Businessmen and women occasionally need time away from the office.
Golf courses have long been considered the great corporate escape where business could be handled between holes or in the clubhouse. Duck blinds hold the same allure, maybe more today than ever before.
Certainly corporate members visiting Arkansas duck camps are nothing new. Arkansas waterfowl hunting clubs that have been around since the late 1800s were mainly owned by private groups. By 1956, private clubs comprised 1,820,921 acres in Arkansas. The clubs ranged from exclusive to primitive, depending on a hunter’s taste and depth of pocketbook.
Wingmead, a Scottish word meaning “meadow of wings,” is one of the most famous Arkansas duck camps. Edgar Monsanto Queeny, son of Monsanto Chemical Company founder John Francis Queeny, opened Wingmead in 1937.
No doubt many corporate people hunted Wingmead, along with a few celebrities like Walt Disney and the notable outdoor writer, Nash Buckingham. But as popular as it is, it is not the only place of its kind.
“There were many duck clubs close to Little Rock, about 20 miles from Stuttgart,” said Ken Hammonds, a former Twin City Bank executive. “There were three or four big clubs owned by banks. Worthen Bank and Trust, that was the largest bank in Arkansas and eventually became Bank of America, had a large, corporate, duck hunting club called Point D’Luce. The Lyon Family owned Crockett’s Bluff Hunting Lodge, our bank, Coca Cola Bottling of Arkansas and the Frank Lyon Company. The companies all shared the lodge from 1970 through 1994.”
Business On The Bluff
The Crockett’s Bluff Hunting Lodge and its history mirrors the growth of private clubs throughout the hunting industry. Sam Fullerton, who owned the Bradley Lumber Company, built the first lodge at this site in 1938. Used primarily during duck hunting season, the lodge served to entertain Fullerton’s customers in the lumber industry.
In 1955, the original lodge burned down, and Fullerton’s grandson S. Baker Fullerton built the present lodge in 1956 using native wood. The lodge became the property of the Potlatch Lumber Company in 1958 when it bought the Bradley Lumber Company and was later purchased by the Twin City Bank and Frank Lyon Company in 1970. On Aug. 1, 2008, the lodge was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Twin City Bank’s clients and bank employees found Crockett’s Bluff a great place to talk about business with their peers. Hammonds found the camp to be excellent for entertaining potential customers.
“The camp was a tremendous marketing tool,” Hammonds said. “We had a lot of our employees at the camp. We managed these hunts by divisions, for example, all consumer loan people at the same time so they could talk business. But we mainly had customers, some who flew in from New York or other faraway towns. They couldn’t wait to visit Arkansas for some duck hunting. A lot of business was conducted in the duck blinds.”
Crockett’s Bluff, located on the banks of the White River, was among Arkansas’s best duck hunting camps. Up to 22 overnight visitors stayed in a bunkhouse in the main building plus two duplex and single cabins in the compound. Clients were made to feel at home in a spacious dining room and large kitchen where the area’s best cooks served top-notch home cooking.
“Everyone arrived about four in the afternoon,” Hammonds said. “We had someone man the bar in our game room. Clients watched television, played cards or talked business until dinner. Hors d’oeuvres were passed around before scrumptious meals of deer steaks, fried chicken and quail with all the trimmings were enjoyed by the group.
“The following morning we had a simple, early breakfast so everyone could leave in time for the blinds. Everyone returned from the morning hunt to big piles of bacon, sausage, eggs, pancakes and biscuits and gravy, a good country breakfast.”
The clubhouse was located on the bluff overlooking the river. The hunters enjoyed drinks and cigars there while watching barges and boats float past. In fact, hunters returning from the blinds could often look up and see a round of bloody marys waiting on a silver tray.
Hunts were well organized. A large boat hauled hunters down the river to wagons hooked to tractors for transportation to a couple of lakes. Hunters loaded into fishing boats for a short trip to the blinds.
The heavily camouflaged blinds were set in an area with good duck numbers. When more than 22 hunters were invited, the club leased another plot of land about 20 miles away by car where a blind with decoys and a guide were ready to hunt.
“Crockett’s Bluff was visited by judges, doctors, lawyers, contractors, builders and all the customers we had,” Hammonds said. “We took everyone to Crockett’s Bluff instead of golf outings or trips. Everyone loved it and we catered to two or three generations of families and had annual, father-son hunts.
“Our customers remained extremely loyal to our bank. We finally sold the bank and Crockett’s Bluff in 1995. People are constantly telling me how much they loved that hunt and the excellent food.”
