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Blog Entries from the WeHuntSC.com blogging crew
J-Duck Chronicles Volume II - The Trip of a Lifetime, Stuttgart Arkansas 2009
On January 5, 2010 in
I?ve had a serious love for waterfowl hunting ever since my father took me to a damned up part of Black Creek when I was 8 years old. Growing up we mostly hunted in swamps for wood ducks and the occasional mallard. Then later in life I moved to, and started hunting, the coastal regions of North and South Carolina where the average bag contains mergansers and the occasional diver. The thought of the ?KING? of all ducks? the Mallard? completely filling the skies with cackles and quacks was something of which I had only dreamed.
I guess the first time I had heard of Stuttgart, Arkansas referred to as being the duck hunting capital of the world was when I was in high school. As Ducks Unlimited got more and more prevalent in the 90?s, I attended more banquets and started receiving their magazine. During this time I started to read of this great place named Stuttgart. Stuttgart is a distant location in Arkansas and by distant I mean? you can?t get there from here! If you are going there for any reason other than to waterfowl hunt, you are in for a very bad experience.
To set the background, Stuttgart is a small town in Central Arkansas located about an hour southeast of Little Rock. To give you an alternative perspective, the population of Stuttgart is around 9,500 during the 10 months when duck hunting season is out. It has been said that the population can as much as triple during the two months of duck season. It is as flat as a stepped-on-pancake and it seems as though you can see for miles. The two biggest attractions in town are the very large rice plant (Rice Town) and, the ever-so-famous, Mack?s Prairie Wings. There is nothing hardly to Stuttgart other than farming land as far as the eye can see and the occasional patch of hard woods (that I will elaborate on later).
I don?t know the story of how Stuttgart became known as the duck hunting capital of the world, but, as you can imagine, when the WeHuntSC.com Pro Staff Team got invited on a three day trip there I was very excited! We left from Florence, SC and decided to drive because if you are a serious duck hunter (as we are...or like to think we are) then you know that there is no way to fit everything you need for duck hunting into the type bags that are prohibited to take on airlines these days. Just to give you an idea (if you ever decide to make the trip), when we punched Stuttgart into the GPS, it was 740 miles from Florence. This equals about thirteen hours by truck. The trip takes you through Atlanta GA, Birmingham AL, and Memphis TN.
Stuttgart is located underneath the ?Central Flyway?, which brings most of the Mallard population, along with other ducks and geese down to their southern wintering ground. With Arkansas being mostly flat and a great place to farm rice, it just makes the perfect combination to bring the ducks out of the Jet Stream to feed and rest on their long journey south.
We arrived in Stuttgart filled with excitement around 3:30pm at the ?Feet Down Duck Club? the afternoon before we started hunting. One of my Pro Staff Members (Lee Harrelson) had been the year before and was our acting tour guide. We then checked in to the Club and headed straight to finishing gearing up at the World Famous Mack?s Prairie Wings right in the middle of Stuttgart. I am sure some of you have heard of this outfitter and probably even receive their catalog, but their headquarters is in Stuttgart and if it is made for duck hunting?they have it. As you pull in the parking lot they have the biggest Mallard statue in the world in the parking lot and boats galore. Not to mention the parking lot is full of Trucks and SUV?s from all over the country and most of them there to do the same thing we had came for. The most breathtaking thing for me was as soon as we walked in the door. They probably have one to two hundred mallards, pintails, gadwall, etc. mounted and coming down from the ceiling as if they were right in your face. We shopped for a while and got our supplies. We got the last few things we needed and headed back to the lodge.
We got back to the lodge and tried to relax before the hunting journey of that the next day held for us. We started talking to our guide and host for the next three days. He told us that the ducks had just started to use the rice fields and that we were going to hunt the flooded timber in the mornings at another club. Then, if we did not limit out in the mornings, we would hunt their flooded rice fields in the afternoon. I knew right then that we were in a different type of place that clearly contrasted duck hunting back home. We rarely, unless we have just really perfect weather for ducks, ever have to worry about limiting out. I had never had a chance to hunt flooded green timber before, but it had always been a dream of mine since seeing it on hunting videos and movies. Our guide told us that we would be hunting the flooded timber at ?Slick?s? lodge and you can check out their website at
. The difference in flooded green timber and swamps from South Carolina is that the green hardwoods that are rich in acorn production cannot stay flooded all year or it will kill the trees. So these land owners have to dike up around their property and manage the water level in the timber. As you can tell from this description, these guys take it real serious.
One of the problems we faced (if there were any) was that Stuttgart received 11 inches of rain (in one day) the day before we arrived in Arkansas. There is a huge amount of WMA land in Stuttgart and surrounding areas and the biggest stretch is called the Bayou Meto. The water level in the flooded timber is usually around shin deep, eleven to twelve inches. Well, to make a long story short, the water from the Bayou was starting to crest the damns to the timber and the water level in the timber was rising.
I was so excited the first morning that it felt as though if I was as if I were lying in bed waiting for my parents to come get me knowing that Santa had just visited. The guides in the timber don?t take you to the blind until the last minute because it is pretty hairy running the boat through all of the flooded trees in the pitch black dark. So, by the time we got set up, due to the higher water level and the guide set up the spinning wing decoy, there were already mallards landing in the hole. Some were landing all around him as he headed back to his standing point. I looked at the other Pro Team members that sat beside me in the blind and I can only imagine the smile on my face as the anticipation was heart wrenching.
Only thirty seconds after legal shooting time, the sky filled with groups of mallards and gadwalls that you could barely see above the tops of the hardwoods. The sounds of Gadwall Tats and Mallard quacks and cackles were almost deafening. The sound of muffled gunshots also began to fill the air.
