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Greenheads mean greenbacks; duck season lucrative for Arkansas County.

BEFORE THAT FIRST wave of southbound ducks roars through eastern Arkansas down the Mississippi Flyway, the cash registers already are ringing for hunters in eager anticipation.

In Arkansas County, and Stuttgart in particular, the effect of ducks on the economy is enormous.

The Stuttgart Chamber of Commerce says it's a $3 million industry for that area. The city celebrates its good fortune of being placed perfectly in the flyway with the annual Wings Over the Prairie Festival and World's Duck Calling Contest on the weekend after Thanksgiving.

"When you count hotels, lodges, guides, jet fuel from people flying in, car rental, sporting goods, gasoline, when you add in everything it totals up," says Heather Audirsch of the Stuttgart chamber. "Most of our restaurants open at 4:30 a.m. to accommodate duck hunters."

And as one Stuttgart restaurateur says, "Duck season for the businessman is like harvest for the farmer."

The good fortune isn't limited to that region. In an area starting about 20 miles east of Little Rock and ranging from the Missouri line to Louisiana, duck hunters dominate the highways and byways from late November until early January.

The state made $7 each off the 41,270 state waterfowl stamps sold to duck hunters last year, according to Arkansas Game & Fish Commission records. Although resident hunters will continue to pay $7 for the state stamps, out-of-state hunters will have to fork over $12 this season.

Many of those from out of state will be heading to one of several commercial hunting lodges in the flyway.

The Stuttgart chamber says 24 commercial hunting clubs in the Arkansas County area hosted 15,213 people in last year's 30-day season. Those hunters came from 38 states, Japan and Canada.

Merlin Bee Bullock, who operates The Mallard Nest, a commercial hunting club near Stuttgart, gets visitors from all over.

"It's a pretty good business," he says. "A lot of people either have green timber or rice fields. We have both. We think we offer the best hunting in the area, a different variety of hunting."

But Bullock says the duck hunting business can be expensive.

"I'm pumping water right now. We're dry as can be. It takes a lot of fuel to operate the pumps to get the water from the reservoir ... We just got some more decoys and spent $6,000 on that."

An overnight stay and hunt at a commercial lodge may cost the hunter $100-$250 depending on the amenities. Bullock charges $215 a day, and that includes lodging, bar, continental breakfast with home-cooking specialties, guided hunt, lunch and afternoon hunt. The birds are processed, and transportation to the blind is provided.

At this point, hunters are beginning to keep an eye to the sky. An unusually dry fall in Arkansas combined with Missouri's very wet autumn dropped duck numbers 40-50 percent below normal last season, says G&FC waterfowl biologist Tim Moser.

This year, continental duck numbers are down about 5 percent overall (to 59 million) and 4 percent for mallards (to 8.8 million, with 1 million passing through Arkansas). But, Moser says, "Despite the overall populations being down, we're almost assured a better flight of ducks in Arkansas."

Spring and summer flooding in Missouri and Iowa and poor food conditions north of Arkansas will help, he says, and cold weather would also improve the migration into Arkansas.

Arkansas has 47 commercial hunting clubs that obtained the necessary G&FC permit to operate. Growth of the private and commercial duck hunting clubs is relatively stable in the Stuttgart area, Moser says, but he sees some increase around Brinkley and Jonesboro.

Hunters will deal with a later end to the season this year, though not as late as some would have liked. Quite a bit of controversy arose earlier this year when the G&FC commissioners listened to hunters' suggestions but chose to add only six days to the end of the season.

The season will have six weekends, but more holidays are hunting days. The three splits run Nov. 25 (Thanksgiving)-Dec. 5, Dec. 18-Dec. 26 and Dec.31-Jan.9.

Bullock is among the hunters and landowners who wanted a later close to the season, but he excitedly points out that bookings for the early weeks are ahead of schedule.

"That must mean they think we're going to have a lot more ducks," he says.
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Author:Harris, Jim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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