Arkansas’s bountiful duck hunting made corporate ventures in the marshes a smart business tool. Today corporate groups can find any kind of duck hunting camp from high end to basic services.
Many of these camps are still used as marketing tools by corporations. Tyson Foods had a club near Slovak and Arkansas Best Corporation (ABF) has one near Brummitt while Riceland Foods is aligned with Double Deuce near Gillett. Big companies learned early that clients are thrilled to be wined and dined and then treated to the excitement of a hunt managed by professional guides that do everything but shoot the ducks or geese.
“We have corporate people at the Double Deuce 40 out of 60 days during the waterfowl season,” said Robert Fox, of the Double Deuce. “Riceland Foods comes in here a lot. They may bring in customers or employees from the dog food, beer and other divisions. We tell each customer what we have to offer and they decide if it’s enough.
“I guess they like our outfit because we have the same customers return every year. They only have to show up with their shotgun, shells and warm clothing, we do the rest.”
The Double Deuce’s owner is Kevin McReynolds, who played for the New York Mets and San Diego Padres from 1983-1994. He realizes the importance of corporate hunts and has created a first class establishment.
Customers check into their rooms and are invited to the open bar for drinks and conversation, a very valuable time for meeting with customers or peers. Dinner is standard country food, but clients order from a menu. The following morning a quick breakfast of cinnamon rolls and coffee is offered before the drive to the duck blinds. After the morning hunt the clients sit down to a big breakfast, an Arkansas tradition.
Some clients stay for two or three days and are treated to a deli shop meat tray for lunch and steaks or whatever the client wants for dinner. Most order southern fried chicken or catfish.
“We start with a safety course each morning and then drive our clients to their blinds,” Fox said. “Then our hunters sit on a bench and wait until the guides tell them to stand up and shoot. We control the hunt for safety.
“Many of our corporate people talk business between flights of ducks coming in. Some of these men and women have only done business over the phone and now they are meeting in person for the first time. Putting a face behind each name is very good for business and our clients occasionally return together after the first meeting.”
The Crossheirs Retreat Centers, located close to Stuttgart, took a different approach by featuring above-average lodgings for duck hunters. In 2000, The Wall Street Journal called the lodge the Taj Mahal of duck hunting.
“During duck season we welcome duck hunters,” owner Matt Mosler said. “We charge $100 per night including dinner and brunch. We partner with three guide services. Guests contact them for prices and services. We are very close to Arkansas’ famous green-timber hunting. Guests may check their shotguns on our Wobble Trap course.”
Crossheirs is a lodge suited for smaller corporate groups. The property has plenty of meeting space and amenities.
“We only run 500 hunts each season, and about half are corporate people,” said Kirby Carlson, of Arkansas Duck Masters, near Proctor. “We cover safety and then make sure they have a great experience. What we do reflects on the corporate boss, so we cover all bases. We include Internet access and a conference room for doing business between hunts. But a lot of their work seems to happen in the blind between flights.”
Some hunting lodges are designed for the upper class with gourmet meals prepared by top chefs, the best brandy and top-shelf cigars. Many such camps have gun bearers to hand each gentleman his shotgun just before he shoots.
Only a couple of these camps are located in Arkansas and representatives declined to reveal their names or locations. But big money in waterfowl hunting is nothing new.
Buck Gardner, world champion duck caller and owner of Buck Gardner Duck Calls has hunted in Arkansas for more than 50 years and has been a guide since he was 18. He has seen the corporate presence grow through the years and says it’s still growing.
“A few of the bigger corporations have their own properties that are cared for year round,” Gardner said. “A friend owns property with the best mallard hunting I have ever seen. He has 20 members that pay $20,000 each per year and they are only allowed to hunt Wednesday afternoons, Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings. The owner has a waiting list of people wanting membership. I am paid $30,000 to guide two days each year.”
The majority of that particular club’s members are corporate people. The owner may get a call requesting hunts two times a year with six people. The group flies in a corporate jet to a waiting limousine. Everything is provided, including guns, ammunition, hunting clothing and other necessities.
Gardner found that most large companies have little choice but to lease waterfowl resources in Arkansas because few properties are available.
“Even people with lots of money can’t buy prime Arkansas waterfowl hunting property these days,” Gardner said. “People have bought up green-timber hunting properties and few if any are left. A man over at Stuttgart bought 1,300 acres at $26,000 an acre. I think $1,000 an acre is a lot of money for duck woods.”
That may be a lot of money per acre, but the chance to hold a corporate hunt, and maybe turn a bigger deal in the duck blind, appears to be worth it.
Kenneth Kieser is an award-winning sportswriter and active member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America and the Missouri Outdoor Communicators.