Duck hunting might be the salvation of Woodruff County.
It all starts with a one-day duck hunting tournament on Dec. 10 called the Mallard Masters Championship, an inaugural event sponsored by the Augusta Chamber of Commerce.
Boyd Wright, 50, an entrepreneur and tireless Woodruff County booster, said the idea germinated among a group of Augusta businessmen that met to discuss ways to revitalize Augusta's economy.
Woodruff County was once a vibrant farming area, but only about 7,200 people live there now, Wright said. Real estate values are depressed, and Augusta's schools are struggling.
Stuttgart has successfully marketed itself as Arkansas's duck hunting capital, Wright said, and he said that duck hunting could also be an economic foundation for Augusta.
"We don't want to copy Stuttgart directly, but Stuttgart has done a great job at marketing its natural resources," Wright said. "We wanted to try something that is relatively unique."
The Mallard Masters Championship is the first and most conspicuous stone in the foundation. It will be a one-day duck hunting tournament and will be open to hunters that use public and private property.
The tournament will be open to 75 teams containing four hunters each.
Drake mallards will be worth five points, and hen mallards will be worth two points. Black ducks will be worth 10 points. No other species will be scored.
Hunters will check their ducks at stations in Fair Oaks, Little Dixie and Augusta. Each team will be photographed when they check in, and every photo will have a time signature, Wright said. The team the checks in the highest score earliest will win a Havoc 1548 duck boat with custom camo paint job and a 40-horsepower Tohatsu outboard motor and an EZ Trac trailer from Mighty White Marine in Augusta. The team can pick the camo pattern.
The second-place team will win a full complement of banded gear for each member, and the third-place team will win four Beretta semiautomatic shotguns. Beretta donated the guns, Wright said, but the company is not an event sponsor.
In addition to the tournament, there will be a dinner called Tail Feathers and Tamales. The Tamale Factory will cater the white-tablecloth event, Wright said. It will be a first-class affair.
"Duck hunting is a gentleman's sport, and we want to make sure this party has that spirit of Southern class and gentlemanship," Wright said. "There will be none of that New Orleans style stuff, with the beads and all that. If you want to bring your 14-year old daughter, you can feel comfortable with that."
Based on the value of the prizes and proceeds from the number of entries, the event has already far surpassed expectations, Wright said.
The Augusta Chamber of Commerce only had about $7,600 in its bank account, but it takes about $18,000 to hold such an event.
As of Wednesday, Wright said, organizers have raised $104,754.
The money will seed a scholarship fund for students in the Augusta school district.
By the fifth year, Wright said, the goal will be to provide a full college scholarship to any student that graduates from the Augusta school system.
"Our goal is to pay for books and tuition to the college of their choice," Wright said. "At some point we might ask them to come back to Augusta for a year to work or volunteer."
This is similar to the El Dorado Promise program that Murphy Oil Co. endows for students in El Dorado.
"Hopefully, people will move their kids into our school system," Wright said. "I get goosebumps talking about it because I can't believe all the good that will come out of it."
Integrity is paramount in an event like this, and Wright said all precautions are being taken to prevent cheating.
"This thing has to be cloaked in legitimacy, and we have no choice but to clothe ourselves in the olive drab of law enforcement," Wright said. "We can't afford for people to think this thing is rigged because that will crush the philanthropic effort."
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will assist in this effort, Wright said, and the Augusta Chamber of Commerce will have the right to withhold prizes while investigations are conducted."
For more information, go to mallardmasterschampionship.com, or visit the Mallard Masters Championship's Facebook page.
Sports on 09/08/2016
Print Headline: Augusta's future: Duck hunting