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“First Shooting Light” — Duck hunting clubs in Arkansas

If you’re looking for a late Christmas gift, you might consider stopping by Bauman’s at Little Rock’s Pavilion in the Park for a copy of the book “First Shooting Light.”

I know.

Bauman’s is a men’s store. But the store has this book, a gorgeous collection of photos and essays published by ArtsMemphis that focuses on duck clubs in Arkansas and Mississippi.

The photographer was Murray Riss, who established the photography department at the Memphis College of Art and taught there from 1968 until 1986.

Frank Schmidt of Guyette & Schmidt Inc., the world’s leading auctioneers of antique waterfowl decoys, says this: “The book reminds all of us who have had such experiences of the comfort of camaraderie in the blind, dogs and calls and the ultimate lure of migratory fowl. You’ll take a nostalgic journey back to those days of brisk early mornings, iridescent sunrises and shadowy figures in flight.”

Here are the Arkansas clubs featured in “First Shooting Light” —

1. 713 in Lee County — Terry McFarland was eating in a West Memphis restaurant in 1999 when he heard someone at the next table talking about “some great hunting near Marianna.” He listened to the directions, called friend Mac McKee and said “meet me in Marianna.” They bought the land.

There are 10 members with a 10-bedroom clubhouse and 1,280 acres to hunt. The book says the club is “perfectly located on the L’Anguille River and the St. Francis Floodway near the north end of the St. Francis National Forest, which is historically one of the greatest hunting areas in the Mississippi Flyway.”

2. Bayou DeView/Section 13 Farms in Woodruff County — The club was founded in 1972 when Bill Wunderlich saw a classified ad in the Memphis newspaper offering 1,800 acres for lease. He recruited 11 friends, and the club was born.

“In the 1960s, this marginal farmland, which was subject to frequent flooding by the bayou, was owned by speculators, who cleared the timber and leased the hunting rights,” the book notes. “When they decided to sell in 1978, the ‘Wunderclub’ members missed the chance to purchase it initially, but the next year the new owners sold them the northernmost 655 acres.”

The 10-bedroom, four-bath lodge was built in 1984. Club members are most proud of cypress trees in the bayou that are almost 1,000 years old.

3. Bear Bayou near Humnoke — The club, located 15 miles west of Stuttgart, was purchased by its current owners in 1983 after having been owned since the late 1940s by the Marks family of Stuttgart.

At the time the book was published three years ago, there were six members from Memphis, two from Little Rock and one from Chicago. The club has 400 acres of flooded timber, a 90-acre fishing lake, a 140-acre rest area planted with millet and 339 acres of rice fields.

The clubhouse, built in 1987, has 10 bedrooms, five baths and a long dinner table that will seat 20 people.

4. Blackfish Hunting Club in Crittenden County — Founded in 1978, the club has 1,500 acres. About 600 of those acres are flooded each season.

The clubhouse has two bedrooms and a bunkroom that can sleep eight people. A featured attraction is a cook known for her fried chicken, pork chops, greens, chicken and dumplings, bean soup and fried peach pies.

5. Circle T near Wabbaseka — The club, which is 13 miles from Stuttgart, was established in 1959 to entertain customers of Central Transformer Corp. of Pine Bluff. It was purchased by Chuck Smith Jr. of Memphis in 1991.

The clubhouse sleeps 22 people and even has an indoor swimming pool. Smith, who was instrumental in convincing Ducks Unlimited to move its headquarters to Memphis, built a nearby home designed by Memphis architect John Jones.

Loud country music is used to wake the hunters each morning before they go hunt the green timber.

6. Five Lakes Outing Club in Crittenden County — This club on Horseshoe Lake has been around since 1901 when a seven-mile strip of land bordering the lake was purchased for $4,000. The club consists of almost 5,000 acres and a clubhouse that was built in 1911.

“Traditions abound here,” the book states. “Special family events are held throughout the year, such as the annual dove hunt and picnic held on Labor Day. … There are many second- and third-generation owners.”

7. Five Oaks Duck Lodge near DeWitt — Owner George Dunklin Jr. is the current chairman of the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission and one of our state’s top conservationists. The club was established in 1983.

The book notes that “Deborah Dunklin Tipton and her brother, George H. Dunklin Jr., attribute their good fortune to lady luck and to their ‘unbelievable maternal grandfather,’ L.A. Black of DeWitt. His great foresight in amassing a tremendous amount of property in the Stuttgart area between 1907 and 1945 made possible the strong Black/Dunklin traditions of farming, hunting and conserving the precious Arkansas Grand Prairie land.”

The club offers hunting on 10,000 acres of flooded timber and fields. In 1983, the family bought the old Paradise Lodge, which had been owned by the Leatherman family and the Memphis Furniture Co., and renamed it Five Oaks.

