As the duck season kicked off in mid-November, Louisiana waterfowlers held hope that Old Man Winter would arrive to bring down the hoards of birds we had all heard about. A strong spring hatch held promise for a banner duck season at the lower end of the flyway if we could only get that elusive "freeze-up" the old timers speak of.

Well, a freeze-up we got, albeit with more than half of the season expired. From the northern plains to the swamps of South Louisiana, record low temperatures locked up much of the waters in between. Though a few more birds came down, it wasn't exactly what we'd all hoped for after such a rare event. The tale of the season was riddled with, among other things, inconsistency. Between the abnormally frequent rain events and the interspersed warm-ups between the fronts, it seemed the birds had the upper hand for most of the season.

Hunter Shaffett of Whispering Oaks hunting club in Concordia Parish reported a strong finish to a season that overall wasn't what he had expected.

"We had plenty of mallards the last two weeks of the season," Shaffett said. "Not really much of anything else, but lots of mallards."

The guide noted that a lot of the water in his area finally subsided, helping to target the birds after enduring so much flooding most of the season. One late-season tactic that Shaffett noted to be particularly effective was making afternoon hunts.

"For some reason they just worked better for us in the afternoons," he explained. "We'd kill a few in the mornings but the afternoons saved us, especially late in the season. It just seemed the birds were much more decoy and call shy in the mornings."

Shaffett also said that using very few decoys – as few as four or five – was key to late-season success on mallards, noting that the birds seemed to favor landing with the hen decoys.

In Southwest Louisiana, Erik Rue of Calcasieu Charter Service reported a decent end to the 2009-10 season, but still feels overall it was a disappointing year.

"Our hunting was slow during that early January cold weather, but we did pretty well after the temperatures warmed a bit," the guide reported.

Rue's bags were usually mixed with pintails, mallards and specklebelly geese, noting that the specks were about the most-consistent action throughout the season. From a numbers perspective, Rue said harvest for all birds was down at least somewhat from a typical year, although he noted a particularly sharp decline in snow goose harvest.

"The snows were just never here like they usually are," Rue said. "I'd see a few thousand here and there but never what we'd usually consider a 'big' body of tens of thousands."

Over in the Gueydan/Klondike area, Rick Hall of Doug's Hunting Lodge echoed Rue's sentiment of not seeing as many geese this year.

"They just weren't here," Hall said. "The geese were a real disappointment for us this year."

Fortunately for Hall and other guides with the outfit, the ducks showed up in respectable numbers in the second split to help to make up for a lackluster first split.

"At the end of the first split, we were down 31 percent from last year, but a strong second split helped us to finish only 8 percent down for the year," Hall reported.

And though he hadn't run all the numbers yet, Hall also felt that this year's second split was at least a little better than last year's.

"We were blessed to have the leases we have," Hall said, noting others in the area struggled for much of the season.

Other reports from the area indicate most had a far slower year than what's considered the norm for some of Louisiana's most storied marshes.

One area that seemed to hold its own this year was Venice, where Capt. Damon McKnight felt the season was a shade above average.

"The second split was really good; we were fortunate." McKnight said. "Toward the end it was mostly grey ducks and wigeon but also a lot of pintails showed up along with teal."

McKnight also said there was a strong late-season showing of canvasbacks, usually Venice regulars, along with redheads and dosgris.

In keeping up with internet reports on www.LouisianaSportsman.com, it seemed no one area was able to stay hot week in and week out. Strong hunts late in the week got everyone excited to hit the camp for the weekend, but all too often results were disappointing.

For so many of us disappointed in this season, it's going to be a particularly long countdown to September.