“A Million Wings” — Duck hunting at its finest

The folks at Wild Abundance Publishing Co. have done it again.

Just in time for Christmas 2012, the publishing division of ArtsMemphis has released “A Million Wings,” a beautiful collection of essays and photographs from a dozen of the top private duck clubs along the Lower Mississippi Flyway.

Three of those clubs are in Arkansas. They are:

– Greasy Slough, which is in northeast Arkansas near the upper Bayou DeView.

– Coca Cola Woods near Wynne.

– Witt Stephens Jr.’s Screaming Wings near Stuttgart.

The coffee table book also features three clubs in eastern Missouri, one in western Kentucky, three in Mississippi and two in south Louisiana.

Susan Schadt, the president and CEO of ArtsMemphis, produced her first book in 2008. It was titled “First Shooting Light: A Photographic Journal Reveals the Legacy and Lure of Hunting Clubs in the Mississippi Flyway.”

Two years later, she released “Wild Abundance: Ritual, Revelry & Recipes of the South’s Finest Hunting Clubs.”

The first book in the series focused on clubs in Arkansas and Mississippi. The photographer was Murray Riss, who established the photography department at the Memphis College of Art. The Arkansas clubs featured in “First Shooting Light” were:

– 713 in Lee County near the north end of the St. Francis National Forest.

– Bayou DeView/Section 13 Farms in Woodruff County.

– Bear Bayou near Humnoke, which was founded in the 1940s by the Marks family of Stuttgart.

– Blackfish Hunting Club in Crittenden County.

– Circle T near Wabbaseka, which was established in 1959 to entertain customers of Central Transformer Corp. of Pine Bluff.

– Five Lakes Outing Club on Horseshoe Lake in Crittenden County, which has been around since 1901.

– George Dunklin Jr.’s Five Oaks Duck Lodge in Arkansas County. Dunklin will soon become the national president of Ducks Unlimited.

– Greenbriar Hunting Club near Stuttgart. Referred to by locals as the Old Winchester Club, the club was founded in 1945 by John Olin of Illinois.

– Hatchie Coon Hunting & Fishing Club between Marked Tree and Trumann, which was established by a group of Memphis residents in 1889.

– The Snowden family’s Kingdom Come near Stuttgart.

– Menasha Hunting & Fishing Club between Gilmore and Turrell, which dates back to 1902.

– Mud Lake Hunting Club near Hughes, which also dates back to 1902.

– The famed Claypool’s Reservoir near Weiner, which was purchased by Wallace Claypool of Memphis in 1941 and was the site of a well-known NBC national television program in December 1956.

The concept of “Wild Abundance,” meanwhile, was to take some of the South’s best chefs and put them in the region’s top hunting clubs. One of the nine chefs in the book is Lee Richardson of Little Rock (I’m anxious to find out what Lee’s next adventure will be).

“Wild Abundance” featured the photography of Lisa Waddell Buser. She is back with dozens of great shots in “A Million Wings.”

Schadt calls Buser a “talented and tenacious photographer who was truly unstoppable in her pursuit of these shots. She was able to capture the slightest movements on a rest lake while standing on a two-by-four railing 40 feet off the ground. She tracked, step for step, a hunter in pursuit of a wild pig. She waded through muck, downed logs and various temperaments shouldering 20 pounds of gear. And while she smiled through the entire season and was always willing but demure, her voice is loud and clear.”

In his foreword to “A Million Wings,” 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III writes: “I learned that being an outdoorsman was not just about hunting. The sportsmen I met were truly stewards of the land. They were involved with Ducks Unlimited, marsh projects and property management. I was immediately pulled into that contagious culture so I was committed to conservation very early. … This is what outdoorsmen do: They work together to make a difference for wildlife and embrace the preservation of precious habitat for all time.”

Love understands that the average duck hunter will never be invited to any of the clubs in the book. But he knows why they want a glimpse inside those clubs.

“The stunning photographs and the heartfelt stories in ‘A Million Wings’ inspire people,” he writes. “While everybody will not play golf at Augusta National or play in the U.S. Open, they watch. They watch, they see it and it inspires them to play the game; it inspires them to play the game better.

“Like Augusta National, the private retreats shared by the individuals on these pages may seem like the ultimate experience. But these are the places that do the work to keep duck hunting alive. And through their stories and these photographs, they are inspiring people to get out there and hunt and to gain a better understanding of the sport. And like in golf, the big clubs and the professional game are a small part of the whole story, but they motivate people to grow the game. The families and the members in these clubs are the ones who motivate the rest of us. They are the ones who are growing the sport.”

Schadt explains the book’s name: “Witnessing the phenomenon of a million collective wings is a rare sight. Yet most sportsmen enthusiastically recollect massive numbers of ducks, millions of wings, seen in a single day, over multiple seasons or throughout a lifetime. Some exhibit decades of patience in anticipation of the possibilities and all extol the limitless pleasure they derive from a flight of ducks.

“The third in our series of collectible books that seeks to chronicle and preserve the unique culture and tradition of American duck hunting is a journey into that world, dedicated to the lure of nature and conservation efforts to restore and perpetually protect habitats and populations of migrant waterfowl.

“Our journey along the migratory route of the Mississippi Flyway follows the lower Mississippi Valley through Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. We begin in St. Charles County, Mo., at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, one of the finest confluences in the world, and conclude in the coastal marshes and bayous of southwest Louisiana.

“Our Wild Abundance Publishing team was welcomed wholeheartedly into this culture. We blessed the ducks; we traversed the timber and flooded wheat fields; ‘we’ shot a wild pig; we painted our faces; we were in full gear at 4:30 a.m.; we stood knee deep in water; froze our fingers and toes and we sipped circa 1895 whiskey. We learned about food plots and acorns, hens and drakes, when to shoot, when not to shoot and a few new jokes. We were fully immersed, thankfully not with a waderful of cold water but with respect, guidance and patience by our mentors.

“We felt the pleasure of anticipation, the beauty of the silence, the noises of the waking morn and the thrill of the first sight of ducks. We became part of the team, as eager as our subjects. The rare photographic glimpse into the 12 private retreats is a gift to be shared and is only eclipsed by the passion, trust and time the lodge owners and club members bestowed upon us.”

The historic duck clubs are part of our heritage in this part of the country. I couldn’t put the book down until I had flipped through all 260 of its pages. I’ve written at length on the Southern Fried blog about several of this state’s legendary duck hunters, men such as Wiley Meacham of Monroe County and the aforementioned George Dunklin Jr. of Arkansas County. While impressed with their ability to call and shoot ducks, I’m most impressed by their dedication to the land and their conservation efforts.

“Throughout our journey, we certainly saw hundreds of thousands of wings,” Schadt writes. “Those spectacular displays made for great photographs and unforgettable stories. But ultimately, they point to the dedication of all the sportsmen in this book and across the country. The most amazing story is the way that outdoorsmen have worked together with truly remarkable results. Thanks to them, future generations will experience awe-inspiring moments, poignant memories and the astonishing prospect of a million wings.”  

 

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