OUTDOORS: Opening day of duck season is spectacular
By: JOHN FLORES
Only one word can describe opening day of duck season out on the Atchafalaya Delta Wildlife Management Area this past weekend and that’s “spectacular” given the reports that came in from officials and hunters across the region.
From the opening bell of legal shooting light at 6:01 a.m. when the first shot rang out, the sound of gunfire never stopped until well after 10 a.m. along the coast on the Wax Delta side of the WMA. If Veterans Day on Friday the eve of duck season was the day we honored veterans past and present, then Saturday just might have been a 1,000 gun salute on the Delta kicking off the opening of the 2011-12 edition.
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries wildlife agent Sgt. Ross Mire, who worked the Wax Delta side of the WMA on opening day said, “I tell you what. It kind of reminded me of what it used to be like. I’ve been working 21 years with the Wildlife and Fisheries. This will be 20 duck seasons, I think, so far for me. You used to see a whole lot of people at the game preserve. The duck hunting on the Delta has kind of gone up and down. But, now it’s as good as it has ever been.”
Real numbers from bag checks were proof that Saturday’s opening day may go down as one of the best ever. Cassidy Lejuene, a biologist supervisor with the LDWF, who works out of the New Iberia office, definitely felt it was one of the better openers.
“It was a good opening,” Lejuene said, pointing to years of statistical data his department has been collecting. “The average for the WMA from around 2002 up until present or last season was in the 1 to 2 birds per hunter range. So, when you’re out there and these guys are out there killing an average of 4.4, that’s pretty impressive.
“The low years were from 1.2 to 1.5. We had some years that were 2 birds per hunter. We had some years, like back in ’95 and ’96 where it was 3 birds per hunter. Last year, overall, it was 2.4. So, you’re looking at a range of 1 to 3 birds as the overall average of the WMA for maybe the last 15 years. When you have an opening weekend of 4.4 birds or so per hunter, I’m pretty optimistic for the remainder of the season.”
Opening weekend on the Delta, according to local hunter Adam Rhodes, was less duck hunting and more duck shooting.
Rhodes elaborated saying, “We had a great opening weekend. We limited out both days. It was more duck shooting than duck hunting. There were tons of people down there. You had to shoot whatever flew by because there was no chance of working a flock. But, that’s how it is on the Delta. We killed a mixed bag of red heads, canvasbacks, gadwalls, teal, mallards, mottled ducks, pintails, and widgeon — definitely a variety of birds.”
Lejuene’s team of biologists checked nearly twice as many hunter bags opening weekend compared to the previous year, indicating hunter participation on the WMA was up as well.
“Last year’s opening day harvest numbers were equally impressive,” Lejuene said. “Last year we talked to a little over 300 hunters and spent about the same amount of time doing it. This year we surveyed and interviewed 500 people doing our bag checks. So, it’s just impressive that that many hunters did equally well. But, this year you had maybe as much as twice as many hunters who killed over 4 birds per hunter — that’s pretty impressive.”
The Atchafalaya Delta wasn’t the only region of the state where hunters limited opening morning. Doug Sonnier, owner and operator of Doug’s Hunting Lodge in Klondike, near Lake Arthur Lodge, reported hunters who hunted his duck and goose blinds had also done well.
“It was great,” said Sonnier, who runs a full service lodge, with a variety of hunt packages available to guests. “Everybody limited out — it was good. The speck until was good on Saturday and on Sunday all of the goose hunters did good. And, the combination blinds with ducks and geese did good too.”
With record drought across much of the state, it basically came down to whomever had water had birds.
Sonnier said, “The rice fields, they’re all pumped up with water, but it’s in the marsh where we’re short of water. We’re hunting only half of our blinds in the marsh and it’s still good hunting. There’s plenty of birds — a lot of teals in the marsh — and plenty of mallards. And, in Thornwell they did good on the mallards too.”
Rick Moore, owner operator of Rick Moore Farms near Welch, had similar results opening weekend.
“Yesterday out of 14 blinds, we had two that didn’t limit,” Moore said. “It was excellent — excellent hunting. Opening day was actually stupid with ducks. I think we had 220 ducks killed in all of the blinds. And, we shot a lot of mallards, which we normally don’t kill during the first split. That’s normally later. But, we killed mallards and a few pintails. Sunday was also good.”
The Atchafalaya Delta has both puddle ducks and diving ducks. One area that seemed to be problematic opening weekend was hunter’s lacking the ability to identify certain species of ducks such as canvasbacks and redheads.
The Atchafalaya Delta is one region where there are high numbers of canvasbacks, redheads and scaup. The limit on these three species of divers is one canvasback, two redheads, and two scaup.
“We run into a lot of people who didn’t know how to identify their redheads,” Mire said. “The limit is two and there are a lot of redheads out there. We had over the limit violations of canvasbacks too. Unfortunately, I wish more people knew how to identify them before they shot, because we picked up 8 floating dead birds. It’s kind of one of those judgment calls. They see and know if they pick it up and bring it in they’re in violation and if they leave it and just let it go, they’re still in violation.”
Agents also remind boaters that if you’re under 17 years of age (16 and under), you must wear a personal floatation device whenever the boat you are driving or a passenger in is under way.
Mire said, “It just seems when people are out hunting they don’t associate hunting with boating. The new law changed a few years ago and we started enforcing it. You have a lot of people who don’t realize that. And, there are a lot of kids out there hunting.”
If you wish to book a hunt with Doug’s Lodge you can reach Sonnier by calling 800- 888-0960 or his website www.dougshuntinglodge.com. To book a hunt with Rick Moore Farms you can reach Moore by calling 337-540-5211.
If you wish to make a comment you can contact John K. Flores by calling 985-395-5586 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
HUNTER PARTICIPATION /
Wildlife Management **Area Ducks Harvest **Number of hunters Kill Per hunter Hunters Checked
Atchafalaya Delta 3530 800 4.4 500
Main Delta 560 125 4.5 61
Main Delta LAA* 60 10 6.0 5
Wax Delta 2625 610 4.3 395
Wax Delta LAA* 285 55 5.2 39
* Limited Access Area **Estimates