There are few families as firmly synonymous with Arkansas duck hunting as the LaCotts. Up and down the family tree, five generations have practiced the arts of guiding, calling and hunt club management straight through to today.
“I can remember going out there as far back as I can remember, going into the woods, Daddy carrying me everywhere we went,” said Sid “Deuce” LaCotts II.
“I went to college in Monticello, but I pretty much always wanted to [guide]. And our grandfather, he’d gotten a little older and he was getting kind of tired of it. When I came back from college, my brother and I wanted to start guiding again and Grandpa said, ‘Have at it.’ ”
The boys’ father, Sid LaCotts I, died at 39 from a heart attack while duck hunting, so Deuce and his younger brother Bart learned their trade primarily from their grandfather, Clarence Elmer “Tippy” Lacotts. Every day with him was a living, breathing history lesson about the arts of guiding, hunting techniques and family lore.
“He was great. Very outdoorsy,” Deuce said of his grandfather, who died in 2001. “He worked at the post office all his life when he came back from World War II. He and my grandma both worked up there. They both retired from there.”
Deuce, 47, and Bart, 45, who stood out from their six siblings thanks to their enthusiasm for hunting, shared a particularly close relationship with their grandfather, a living legend in duck hunting circles. Tippy took over some family property on Mill Bayou from his father, Clarence Elmer LaCotts Sr., a former commercial hunter who’d guided at Stinking Bay on the White River. Getting the new property up to snuff was no small feat.
“Back in those days you didn’t have all this heavy equipment,” Tippy told Steve Bowman and Steve Wright in their 1998 book Arkansas Duck Hunter’s Almanac. “It was quite a job to go out in the woods and make levees that would hold water at a decent level. That’s what you called fixing up a place.”
As it happened, the limited amount of “fixing” Tippy could do to the 270-acre property was a blessing. Here, just outside DeWitt, Mother Nature had already created the ideal spot of green trees and water upon which man could not much hope to improve. It wasn’t long before the operation, billed as “LaCotts’ Duck Hunter’s Paradise” in advertisements of the day, lived up to the highest expectations.
“It wasn’t near as many guides as there are now. Very few people did it,” Deuce said. “[Tippy] kind of started that.”
Under Tippy’s guidance, the operation gained a reputation for some of the finest hunting to be had, a claim aided by one of its most devoted and passionate clients, Nash Buckingham. Buckingham, one of the most famous waterfowl writers of all time, wrote in detail about his hunts with Tippy among the flooded pin oaks in his book Blood Lines.
“‘Take trees,’ laughed Elmer, ‘We don’t need to go any farther,’ ” Buckingham wrote in “Wax and Wane,” using Tippy’s given name. “By now the heavens were literally alive with mallards. … And seemingly in a trice, ducks began lighting all around us, completely filling the open pools for an acre.”
Tippy himself proved adept at turning a phrase when describing his beloved Mill Bayou grounds, telling Bowman and Wright the ducks there were “thick as gnats in a swill pail.”
On The Spot
In the days before Internet, or even television, a destination like LaCotts’ lived and died by word of mouth. Aided by Nash’s prose, word soon got around and Tippy found himself sought after by titans of the business world, senators and even foreign dignitaries seeking the perfect day’s shooting.
Foremost among these guests was Edgar M. Queeny, head of Monsanto Corporation and one of the richest Americans of the early 20th century. Queeny was so taken with the spot he repeatedly tried to purchase it, making Tippy LaCotts one of the only men alive that could deny the billionaire what he wanted.
“He said, ‘Let me buy your place and I’ll build a clubhouse,’ ” LaCotts said in Arkansas Duck Hunter’s Almanac. “I said, ‘I just can’t part with it.’ He called me the last minute before he closed the deal at Stuttgart [for Wingmead, Queeny’s fabled hunting estate.]”
The back and forth did give Tippy the idea to build a lodge on the property, which he did with the backing of one of his wealthy clients. Building the place, dubbed the original Mud Lake Club, was something unheard of at the time.
“People around here thought he was crazy for building a lodge just to lodge hunters,” Deuce LaCotts said. “That was just insane at the time. Nobody did that. [Hunters] got hotel rooms and [guides would] go meet them at the hotel rooms.
“Anyway, he wanted a lodge and he said, ‘I’ll build one here by my house and I can watch over it’ so that’s what he did. He built a lodge right next to his house. It’s about five miles from the bayou where they hunted, so it worked out nice.”
Today, the original ground has passed from family hands, but the LaCotts name still looms large in hunting circles. A distant cousin, Justin LaCotts, operates an unaffiliated hunting lodge and guide service near where it all began outside DeWitt.
Deuce and Bart have transitioned to the goose guide business and ushered in the next generation — Bart’s sons Jon, 19, and Parker, 17, and Deuce’s 12-year-old son Sid III (aka “Trey”) — to the family franchise.
Although Bart is retired from guiding duck hunters, Deuce still takes groups out for another outfit, always to the areas he knows as home.
“I’ve taken a million people on their first duck hunt, I guess. Taken a lot of my friends on their first duck hunt,” he said. “My favorite place to go is Mill Bayou, by far. It’s easy to get to. And I tell you the truth, I’ve never hunted anywhere else very much. I’m spoiled rotten.
“There’s some great places to go but I just know that place so well, so it’s easy for me. It’s just set up for duck hunting. There’s no other purpose for that spot except for duck hunting. That’s what God made it for.”