There are bigger duck clubs in Arkansas than Bull Sprig, which comes in around 1,200 acres, all told. There are definitely more plush clubs, too.
But few are better known, have a better reputation or are more appreciated by its members who have spent decades there, bound through a common love for hunting.
“I guess the biggest joy I get out of managing Bull Sprig is keeping things in a good shape so we can have good hunts down there,” said G. Doyne Williams, who’s approaching his 45th duck season as an owner.
“It’s a lot of personal satisfaction. Some of the other members who are gone now but who were there when I first got in were really fine gentlemen and good hunters and had good ethics. I spent some very happy times hunting with them.”
Called To Duty
Bull Sprig Hunting Club, near Humphrey, was commercial hunting grounds in the 1940s, but a scarcity of ducks in the 1960s drove the daily bag limit down to two (one mallard), effectively ending the operation’s usefulness as a corporate enterprise. By 1966 the original owners were looking to get out and caught the attention of a group of hunters, half of them physicians, looking to buy a spread.
Williams, a heart surgeon, was invited to be in on the original ownership, but declined.
“There were 10 people in the Little Rock area that wanted to buy it for the enormous sum of $125,000. Back then that was a lot of money,” he said. “I was a resident then in thoracic surgery, but I was offered an opportunity to buy into it because I had a close friend that I hunted with. I couldn’t think about it. I was married, I had two kids and investing that much in a duck hunting place was sort of ridiculous.”
Besides, Williams said, about that time, “the military offered me an all-expense paid tour of South Vietnam. I couldn’t get out of that.”
Williams changed his tune when fellow owner Gus “Buddy” Blass stepped up and offered to buy an extra membership, earmarked for Williams to purchase upon his return from the service.
“I said, ‘Well, that’s generous of you.’ One of his relatives told me later he wasn’t being generous, he was going to make money and anyway, he did,” Williams recalled with a chuckle. “In ‘72, I was a professor over at the Med Center making a little money, not much. I told Buddy I could buy it.
“My share should have been $12,500, but he said, ‘Well, this thing’s turned out pretty good so I want $25,000 for it.’ Even that was very reasonable, so I bought it.”
It was a great investment. Bull Sprig is still considered among the best green timber to hunt anywhere on the Grand Prairie and Williams, 82, is its elder statesman, the last of his peers who bought the club in 1966.
Despite this, the bloodline of the place has remained surprisingly intact and enjoyed consistent, steady leadership. There have only been three club presidents since Bull Sprig’s founding and Williams is one of them, the others being Meyer Marks (1965-1966) and Dr. Hal Black (1966-1990).
In A Word: Water
On Williams’ watch the club expanded to its current size and pumping equipment was upgraded to meet the challenges brought on by dramatic agricultural advancements.
Rice cultivars today mature so fast that irrigation runoff that used to be for the taking in the fall is now off the fields in August. This forces clubs like Bull Sprig to find other water sources, such as the adjoining swamp that’s part of the property, but subject to the whims of Mother Nature.
“My biggest concern, and it will be again this year, is can we get the water when we need it,” Williams said. “I’ve got a re-lift over in the swamp which is a variable water source. You never know what the water’s going to do in there. It’s level, we call it Hufford Brake. The water level in there goes up and down like a woman’s skirt length, you know?
“We get the majority of our water out of the Big Ditch. I have two pumps up there where the corner of our club cuts across it. It’s become more and more difficult to have a reliable water source in late September and October because of the agricultural changes.”
One thing that hasn’t changed in all these years is the club’s respect for the habitat. Chunks of the property have always been strictly rest areas for the ducks, just one of several environmental rules that have been rigidly enforced since the beginning.
“The older people really understood the importance of preserving habitat,” Williams said. “When we formed the club, it was immediately agreed there would be no central clubhouse and no one could own any property. If you wanted a place to stay down there, you could bring in a mobile home, but it had to be on wheels and had to be easily removed. No tree cutting or things like that went on. Our living quarters on that thousand acres are down in the very most remote southwest corner; all the mobile homes are clustered together there and the rest of it is just the way it was.
“We’re draconian with some rules but over the years it’s really paid off,” he said. “You have to protect your habitat. It’s all you’ve got.”