Gearing up for the hunt at Mack’s Prairie Wings
It was Oct. 5, the first rainy day in weeks, and the parking lot was filled with cars and pickup trucks at Mack’s Prairie Wings in Stuttgart. Inside, duck hunting fever was in the air as customers perused the aisles of the massive store filled with duck calls, decoys, camo clothing, waders and anything you could possibly need to bag your limit.
Rainy days usually mean good business for the iconic waterfowl outfitter because area farmers can’t work in the fields, says Chuck Lock, co-owner of Mack’s Prairie Wings/Mack’s Sport Shop, located on U.S. 63. Instead, they flock to Mack’s to get ready for the upcoming hunting seasons, especially duck/waterfowl season, which begins Nov. 18.
It’s a tradition that Lock knows well. In the 1960s and 1970s, Lock grew up hunting and fishing with his father in Stuttgart, located in Arkansas County, which is part of First Electric Cooperative’s service territory.
“My father always traded with Mack’s Sport Shop,” Lock says. “That’s where we always got hunting and fishing gear.”
From hardware to duck calls
Ducks have long migrated to the Stuttgart area, which is located along the Mississippi River Flyway, to winter in the bottomland hardwoods. Here, they have traditionally found lots of water and plenty of food such as acorns and other fruits and nuts. In the early 1900s, farmers began growing rice in the area, which attracted even more ducks and hunters. By the 1930s, M. T. “Mack” McCollum, who owned a hardware store on Main Street in Stuttgart had begun stocking a few items for those hunters. Back then, according to Mack’s Prairie Wings’ website, “Black rubber hip boots sold for $6, Duxbak Hunting coat $7, long underwear $1.50, a box of 12-gauge No. 6 or 7 ½ shot $2 and a Winchester Model 12 shotgun $65.”
By 1944, business for duck hunting was so good that McCollum bought a building next door and established Mack’s Sport Shop. In 1961, his son, M. T. McCollum Jr., known as Marion, began working there and took over the operation in 1979 as CEO and president when his father died. Around this time, Lock started working part time at the shop to save money to buy a car. He helped on weekends and after school selling “minnows, crickets, worms and cane (fishing) poles,” he says. When he graduated from Stuttgart High School, he asked McCollum if he had a full-time job for him. “He said, ‘I do, but you need to go to school,’” Lock recalls, adding that he finally convinced McCollum to let him stay instead of going to college.
In 1993, McCollum and Lock added a mail-order catalog business called Mack’s Prairie Wings. By 2002, they were mailing 2.4 million catalogs to customers nationwide. It remains one of the business’ top marketing efforts.
“It drives online sales; it drives people through the front door,” Lock says. “It just reinforces the story that we are America’s premiere waterfowl outfitter. And it’s not something that a guy just thumbs through and throws in the trash. It’s a coffee table piece.”
This year’s catalog is special, Lock says, because it pays homage to Marion, who passed away in June, with a cover photo of him dressed in his duck hunting gear, complete with a duck call around his neck. In addition to operating the business, Marion was active in habitat conservation and youth hunter education programs. He also served on the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission from 1995 to 2002. He was inducted into Outdoor Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Waterfowler Hall of Fame in 2016.
Marion and his father placed a premium on good customer service, and Lock continues that tradition. He says it is what make Mack’s stand out from other outfitters and big-box stores.
“Here at Mack’s Prairie Wings, we are very hands-on,” Lock says. “We take a lot of pride in the experience our staff has, and we learned customer service from probably the best guy in the business and that was Marion McCollum. He taught us how to take care of people.”
It is a successful strategy that has allowed the business to grow significantly over the decades. Today, Mack’s Prairie Wings has more than 120,000 square feet of warehouse and retail showroom space. Recently, Mack’s installed a state-of-the-art automated system in the warehouse that has significantly reduced the time to process catalog and online orders.
While mainstays such as shotguns and waders are among the store’s many offerings, Lock notes that new items designed to make the hunt for Stuttgart’s famous duck easier and more successful continue to be added. As for camouflage, it covers everything in the store from pants, boots, caps and jackets to duck blinds, rifles, gloves, chairs, tents and ice chests. In addition to hunting and fishing equipment, clothing and accessories, Mack’s Prairie Wings has popular casual clothing for men, women and children.
Mack’s is a longtime sponsor of the World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest and Wings Over the Prairie Festival, set for Nov. 24-25. Known as the largest outdoor expo in the Mid-South, the festival has a carnival and midway, food, 5k and 10K races, a duck gumbo cook-off and more. Visit stuttgartduckfest.com.
Mack’s Prairie Wings is located at 2335 U.S. 63 in Stuttgart. It is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is closed on Sunday. Call (877) 622-5779 or visit mackspw.com.