Depending on who you talk to, the 2013-14 duck season was definitely a mixed bag for hunters across Louisiana.
Some started off strong and then fizzled during the second split, while others enjoyed success late in the season. Some folks shot lots of teal, while other hunters didn’t see many at all.
The only constant opinion was that most hunters thought it could have been better.
Capt. Gene Dugas with Rather Be Fishing/Hunting Adventures in Hopedale summed things up pretty well.
“It was okay, it wasn’t terrible,” Dugas said. “But it was far from being good.”
Larry Reynolds, the state’s waterfowl study leader for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, was even more blunt in his assessment of the season.
“The general feeling was that it was below average,” Reynolds said. “It was probably way below average in southeast Louisiana, and closer to average in southwest and northeast Louisiana.
“But I’ve been getting lots of complaints.”
The lack of ducks in the southeastern part of the state is particularly puzzling, he said, noting that bag checks from Atchafalaya Delta, Pointe Aux Chenes, Pass A Loutre and Salvador Wildlife Management Areas showed substantially lower numbers than last year.
“Southeast Louisiana is a really big enigma for me right now because we had good habitat conditions there. The submerged aquatic vegetation was good, and it remains good,” Reynolds said. “Even in the January survey, I flew over a good bunch of submerged aquatic vegetation.
“Of course, what that means is there haven’t been a lot of birds in that area using it.”
The season got off to a rocky start when teal were late to arrive, and never quite seemed to recover, he said.
“This year was a very strange year, and you know, it’s been strange since the beginning,” he said. “The teal migration was delayed and we had the lowest September survey on record. We followed it up with the second-lowest November survey on record, and if it wouldn’t have been for Catahoula Lake, the coastal transect survey was the lowest on record.
“So we have a lot of evidence that the migration was delayed this entire year. Maybe that was a function of the really late spring.”
Everyone wants to know why, but Reynolds said it’s too early to tell just yet. However, he said a number of factors probably contributed to fewer ducks making it into the state this season.
“The first is the late spring and how that delayed everything in the phenology of things. The second thing is the much better habitat we had north of us,” he said, noting the drought that gripped the midwest in 2011-12 finally broke. “And the way the weather came through.
“We’ve had really cold weather, and we had cold weather early. But that didn’t seem to bring down the number of birds.”
Capt. Nick Poe, with Big Lake Guide Service in Lake Charles, characterized the season as decent.
“It wasn’t as good as last year,” Poe said. “But we had some really good hunts.”
Poe said they killed about 80 specklebelly geese this year out of their marsh blinds.
“That was probably one of the highlights of our season,” he said. “It made a lot of hunts.”
He was surprised that except for a few days, he never really saw any teal.
“We shot big ducks all season long,” he said. “Most of the season was mallards, pintails and gadwalls. That was about it.”
The second half of the season wasn’t the greatest, he said.
“The second split sort of petered out for us,” Poe said. “We had our days that were really, really good, but for the most part if was sort of slow.”
David Faul, with Bin There Hunting in Welsh, said the season was a disappointment for the most part.
“For all the hoopla and everything they made it out to look like it was going to be a good one, and it sure was a letdown,” Faul said.
Teal didn’t arrive in his rice fields until a week after teal season ended, and the second split was a mystery to him.
“This second split was a total flop if you ask me, and I couldn’t give you a reason why,” Faul said. “I really do think the birds were down here, but I think they just went nocturnal on us.
“Because at night when we’d be sitting out here at the camp, you’d hear them fly over and go land in the rice fields and the crawfish ponds and feed all night by the thousands. In the morning, they’d fly up and leave.”
Dugas, with Rather Be Fishing/Hunting in Hopedale, said the first split was better for him, with teal, grays, spoonies and mottled ducks.
“The second split was mostly all teal for me, with very few gray ducks,” Dugas said. “From Christmas on, I didn’t even see many gray ducks.
“The second split never got going, and towards the end of the season the ducks were rafting up in big groups out in the bays. They weren’t in the ponds and didn’t want anything to do with the ponds.”
But he says his groups averaged six to eight ducks a hunt, and he scouted regularly and moved frequently.
“I think the big key to our duck season now is rainfall,” Dugas said. “If they have a lot of rainfall up the flyway, we’re not going to have a lot of ducks, in my opinion. If they don’t have a lot of rainfall and they’re kind of dry, then we’re going to get ducks.
“They have food up there, but when they have plenty of water, they have even more reason not to come. Everybody says it’s got to get cold. Well, this was the coldest year we’ve had in years, and they still didn’t come.”
Roland Cortez, with Cajun Fishing and Hunting Charters out of Houma, said he did pretty well during the first split.
“I’m always one to vote for the earliest split we can get,” he said. “The fact is, I still say we kill more ducks early than we do late.”
He said hunters shot a mixed bag of birds, mostly grays and teal, but averaged 12 to 15 birds per hunt.
“It wasn’t my best year, but it was pretty good compared to what everybody else was talking,” he said.
Cortez splits his time guiding in Stuttgart, Ark. and said the duck season there could have been better, as well.
“I’m going to tell you it was good up there, but it wasn’t as good as it should have been,” he said. “We didn’t get the ducks up there, either.
“People are crying about all the ducks up there in Arkansas. Well, they weren’t.”
He believes hunting pressure is a double-edged sword.
“I think hunting pressure is our worst enemy,” he said. “You can’t blame people for wanting to hunt.
“But I still think it’s the root of evil: just too much pressure.”
For the most part, Louisiana duck hunters roll with punches year in and year out, and Faul struck an optimistic tone for next season.
“We’re already looking forward to September,” he said.