It’s been a very ducky week for me.
On Wednesday, I helped out some friends by filling in and manning an exhibit at a workshop at the Little Rock Peabody. The presenter was excited about the prosect of seeing the Peabody Duck March, and as the ducks would be passing right by the room where the workshop was being conducted, en route from their terrace Duck Villa to the lobby fountain, she called for a brief break when it was time for the ducks to do their thing.
Ducks departing the fountain at the Little Rock Peabody
In addition, it’s December in Arkansas, and for a significant portion of the male populace of the state, this means one thing: time to shoot Daffy!
I was in Stuttgart yesterday, the duck hunting and rice capital of the state and perhaps the nation. Here’s a sample of what the environs in those parts look like this time of year:
Actually, this isn't all that many ducks. I've seen at least 100 times this many from the road.
So what makes Stuttgart such a great place to hunt ducks? A couple of things: first, the whole area (known as the Grand Prarie) used to be surrounded by swamps, and these days still features lots of low-lying land used for growing rice – and there’s always some rice left around after the harvest, which ducks seem to like to eat. There are wildlife refuges within a few miles to both the east and the west, the White River and various bayous abound, and many farmers have maintained areas of wetlands and flooded timber on their property for the specific purpose of duck hunting, all of which adds up to a resting place irresistable to ducks – and other types of waterfowl as well. There’s plenty of egrets, geese, and other birds that show up at roughly the same time as the ducks each year. You’ll see them gleaning drained rice fields as well – I saw several fields yesterday that were so crowded with birds that they appeared to be covered in snow.
Because no trip through Stuttgart would be complete without two things – plate lunch at the Little Chef, a quonset-hut diner on the north side of town – and a trip to Mack’s Prarie Wings, I did both.
Mack’s Prarie Wings, for the uninitiated, is perhaps the premier duck-hunting outfitter. In addition, Mack’s carries pretty much whatever gear you might need for killing any animal you can think of. I stopped in because my brother-in-law is a hunter – I think he hunts just about everything BUT ducks, and as soon as he finds out you can kill those, too, that might change. In any case, I thought he would appreciate a cap or shirt from Mack’s, so I ventured in.
The parking lot was crammed full of pickups, many with boat trailers and boats, and men clad in camouflage from head to toe. Inside the store, you could practically smell the testosterone. Here were men – LOTS of men – shopping with enthusiasm and a sense of purpose, something you don’t see that often.
- Elmer Fudd’s wet dream
Finally, after wandering through vast areas of hipwaders, deer attractant, ammo, etc. I find the caps. There’s a young guy looking at them too. I ask him, “is this the pattern they call ‘Real Tree’?” He says he thinks it is, but there are several “Real Tree” camo patterns. The one I’ve selected is apparently known as “Duck Blind.” What the hell – is a deer going to stop long enough to figure out that the cap on my brother-in-law’s head looks more like reeds and sawgrass than tree trunks? I figured probably not, and went ahead and bought it. I was by this time pretty anxious to get out of there – not only because I don’t care for being in crowded places, but also because there was something vaguely unsettling about seeing lots of men shopping with such pleasure. It’s just not something you’re accustomed to seeing.
I’ll end by noting that although I’ve never had the desire to go kill animals, I’m not opposed to hunting. I mean, I EAT animals, and someone had to kill them first, so while the hunting thing has never tickled my fancy, I’ve no complaint with those who enjoy it. The ducks aren’t endangered; in fact in recent years the season has been expanded from one to two months since the duck populations are so healthy. And if it weren’t for the tradition of duck hunting in the Arkansas portion of the delta, there wouldn’t have been any Peabody ducks. That whole thing started as a prank pulled by a couple of duck-hunting pals, who put their live decoys in the lobby fountain of the Peabody Memphis back in the 30’s, then went back to drinking in the bar. After hours in the bar they forgot all about the ducks and retired for the evening, only to come down the next morning and find out that the ducks had caused a sensation. People from all over town had crowded into the lobby to watch the ducks swim in the fountain. Live decoys aren’t allowed in duck hunting anymore, but the tradition of the Peabody ducks is alive and well.