Duck hunting is one of the great cultural traditions of Arkansas, and it also pumps a lot of money into our economy.
Stuttgart and Arkansas County are known as the duck-hunting capital of the world. Every Thanksgiving, Stuttgart hosts the Wings Over the Prairie Festival and the World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest, which attract thousands of duck hunters. But duck hunting is special in hundreds of camps and bayous across the state, from Alicia to Des Arc to Dumas.
The late Pat Peacock of Stuttgart, the first woman to serve on the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission when she was appointed to fill an unexpired term, was an avid duck hunter. She is the only woman to win the duck-calling contest twice.
Ann Marie Doramus, whom I appointed as the first woman to a full term on the Game and Fish Commission, was eight when she killed her first duck.
I come from the hill country of Arkansas. I love the hills. But there is a certain beauty of a cold-morning sunrise over flooded timber in the Delta as ducks are flying in that you don’t see in other parts of the state. When you see that greenhead mallard coming in, pulling its webbed feet up, ready to land, the beauty of that moment is unmatched.
One of my greatest joys as a father and grandfather has been to pass that tradition along to my sons, my son-in-law, and my grandchildren. My grandson had the thrill of taking his first banded duck last season.
My daughter loves to watch the dogs work. The beauty of those black labs as they retrieve the ducks is a scene you won’t see in the mountains.
Of course, you’ve got to follow up with the duck recipes. My family and friends love the jalapeno duck poppers that I make for the holidays.
Bryan Hendricks, the outdoors writer for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, captured the essence of duck hunting in a column he wrote in November.
“Stars mottle a moonless sky as a squad of duck hunters count the minutes to dawn. The temperature is in the low 40s, but the edge of a sharp breeze seeps through insulated layers of modern fabrics. It stings the cheeks, but it feels different in the dark woods than it does in a parking lot. It’s a sensation that I have associated with duck hunting since I first felt it as a child.
“There’s much huffing as over-clad bodies squeeze into neoprene waders. Shotgun actions open and close with metallic clanks. Duck calls on neck lanyards sound like plastic wind chimes as they collide with every move. It is the sound of duck season in Arkansas.”
Thanks, Bryan Hendricks, for sharing that memory with us.
One of the missions of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is to spread the word about the joys of duck hunting. We want a new generation of hunters to experience the thrill and learn to love the outdoors. Today, I’m doing my part.