A Quacking Good Time
Stuttgart Festival Gears for 83rd Edition
By Dwain Hebda
For the past 82 years, thousands of hunting enthusiasts and their families have spent their Thanksgiving holiday celebrating all things duck on the streets of Stuttgart, Arkansas. And, as sure as the greenheads’ return to the Grand Prairie, the 2018 edition of the World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest and Wings Over the Prairie Festival will once again certify Stuttgart as the Rice and Duck Capital of the World.
“It’s our one chance out of the year to show people literally from around the world what Stuttgart is all about, and our county and our state,” said Eric Chin, chief operating officer of Mack’s Prairie Wings and president of the Stuttgart Chamber of Commerce.
The festival, the longest-running and among, if not, the largest in Arkansas, kicks off Saturday, November 17 with the Queen Mallard and Junior Queen Mallard pageants and concludes a week later with the World’s Championship. In between, an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 people are expected to attend the festivities, roughly quadrupling the resting population of the community and bringing millions into the local economy.
“We did a study several years ago that said $1 million a day was brought in during duck season to Stuttgart,” said Bethany Hildebrand, CEO and executive director of the Stuttgart Chamber of Commerce. “I would say it’s probably double that the weekend of the festival.”
The centerpiece of the event, and the longest-running, is the World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest. The first one, held in 1936, was contested by 17 entrants. The inaugural winner, Thomas Walsh, was something of a backfire, having not been an Arkansan nor having used a call. But in the years since, the Natural State has more than held its own at the highest levels of the contest.
“You can almost put your hands on each side of Arkansas, maybe move over a little bit into Memphis, and that corridor north and south is where the majority of the winners come from,” said Bill Free who has chaired the competition committee for 18 years. “It’s the corridor up through Missouri, Illinois, where a lot of the winners come from. And, obviously, in Arkansas.”
Participants in the World’s Championship qualify through a collection of state and regional contests; On average, around 60 callers take the big stage in Stuttgart, each of whom delivers a 90-second routine that includes a hail call, a come-back call, a feed call and a lonesome hen call.
“They have 90 seconds to do this routine,” Free said. “If they go 91 seconds, they’re DQ’d and they’re out.”
In addition to the World’s Championship division, there are also calling contests for junior, intermediate, women and a special contest open just to high school seniors. That competition, the Chick and Sophie Major Memorial Duck Calling Contest, awards college scholarships to the winners.
While not as long-lived, the 38th World Championship Duck Gumbo Cookoff is just as hotly contested. In all, 55 teams will compete for the title with concoctions that must contain a minimum of 50 percent duck meat.
“We usually have around 3,000 people attend,” said Curt Ahrens, a past competitor in his 15th year chairing the event. “We’ve got competitors from South Carolina, Tennessee, St. Louis, Arkansas. About four or five states represented. This is a coveted event for these people.”
The event also has a waiting list of more than 30 potential entrants, which face long odds of getting in. A couple of teams go all the way back to the first cookoff and most return year after year, so new teams are rare.
Ahrens said taking in the atmosphere alone is worth the price of admission to the 21-and-over-only event.
“The teams will spend most of Friday setting up their booths. There is a prize for the best booth and we have some very elaborate ones. Some are two-story, some are three-story.”
A familiar sight at the events, handing out awards and basically being the face of the festival are Miss Mallard and Miss Junior Mallard, who have been crowned since 1956 and 1991, respectively. The pageant is held the Saturday before the rest of the attractions kick off.
“The festival is Wings Over the Prairie, so we stick to the Grand Prairie area which is Arkansas County, Lonoke County, Prairie County and Monroe County,” said Britney Selig, pageant committee chairperson. “Any girl within those counties, from ages 12 to 21, can compete.”
Contestants are judged on an interview, formal wear and an onstage question. Winners receive scholarships as well as an assortment of prizes from local merchants.
Over the years a number of other attractions have been added to the festival to broaden its appeal beyond hardcore hunters. Among the newest of the events are a sporting clay shoot and last year’s addition, the Wings Over the Prairie World Championship Baggo Tournament and a 10K road race which was expanded to include a 5K distance a few years ago. Race committee chairman Leslie Bednar said the run, like the other events, helps the festival grow in popularity.
“Adding different events, it really brings in a large crowd,” she said. “It’s not just your duck hunters. We are really becoming where we are a well-rounded festival. We have something for everybody.”
83rd Annual World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest & Wings Over the Prairie Festival Schedule Highlights
Saturday, November 24, 2018
Great 5K/10K Duck Race
7th and Main Streets, Stuttgart
Junior World’s Championship
Duck Calling Contest
Women’s World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest
2nd Annual Baggo Tournament
Main Street Stuttgart
World Championship Duck
Producers Rice Mill
parking lot on Park Avenue
83rd World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest
Main Street Stuttgart
For a full schedule of festival events and times,
please visit stuttgartarkansas.org
Saturday, November 17, 2018
Queen Mallard/Junior Queen
Grand Prairie Center
Phillips Community College
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Youth Duck Calling Contest
Stuttgart Main Street
Friday, November 23, 2018
3rd Annual 5 Stand
Sporting Clay Competition
Mack’s Prairie Wings
Chick and Sophie Major Memorial
Duck Calling Contest
Arkansas State Qualifying Duck Calling Contest
Intermediate World’s Championship
Duck Calling Contest
Last Chance Regional Duck Calling Contest
Main Street, Stuttgart