OUTDOORS: 2011-12 Duck season wrap up — above average overall
By: JOHN FLORES
As we enter the last weekend of the 2011-12 duck season in the state’s west zone and next to last weekend in the east zone, this year’s spectacular start way back in early November has settled down to what will probably finish as an above average season overall.
Duck seasons can have their dog days, just like summer. The past couple weekends have seen bluebird days with no wind. Combine that with blind, decoy and call wary ducks and easy limits that were had back in November find hunters begging for a shot within range in January.
Larry Reynolds, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Waterfowl Study Leader, said, “The duck season has probably been better than average across the state. Bag-check data from our coastal WMAs was very good during the first split and first couple of weeks of the second split, but have slowed down quite a bit lately. In the eastern part of southwest Louisiana the hunting has been good to spectacular.
“However, the further west you go from there, the more variable it’s been, with poorer success overall. Reports from southeast Louisiana have been consistently good, but now we’re getting the ‘lots of birds in open water, but you can’t get to them,’ complaints.”
Just prior to Christmas, I received an email from White Lake Conservation Area that my lottery marsh hunt, scheduled for Dec. 29, had been canceled due to low water conditions. WLCA is one of the crown jewels of the Mississippi Flyway. To have the hunt canceled was a great disappointment, as it was to be one of the highlights of my personal duck season.
The point being, drought across the state has also impacted hunter success. Where one lease has water and another doesn’t, it can become a case of the haves and have-nots when it comes to waterfowl. Even Reynolds mentioned his own lease didn’t have enough water to float decoys.
One report that I received last weekend from a friend who hunts below Forked Island mentioned that he had hammered the redheads and gadwalls. In short, he was covered in birds. But, across the road just a couple miles away, a friend of his never fired a shot. Water played a huge role in both hunters’ outcome late in the season.
But, the bigger picture weather-wise, beyond bluebird days and drought, may be the mild winter we’ve had and not enough cold to push large numbers of new birds into the state, particularly mallards.
Reynolds said, “I flew the mid-winter survey last week and estimated 2.8 million ducks in coastal Louisiana and Catahoula Lake, which is about average for the last 5 years and a little below the long-term average. Mallards were only 104,000, which is the second lowest on record only to 2009. Gadwalls were most abundant and there was a big influx of diving ducks — primarily ring-necks and primarily in southeast Louisiana, since the December survey.
About 1.5 million of those birds were in southeast Louisiana, 1.2 million in southwest Louisiana and 95,000 on Catahoula Lake, where water levels had increased to above target levels. Of the 95,000 on Catahoula, 94,000 were divers and 82,000 of those were canvasbacks. The estimate of 140,000 canvasbacks on the survey is the second highest on record.”
By contrast, goose numbers haven’t come close to peaking yet, as the larger bodies remain further north and only in the past week have moved towards the middle part of the state.
Rick Hall, who guides for Doug’s Hunting Lodge, says the goose hunting has been below average.
Hall said, “We haven’t had enough cold weather to push geese into the state — they’re all north of us. Our goose hunting has been below average this year, but our duck hunting has been really good. We normally have much better speck hunting and Canada geese have usually migrated into the state by now. We don’t have hardly any Canada geese in the area. But, as long as the hunters you’re guiding have something to shoot at, they’re happy when they go home.”
Even with new birds coming into the state in the next few days, providing west and east zone hunters an opportunity to close out their season on a high note, it may mean changing a few tactics. One tactic is abandoning fixed blinds and get in the grass. Another is to call less or not at all. Still yet another tactic is to use all male decoys, where their color really pops on bluebird days. Lastly, pick up the robo-ducks for the year.
Hunters and fishermen across the area are invited to join the members of Bayou Vista Baptist Church for their 10th Annual Wild Game Supper Saturday at 6 p.m. This year’s event promises to be fun-filled with plenty deer, elk, wild hog and other game to feed an army.
Keynote speakers for this year’s supper is David Fortenberry and Gene Hoyt, president and vice president of Team Crossland, makers of deer, turkey, waterfowl and elk game calls.
Hoyt is a World Champion Turkey Caller and has been featured in Louisiana Sportsman and Louisiana Game & Fish magazines. He also appeared in three videos — “Boss Busters by Indian Archery,” “Making Memories by Pittman Game Calls” and “Spring Tradition by Crossland Game Galls.” Tickets are a $10 donation, and proceeds go to help feed the poor in the local community. Tickets can be obtained at the door.
For more information contact Ken Cooper 985-395-9607.
If you wish to make a comment or have an anecdote, recipe or story you wish to share, you can contact John K. Flores by calling 985-395-5586 or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.