Russell McCollum placed a full-page ad in the Daily Leader at Stuttgart in 1952, urging landowners to flood their fields to attract ducks.
"McCollum's marketing ploy surely contributed to Stuttgart's undisputed reputation as Duck Hunting Capital of the World," Susan Schadt of Memphis wrote in her 2012 book "A Million Wings." "After years as a commercial hunting operation known interchangeably as Wildlife Acres, McCollum's and Russell's, this property is now a private retreat in the capable hands of Witt Stephens Jr. of Little Rock."
I've long been fascinated by the rich history of Arkansas duck clubs. The land Schadt wrote about was purchased by Otis McCollum in 1925.
"Otis McCollum was a visionary," she wrote. "To transform the land into a magnum-size commercial hunting operation, he enlisted the aid of water management engineer T.J. Fricke and built a series of levees that created the ideal conditions for hunting."
McCollum built more than 15 miles of levees in the Bayou Meto area. His nephew Russell bought the land in 1952 and began charging visitors for daily hunts.
"Soon referred to as Russell's by those in the know, it accommodated as many as 1,400 shooters per year," Schadt wrote. "There was no advertising. Duck hunters from around the country came to experience the thrill of world-class duck hunting replete with local guides fully loaded with sharp wits, tall tales and an expert feeding chuckle that all but guaranteed a limit of mallards."
Buck Mayhue began guiding and became club manager when Russell McCollum developed health problems.
Schadt wrote: "Buck's one-year trial as a manager turned into a career. ... He managed the land and duck hunts for Russell McCollum, Russell's daughter and son-in-law, Nancy and Mike Smith, and for Witt Stephens."
Mayhue told Schadt: "It's like going to the office. When I'm out here, I'm all business. When I pull that duck caller out, I'm serious."
In a 2013 interview with Greenhead magazine, Mayhue said: "We hunted [with] some celebrities. Ted Williams is one that pops up in my mind. We also hunted [with] all of the Busch family from St. Louis. Augustus Busch II sent us a lot of clients, and he always came down around Christmas and hunted before he went to Florida because he liked to play polo."
Henry Reynolds, the well-known outdoors writer for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, would come each Thanksgiving.
Stephens began looking at the property in 2005. He had learned to shoot on his father's cattle farm at Prattsville in Grant County, where the man known to most Arkansans simply as Mr. Witt spent weekends. His son remembers having a hard time breathing on the way to the farm because Mr. Witt would smoke his ever-present cigars as a longtime driver named Finley steered the car south out of Little Rock.
Mr. Witt would always start meals at Prattsville with a prayer. Finley would add loudly at the end: "And Jesus wept."
Soon after buying the McCollum property, Witt Jr. was having dinner with friends when the name of the California winery Screaming Eagle came up. One thing led to another, and the name Screaming Wings was chosen for the duck club. A spacious lodge was built on the historic farm.
It's always interesting to discover how duck clubs got their names. Near Wynne is a spread known as Coca Cola Woods. The name stems from the fact that Everett Pidgeon, whose family bought the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Memphis in 1909, acquired the land over a three-year period at a price of $1.20 an acre. There was only one small cabin there at the time. Pidgeon moved a house from Snow Lake to serve as a lodge.
"During that era, the property known as Morton's to close family and friends was used as a hunting club on weekends and a place to entertain their Coca-Cola clients during the week," Schadt wrote. "As its reputation for great hunting and good times spread among customers, friends and locals, it became referred to as 'that Coca-Cola place,' and before long the unofficial nickname was Coca Cola Woods.
"Typically a men's-only retreat, Bobby Pidgeon Jr. has fond memories of trips to the camp with his grandmother before opening day of duck season transformed it into an all-male bastion. When he came of age to hunt, he 'enjoyed camaraderie and fellowship with my dad's friends, and also with my friends.'"
Schadt noted: "During those days, there were no blinds, so hunters stood in the water behind trees. Hunters followed a strict set of rules. There was no hunting after noon, and hunters were not allowed to walk ducks up. While the ducks have certainly appreciated these considerations, they are also drawn to the property's natural features, including a creek that splits the back part of the property in half and the extensive flooded green timber. Hunters from St. Louis to New Orleans came to enjoy this duck-filled paradise."
The Pidgeon family sold the club to Harvey Robbins of Tuscumbia, Ala., in 1995, and it was renamed Harvey's Duck Club. When Memphis businessman John Dobbs Jr. bought the property in 2009, he officially changed the name to Coca Cola Woods.
Dobbs summed up what the place means to those who visit: "Historically it has been known for duck hunting, but more importantly, it has been known for the adventures and stories people tell about their experience. ... Some people hunt ducks their entire lives and never see the things we see at Coca Cola Woods with the quality of ducks and camaraderie. As a man, sometimes it's hard to identify this feeling, but when you're out there, there's a realization that you're doing what you're meant to do."
Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.