woodies but mostly at first light.

I know some wont understand this, but most people consider em scrap ducks.

The mallard is king here and the only reason most people shoot anything other than them is to finish off their limit.

Usually, we just shoot our 4 mallards and leave.
 

PowDuck

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Arkhunter's right. The woodie is typically passed up. I do. The meat is more stringy and harder to skin when you breast 'em out. We always try for our limit and usually fill the other two "trash duck" slots with Gadwalls. But the Mallard is king here and seeing a flock of them sifting down through the timber is a God-given priviledge everyone should see at least once in their lives. Once in a while you get to see it with big snow flakes falling with them. Simply awe inspiring. Flooded timber is the best hunting, bar none.

Yes, Arkansas had a bad year this past season. Some years, my relatives in Colorado have a better season than me. That's just the way it goes.
 

pitdog

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This brings back memories.
I'm from Fayetteville Ar. and we would make the drive regularly to the So. East even though the ducks were in our area as well (just not as well).

Haven't been back there for over 10 years but I still remember the awsome sight of small groups of Mallards breaking away from the pack to the call and then lockin and dropin into your hole in the timber.

Thanks for the reminder.
sp
 
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