8. 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.

This is the quotation carved into the wood mantelpiece of the clubhouse: “Here time is slow and gracious … a companion, not a master.”

The book notes, “In the earliest days, Olin and his guests stayed at the old Riceland Hotel in downtown Stuttgart and drove out to the Greenbriar lands to hunt, with only tents to protect them from the elements. Later, a clubroom was built in 1955 and a bunkhouse in the ’60s, with the main lodge being added in 1983 and a building to house more bedrooms in 1986. Today, the club comfortably sleeps 20 people with understated luxury in eight bedrooms.”

The owners include the children of Kemmons Wilson, the Holiday Inn founder.

9.  Hatchie Coon Hunting & Fishing Club between Marked Tree and Trumann — The book describes the club as “the oldest operating hunting club in the state of Arkansas and one of the oldest in the Southeast.”

The club was organized by a group of Memphis residents in 1889, though the 700-acre property wasn’t purchased from the state of Arkansas until 1892. In 1898, the club absorbed the Osceola Ducking Club (I love that name) and Oak Donic (another great name).

Hatchie Coon members say the chain of ownership goes like this: God, the native Americans, the French, the United States, the state of Arkansas and Hatchie Coon.

Hatchie Coon has 43 regular members along with junior, senior and lifetime members.

10. Kingdom Come near Stuttgart — The book says owners David Snowden Sr. and David Snowden Jr. of Little Rock view the club as “a refuge, both for the three generations of their family that currently hunt there and for who knows how many generations of ducks.”

The book tells how David Snowden Sr. “moved from Memphis to Little Rock following his graduation from the University of Virginia and his mother’s marriage to George Alexander. Snowden’s love for the outdoors led him to farming under the tutelage of Alexander. Aside from receiving his invaluable instruction, Snowden also was blessed to inherit Kingdom Come upon his stepfather’s death.

“Kingdom Come strikes everyone as a captivating name, and not surprisingly there is a lovely little story attached to its origins. Once upon a time it seems there was a worker on the family land who was helping down at the club. Mr. Alexander’s mother sympathetically (and a bit impertinently) inquired as to whether he was being fed properly by Mr. Alexander. In response, the man said, ‘Miss Teedie, I couldn’t be eating better than if I was in Kingdom Come.'”

11. Menasha Hunting & Fishing Club between Gilmore and Turrell — The original club was founded in 1902 and was sold in 1948 to Mary Kuhn of Marion. Club members leased land from her. She later sold the land to the club.

Duck blinds are located in Stave Lake and Mink Lake on the property. There also are 40 acres known as the Sanctuary that are planted with millet and used as a rest area.

The 11-bedroom clubhouse was built in 1974 after an earlier clubhouse burned.

12. Mud Lake Hunting Club near Hughes — A club on the property was established in 1902 by 10 prominent Memphis sportsmen. Originally consisting of 3,423 acres, the club was sold to the Oswalt family of Hughes in 1941.

The club ceased to exist in 1947 and was brought back to life by Bill Deupree of Memphis in 1997.

Mud Lake covers almost 1,000 acres and is an oxbow of the St. Francis River.

“The fact that the 75-year-old clubhouse was still standing was a piece of good fortune, especially in view of the fact that two earlier ones had burned,” the book states. “The beamed ceiling, large carved fireplace mantel and even the old dining table, chairs and sideboard had somehow survived.”

13. Claypool’s Reservoir (Wild Acres) near Weiner — Wallace Claypool of Memphis bought this land in 1941 as a sanctuary for ducks. He built a reservoir and 20 miles of roads.

The book picks up the story from there: “Mr. Claypool’s mission was the conservation of ducks, and he was famously quoted as saying that ‘if the wild duck is to avoid the fate of the passenger pigeon, somebody must furnish it with food, water and a place to rest.’

“Claypool’s Reservoir achieved national prominence when it was showcased on NBC. … And what a production it was to set up the crew and equipment in a remote spot and to conceal the trucks, the cameras and the power generators. Camouflaged blinds were specially built, including one which sat high atop a hickory tree.

“In an extraordinary combination of good luck and skill, the ducks were herded in front of the cameras at 3:14 p.m. on Dec. 23, 1956. There were two explosions — the first, three blocks of TNT in a rocket fired over the ducks — and then the second, 350,000 ducks lifting off the water, a sight which mesmerized millions of viewers and created a nationwide interest in Arkansas duck hunting.”

Claypool sold his land in 1966 to friends from Memphis. Hunting is only allowed each Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday morning during the season.

“First Shooting Light” was published in 2008 but still would make anyone who loves the Arkansas outdoors a fine Christmas gift.

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