With possible changes looming for both the 2015 and 2016 duck hunting seasons — including zone and split adjustments — Louisiana’s waterfowl study leader is encouraging all hunters to participate in the every-five-year 2015 survey, which wraps up on June 30.

Larry Reynolds, with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said potential changes include moving the northern boundary of the state’s coastal zone further south to Highway 14, and possibly extending the specklebelly goose season length or raising the daily bag limit to three birds.

With changes like that on the line, you would think participation in the survey would be high, but Reynolds said that’s not the case again this year — and it hasn’t been for several recent surveys conducted by the department.

“We just can’t seem to get people to respond, and that’s getting to be a really big problem in Louisiana. It happened in 2005 with the national duck hunter’s survey, when Louisiana had a very low response rate,” he said. “Our Big and Small Game Harvest Survey that we send out every year to estimate the harvest of all species in the state had about a 20 percent response rate. 

“What that means is that 80 percent of the hunters we contact throw the survey in the garbage and don’t respond. And it’s difficult to negate the criticism of, ‘Hell, you only talked to 20 percent of the duck hunters - the other 80 percent haven’t talked to you.’”

But it’s not for lack of trying on LDWF’s part. 

The department randomly mailed out the 6-page survey to 2,500 hunters, and followed that up with reminder post cards as well as another copy of the survey. So far, they’ve gotten back less than 400 replies, for a 16 percent response rate.

They also randomly mailed another 2,500 hunters a postcard requesting they complete the same survey online at a specific website address, and followed that effort up with two more reminder postcards. As of Wednesday, less than 200 of those hunters had answered, for about an 8 percent response rate.

Reynolds said they also invite everyone who wasn’t contacted by mail or email to take the survey through the department’s website, which you can access here. As of this week, 972 hunters had responded to the open web survey.

And for the first time ever, using the department’s Harvest Information Program database, they emailed about 25,000 duck hunters across the state inviting them to take the survey through another unique website address. More than 5,200 hunters have followed up on that email so far, for a response rate of almost 20 percent.

Although the surveys are all identical, each groups’ responses are analyzed separately and weighted differently, Reynolds said.

“What we find from the random mail out survey is that we get representation from all possible hunters. But from the open web survey, we get hunters that hunt more days, kill more ducks and are far more likely to be members of conservation organizations and are far more likely to have lifetime licenses,” he said. “In other words, the hunters that participate on the open web survey are a biased sample. They are the more dedicated hunters. So if we try to estimate harvest from just that sample, we’ll badly overestimate it.”

Historically though, both the avid hunters and the random mail sample typically have similar responses when it comes to hunter satisfaction, he said.

“When we ask them about their preferences for zones and splits, when we ask them about whether they agree or disagree about banning spinning wing decoys, when we ask them how they feel about the management of our WMAs, they give us the same answer,” Reynolds said. “So for questions about avidity — how much do you hunt and how much do you kill — you can’t treat those surveys the same because they’re very different samples. 

“But for questions like how satisfied have you been with the hunting the last five years, and what do you think about banning spinning wing decoys — when we ask those questions, we get the exact same answers.”

Every five years, the state has the opportunity to request changes for zones and splits, and that information for 2016 has to be submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by this December. Portions of the current survey provide Reynolds with information on hunter input on potential adjustments.

“One of the most important ones is there is an effort by rice farmers and people that hunt on those rice farms in Southwest Louisiana to move the coastal zone boundary from where it currently is to Highway 14,” he said. “In other words, it would drop the coastal zone boundary south significantly in Evangeline, Acadia, Jeff Davis, Allen, Lafayette and Vermillion parishes. 

“And that would put a lot of that rice growing region in those parishes in the east zone instead of the coastal zone. And the east zone typically has later dates, so that’s on the survey.”

Another survey topic involves specklebelly goose hunting regulations for 2015.

“We’ve had 74-day seasons with a 2-bird bag for the last few years. We’re going to have the opportunity next year to go to 88 days with a 2-bird bag, or we’ll have the opportunity to have a 74-day season with a 3-bird bag limit for specklebelly geese, so there’s a question on the survey asking hunters if they want  a 74/2 season or a 74/3 season, or if they want to go with an 88/2 season.”

The most important thing now, though, is for the state’s hunters to participate in the survey process— especially those who were contacted by the department through mail or email.

“We’d like to have a 50 percent response rate. In the past, I think our last survey got about 22 percent, so we’re in the ballpark, but it’s very low,” Reynolds said. “If you have received a survey, postcard or email, please respond to that point of contact. Don’t go to our website and do the open web survey.

“And if you have not been contacted or received a survey or postcard in the mail, and if you have not received an email asking you to take the survey, then please go to the LDWF website and take the survey there.”