Duck season had its ups and downs this year. (Submitted Photo/Courtesy of John K. Flores)
The 2017-18 waterfowl season one of ups, downs
Last week I got an email from Jay Strangis, editor of American Waterfowler magazine, asking me – like he does each year about this time – how Louisiana’s waterfowl season was. I said, “Well, Jay, it depends on who you ask.”
Essentially, most of the reports that I received were up and down where you happened to be hunting and what you were willing to shoot.
One of those people I asked was Hunter Andras. Andras is owner of DukNutz decoy anchors and is someone who really is a “duck nut.” You only have to hunt with him one time to see the passion he has for waterfowl hunting.
Andras told me that even though the overall season he considered a down year for most, he personally had another fantastic season in south-central Louisiana.
Andras said, “We battled freezing temperatures, lower-than-normal water levels, and a marsh that froze over three times this season. We even seen snow twice. We got to learn some new techniques – basically hunting with the elements – while taking on everything Mother Nature threw at us. But, we specifically targeted canvasbacks this season and other diving ducks like ringnecks. On 14 targeted hunts, our group of guys harvested 78 canvasbacks, with 63 being drakes.”
One of my good friends from Lafayette, Danny Womack, is someone who invites me a couple of times each winter to hunt ducks with him near Pecan Island. This region south of Abbeville, most years, is hard to beat when it comes to harvesting gadwalls and green-winged teal. This year, my usual phone call where Womack invariably says, “Whatcha doing this weekend?” never came.
My friend told me the ducks never showed up in any numbers. In fact, on opening day of the second split, when duck numbers normally begin to peak in that area, he never fired a shot.
Good friend and renowned decoy carver Cal Kingsmill lives in New Orleans and usually hunts around Delacroix and in the past hunted the Biloxi marsh southeast of Chalmette. Kingsmill and I exchanged notes a week ago on how our respective seasons went.
According to Kingsmill, in his words, the season wasn’t so good. There seemed to be quite a few green-winged teal, but bigger ducks like mallards, widgeon and gray ducks never showed.
There appeared to be one constant theme from the central Louisiana coastline to the southeast: there was plenty of diving ducks, particularly ringneck ducks, to shoot.
During the three months that encompass the duck season, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries conducts aerial winter population surveys.
Always the first week of each month, as weather permits, biologists fly transects counting and estimating waterfowl numbers from one end of the state to the other. The December survey revealed there were 750,000 ringneck ducks, with the majority in the east.
The thing about ringnecks and other diver species of ducks, like scaup and canvasbacks, is few waterfowl hunters target them. Ringnecks and scaup, known as “blue-bills” and “dos gris” to duck hunters, are not considered to be quality ducks when compared to puddle or dabbling ducks like mallards, widgeon, pintail, gadwall and teal.
They can be a bit harder to skin and therefore, clean. Their taste is considered stronger than dabbling ducks and often compared to liver. And, though I disagree, most don’t consider them as pretty.
Let me say, a scaup or ringneck duck in full mating plumage in late December and January can be spectacular. Drake scaup, both lesser and greater species, have a deep purple, almost black, head that reveals iridescent hues of purple and green that are spectacular.
In the southwest Louisiana rice fields, white-fronted geese are king.
Champion goose caller Jack Cousin hunts the Gueydan area in this region.
Cousin, who had one of his best seasons ever last year, said, “I’d say we were just as successful on speckle-bellies this year as we were last year. The extreme cold temperatures that we experienced in mid-December and early January seemed to slow down our success a bit, as it kept the birds sitting. In my area, we had a healthy number of specks and snows for the majority of the season, with some big ducks showing up around early to mid-January.”
Cousin, besides being someone who speaks white-fronted goose as a second language, is also a master at concealment.
Cousin said, “It’s very difficult to maintain a level of success by going about your approach the same way, no matter what waterfowl you’re chasing, in my opinion. Keeping your decoys clean and your blind brushed are just a couple of techniques I use throughout the season to give myself the best possible chance to be successful daily.”
Most waterfowl hunters I talked with seemed to all have had their ups and downs during the 2017-2018 season, with most agreeing “big ducks” showed up late again this year.
Nonetheless, they were also quick to put the season behind them with an optimism that next year will be better.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Flores is The Daily Review’s Outdoor Columnist. If you wish to make a comment or have an anecdote, recipe or story to share, you can contact Flores at 985-395-5586 or at firstname.lastname@example.org