I remember the first pair that dropped in between the tree tops in the hole like a memory etched in time. It seemed like the guide yelled ?kill them ducks? in slow motion. The next four hours proved to be something that I will never forget.
The best memory of the timber experience for me is not just the harvesting of birds but the fact that we were working groups of birds or watching waterfowl for the entire time. Most guide services that take you on a timber hunt in Arkansas usually leave the timber by ten or ten-thirty in the morning. Leaving at this time gives the ducks a chance to rest and to keep the property bountiful with waterfowl.
The Arkansas limit is 6 ducks per hunter. Of these 6 birds, 4 can be male mallard ducks and only two of those can be hens. We were hunting with a group of five during our trip and we walked out the first morning with a total of twelve mallards, eight being drakes and four hens. We got back to ?Slick?s" lodge and tagged our birds, which is the law in Arkansas, and headed back to the camp for a quick bite for lunch.
The only good thing about not limiting out that morning is that we knew we could go to the rice fields that afternoon to try to finish our limit. We ate a quick bite and had to stop at Mack?s for a leaky pair of waders and quickly headed off the fields. As we pulled up to the fields our guide wanted me to walk up to the fields first with the video camera as the fields have not been shot yet. He said the birds had just started using the fields so I thought I could get some footage.
I was nervous as could be for some reason as I approached the field video camera in hand. The wind was blowing so hard I could hardly hear anything, but as I crested the dike and the gate it was a sight that I had only dreamed about. There were no less than two or three thousand ducks that got up out of the fields and the sky almost blackened with ducks. By then the rest of the gang had caught up with me and I continued to get some unbelievable footage.
The birds mostly seemed to be working two out of the four fields and we decided to split up, which was not as easy as it seems, as you will see in one of the videos. After we got the train car split up (lol!) then we tromped off to the middle of the knee-deep flooded rice field
We reached our destinations which was a well camouflaged pit blind directly in the middle of the field. We got set up in the pit blind which is a sunken blind that puts you almost eye level with the water and has a sliding roof that cameo?s you while you are in the field.
Not five minutes after we got set up in the blind it was ?On?. The ducks that we had flushed out only ten minutes earlier started to come back in small groups. The majority of the ducks we saw on this day were blue-winged teal. I don?t know how many of you have been on a good teal hunt, but if you can imagine trying to shoot at a group of thirty hummingbirds would be an understatement in comparison to trying to shoot a teal. Blue winged teal are some of the sportiest and most fun wing shooting that a person could possibly ask for.
As we started to harvest a few teal, the Mallards and Gadwall started to come back in and we had an unbelievable shoot. Our blind of three hunters harvested thirteen more ducks and the other blind of two harvested four more giving us a total for the day of twenty nine only one short of the limit.
I don?t know how many of you have duck hunted in the afternoon, but the federal law is that legal shooting time ends at sunset which happened to be 5:04pm on that particular day. There is usually a good thirty minutes of good seeing light after legal shooting time is over and I would say a majority of the ducks fly during that time. As we left the blind and got up on the dike we just turned around and watched in awe for the next twenty minutes or so. It honestly looked like something from a Ducks Unlimited television show as hundreds and hundreds of ducks poured into the field to roost for the night.
We headed back to the lodge for a great meal, some drinks, and some much needed rest. As tired as we were from the thirteen hour drive and fourteen hour hunting day, the excitement of doing it all again was just almost too much as we drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, the water in the timber had risen and had almost entered the hunting cabins. The guides talked as if this would definitely become the last morning of the season there as it takes weeks to pump out the water that only takes hours to pour in. As the water comes up the ducks become unable to feed in the timber once it gets above eighteen inches deep or so since dabbler ducks cannot dive for their food. They will still use the timber especially on sunny days as ducks do not have eyelids as you or I, so they cannot block out the sun. Thus, they use the timber as shade to keep from their eyes from the bright sunshine. Also, as the water gets higher in the timber, the blinds flood and it gets to deep to stand in the water for paying customers.
The second morning still turned out to be more bountiful than the first as we hunted a hole that had not been hunted so far that year. We harvested fourteen mallards that morning and also returned to the rice field that afternoon to harvest another eight ducks. We ended up hunting the timber the third morning after much thought from the guides as the water did not rise as much as it did the first day. The third day proved to be a bit different weather wise and a storm system moved in bringing in heavy cloud cover and rain. When there is cloud cover, the ducks seem to use the fields more than the timber, but we still worked ducks all morning and took out another six mallards from the timber. It was a perfect ending to the trip I will never forget.
As I look back on my first trip to the ?Duck Hunting Capital of the World?, it was one that I will truly cherish forever and am glad that I have many photos and videos to remember forever. The thrill of the chase and the sky filling with the beautiful blessings from the Lord and, most of all, sharing the experience with great friends of old and new, it was truly a ?Trip of a Lifetime?.
I want to take just a minute and thank all the people who made this dream trip come true. I want to thank Owner of Feet Down Duck Club (Sly Jones) Guide and Host (Steve Jones and his son Thomas Jones) and our Guide (Mike) at
. I want to also thank you for taking the time to allow me to share this wonderful experience with you and if you love waterfowl hunting as I do, it is definitely a trip that you have to take in your lifetime.
Hope you all had a Safe and Wonderful Holiday season and I will be back hunting in South Carolina to finish out the season. And remember if ?you ain?t going you ain?t show?n?.
Feel free to write me with any questions or concerns at
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J Duck Chronicles Volume II The Trip of a Lifetime
Stuttgart Arkansas 2009
The J-Duck Chronicles volume I
On December 24, 2009 in
The beginning of J-Duck Chronicles
The sunrise over Winyah Bay
J-Duck's setup on the coast
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