Mallard mecca: Stuttgart, Arkansas

Courtesy Keith "Catfish" Sutton

It's not very big — population 9,260 — but in the world of waterfowling, Stuttgart, Arkansas is hallowed ground.

A sign at the edge of town proudly proclaims the city's legacy as "The Rice and Duck Capital of the World." And those who have hunted the flooded hardwoods, fields and reservoirs on the surrounding Grand Prairie know this is no hollow boast. Stuttgart lies at the heart of the world's greatest mallard-hunting area, and thousands of hunters make a pilgramage here each year to immerse themselves in the community's rich waterfowling heritage. Despite its diminutive size, despite its lack of glitz and glamour, Stuttgart is known worldwide, and the ducks have made it so.

Mallards and other waterfowl migrate here to feed and rest in 1,000 square miles of bottomland hardwood forests, agricultural fields and timbered reservoirs. But it is more than the presence of good habitat that draws ducks by the millions. Stuttgart lies at the narrowest point in the Mississippi Flyway. Ducks flood in like water through a funnel and stay throughout winter in this land of plenty.

Green-Timber Hunting

Field shooting and reservoir hunts figure heavily in the Stuttgart hunting equation, but most hunters come to experience the area's legendary green-timber waterfowling. Hardwoods cover the bottomlands in this region, and hundreds of thousands of acres are naturally or artificially flooded each fall. Mallards and other puddle ducks flock to these shallow green-tree reservoirs to feed on acorns and other favored foods, and hunters await them.

Three Essentials

Timber shooting Stuttgart-style can be distilled down to three essentials — a hunter, a call and ducks.

The call is the key. Flying birds must be right over a decoy spread before they can see it. Consequently, the oversized blocks of decoys used in open water or field hunting don't work here. Sound in the form of duck talk attracts birds in green timber.

Hunters try to "read" the ducks and call when appropriate, using a combination of hail calls, feeding calls and quacks to bring birds in. Mallards respond differently to calling each day. The best hunters recognize this and change their approach to be successful.

The average Stuttgart duck hunter's pacifier was replaced with a duck call at a very early age, so many hunters here are experts at the craft. Those less confident in their calling skills place a dozen or so decoys in a small opening to keep the birds coming those last few critical yards. Blending into the shadows of trees, some hunters call while others slosh the water with enthusiastic kicking to move the decoys so they resemble feeding mallards.

Shooting can be fast and furious. Hard-to-see ducks in tall timber can be on top of you before you realize they are near. You must decide in a split second if they're going to drop in or should be taken on the pass. Such things make the sport extremely exciting.

Things to Do

Two large public hunting areas — 34,000-acre Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area and 160,000-acre White River National Wildlife Refuge — hold plenty of ducks for do-it-yourself hunters. And there are scores of commercial lodges around Stuttgart offering guided hunts.

Already underway this week is Stuttgart's 73rd annual Wings Over The Prairie Festival. The Festival includes the World Championship Duck Calling Contest, a duck gumbo cookoff, a sporting collectibles show and much more. This is one of the biggest shindigs in Arkansas every year, and it brings duck hunters and vendors from all over the country.

For information, contact the Stuttgart Chamber of Commerce, 870-673-1602. Season dates, regulations, license information and a weekly waterfowl report are available on the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission website.