For mallards, some hunters are heading out of state. Above, are Dr. Todd Arcement, left, and Hunter Andras in Oklahoma.The 2019-2020 Coastal Waterfowl Season will end Sunday. (Submitted Photo/Hunter Andras)
Coastal waterfowl season ends Sunday
When the sun sets Sunday afternoon, the 2019-2020 Coastal Waterfowl Season will draw to a close. The season will remain open in the east and west zones for another week.
For some Louisiana duck hunters, the season can’t end soon enough. Essentially, the 60-day season was a bust with few ducks bagged to show for their efforts. These guys have pretty much taken to social media to blow off steam and join what in recent years has become a verbal beat down of waterfowl management practices up and down the flyways.
For others, like Hunter Andras, owner of DukNutz decoy anchors, the season has had its ups and downs, but for the most part has been a good one. According to the young hunter from Chackbay and a group of guys he refers to as his team, they had quite a bit of success on public land this season. The Atchafalaya Delta Wildlife Management Area being one of those public areas.
“I am seeing tons of drama on social media and forums with complaints from hunters throughout Louisiana,” Andras said. “Each person has an opinion or feel they are a subject matter expert on waterfowl migration. But, as I see it, times have changed, and each hunter needs to adapt to our new style of hunting. The glory days in Louisiana have disappeared.
“With that said,” Andras continued, “we still have tons of birds in our area. Our focus needs to be in our state and how we can benefit Louisiana versus worrying about what the northern states have or what they are doing.”
One of the things that hampered coastal marshes in 2019 was the impact of heavy flooding during much of the first half of the year and Hurricane Barry in July. High water shades out subaquatic plants, prohibiting them from growing, and saltwater intrusion from storm surge heavily damages and often kills succulent grasses ducks prefer.
For hunters with private leases, when this occurs, it leaves them often without a place that holds ducks.
In spite of adverse coastal conditions, Andras says he typically makes 35 to 45 hunts each season and mentions public land was the place to be this season.
“We were able to experience hunts from west Louisiana all the way to Venice and have success using larger spreads of decoys after searching for areas where vegetation still existed,” Andras said. “We also created a floating blind we call ‘Duk Hutz,’ which was a huge part of our success this season. Public land can be a handful to hunt at times. So, we decided to back off the crowds and hunt feeding birds in open areas. Our spreads of 200-plus decoys were a big asset getting large groups of birds in at a time.”
Bill Lake, owner/operator of Bayou Guide Service, spends much of the winter months hunting ducks instead of chasing speckled trout and redfish. Lake, who shares a duck lease with a few friends south of Gibson near the 70 Mile Canal, says his 2019-2020 season was better than expected.
“For the past three years, we didn’t see any ducks, much less shoot any,” Lake said. “This was the first year we had any kind of vegetation on our lease. The previous years I think it was a combination of things contributing to our problem of nothing for ducks to eat. We had an influx of apple snails in addition to a good population of Asian carp. When you can’t get one coot to show up, you know it’s bad!”
Lake feels over the past several years saltwater intrusion is the culprit to, as he puts it, what’s “killing” the marsh. Moreover, by contrast, he seems to think last summer’s high water helped flush the marsh and dumped fresh nutrients that fertilized his lease.
Whatever the reason for the 180-degree change from the previous year, Lake said, “This season our ponds were like mats of carpet with lush green grass, and the ducks showed up in masses like the good ole days. We have noticed that the ducks made a huge comeback, and most birds, including all the teal, were gorging themselves with small snails.”
Hunter Parra is someone, like Lake, who also hunts south of Gibson. Parra’s duck lease is in the marsh near an area local bass anglers refer to as the Orange Grove.
Parra admits to being obsessed with duck hunting, calling it his passion. He also meticulously journals every hunt he makes, notating dates, how many hunters and what species they harvested.
Two of the things Parra noticed comparing this year’s hunts to last year’s is this season, on the average, outings have produced more birds from fewer outings. The other is the number of puddle ducks has declined.
“Ring-necked ducks were extremely plentiful along with canvasbacks, and blue-winged teal were sparse on my lease,” Parra said. “But, all in all, like last year, it was another fantastic season.”
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Hunter Participation and Harvest Summary conducted last Sunday reflected 49% of the ducks harvested on the Atchafalaya Delta as being green-winged teal. Blue-winged teal made up 17%, and Gadwall, 15%. The most popular puddle duck, mallards, made up a paltry 1% of bag checks.
Looking back on opening day of the first split of the coastal duck season (Nov. 9) and opening day of the second split (Dec. 21), bag checks on three wildlife management areas — the Atchafalaya Delta, Pass a Loutre and Point Aux Chenes — no mallards were recorded from hunter bag checks.
Statistically, 40% of the Mississippi Flyway mallard population once wintered in Louisiana. The lack of mallards in the coastal marshes is disconcerting for duck hunters.
Lake and Andras have gone out of state to harvest mallards. Lake has made two trips to Arkansas, and Andras spent several days in December in Oklahoma. Both hunters have posted pictures on social media of heavy straps laden with limits of greenheads.
One weekend remains to hunt ducks along the coast. Whether public or private, there’s one more opportunity to bag a few ducks. Good luck!
EDITOR’S NOTE: John K. Flores is The Daily Review’s Outdoor Writer.