The Grand Prairie may get all the attention, but for some of the best and most unique duck hunting culture, you need to look farther north. Boyd Wright, Woodruff County native and organizing committee member for the third annual Mallard Masters, tells why Augusta, Arkansas, should be on your radar.
Duck hunting in Augusta – not the first place you think of.
It’s in a very similar flyway to Stuttgart, we just really hadn’t had that much attention. Within a 10-mile radius of the boat ramp at Augusta, there’s access to over 100,000 acres of public land to hunt. And that public land is not just any land; it includes some of the very best duck hunting in the world: the Cache River Wildlife Management Refuge. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife, this is their calculation, we’re holding, year in and year out, the largest concentration of mallards in North America.
Is that how Mallard Masters came about? Where it all got started is the population of Woodruff County is down from around 24,000 at its highest to around 6,475 right now. In Augusta, the population’s probably around 2,200. Myself, my brother, some friends, a group of people that love Augusta and love Woodruff County, were sitting around a campfire during duck season thinking about the decline of population and what could we do that would draw some awareness. Duck hunting is really big, so we thought let’s copy off of Stuttgart but let’s not do what Stuttgart did. Let’s have our own event and have our own identity.
Mallard Masters’ format is that four-person teams go out and try to shoot their limit, with points awarded based on what they get. How many teams participated last year? About 26 teams. Some teams registered but did not check in ducks, I guess because they didn’t think they’d win. Matter of fact, one team last year didn’t check their ducks in because they thought well, our gadwalls aren’t going to win. But, we draw a bonus duck the day of and that awards extra points. Gadwalls got picked out as the bonus duck last year and turns out they would have won the whole thing.
What’s Tailfeathers and Tamales?
It’s our awards banquet, silent auction, live band, party, music and libations. We wanted to put on something classy, something white tablecloth, something you can bring your grandchild to that’s getting into the sport, where you’re comfortable whether you’re 18 or you’re 80.
Our big claim to fame is George Paul Eldridge who owns Doe’s in Little Rock. He also owns the Tamale Factory in a horse barn out in Gregory just outside Augusta. He caters it [the event]. Everything happens with heaters under tents, on the bank of the White River in downtown Augusta.
What’s the response been?
We’ve been shocked. We were hoping to have like, a good Ducks Unlimited banquet crowd, a couple hundred people. We had 800 our first year. We doubled the price of tickets and increased the cost of the hunt, and our second year we had close to that same number. We gave up on trying to crowd control. We’re just managing to the crowd now.
This event benefits the Augusta Chamber of Commerce; does the money go to anything in particular?
Our goal is to raise enough money, and so far we’ve been lucky, to match dollar-for-dollar scholarships through the Arkansas Lottery. So if a child graduates from Augusta schools and gets a lottery scholarship we match that. If your child wants to get a vocational degree to become a nurse or whatever, we’ll go ahead and pay for them to go out and get those vocational jobs. We want them to come home and have a career.
This year’s Mallard Masters Championship is December 8. For team registrations, banquet tickets and more information, visit mallardmasterschampionship.com. Due to high demand, pre-registration for the event is strongly encouraged.