Waterfowlers used to hunting timber or agricultural fields are in for a whole different game when they take on marsh hunting.
Marsh duck hunting doesn’t consist of hundreds of decoys, big pit blinds and several callers talking to ducks at the same time.
Nor does it include standing thigh-deep in flooded timber, listening to wood ducks squeal and watching flights of mallards and teal alight into the woods to feed on floating acorns.
To hunt marsh ducks, you use different tactics than in any other place.
Morgan Perrin of Lafitte can’t remember a time when he hasn’t hunted ducks in the marsh. Some folks think Perrin probably has webbed feet because he knows the marsh better than most people know their living rooms. Perrin guides duck hunters every day of the season. He knows where the ducks live, where they want to go, and what they want to do when they get there.
To hunt ducks in the marsh, you’ll only need a dozen decoys. However, you only may put out half a dozen.
“A northwest wind will blow the water out of the marsh,” Perrin says. “Then all we have to hunt is small potholes. Since the northwest wind blows the most dominant in our region, we always assume that we’ll hunt little potholes instead of big potholes.”
During the early part of duck season when the winds vary and often the marshes near Barataria and Lafitte receive southern or even eastern winds, Perrin uses larger decoy spreads.
But in the late season, small decoy spreads seem to produce best in this region of the state.
“In the early season, I’ll put out about three-dozen decoys for each one of the potholes we hunt,” Perrin explains. “But, when the water shrinks, we decrease the size of the decoy spreads.”
Unlike most duck hunters, Perrin uses very few mallard decoys, but prefers to set out black duck decoys, and he feels strongly that you need confidence decoys on the edges of your spread like cranes, herons or seagulls.
“When you get to the end of the season, you’ve got to remember that ducks in the marshes of Louisiana have been looking at big decoy spreads all the way from Canada,” he said. “Every time they’ve dropped into a big decoy spread, they’ve had to dodge lead. So I believe they’re more likely to come in to smaller decoy spreads.
“I’ve also learned that if you put other decoys on the shore like herons, cranes and seagulls, rather than just having floating decoys near your spread, the ducks will have a lot more confidence that they won’t encounter lead if they light into these small potholes in the marsh.”
Perrin often places his crane, heron and seagull decoys beside the blind or even on top of the blind to help hide and camouflage it. He believes these confidence decoys let the ducks know that they’ll find food in that area if they’ll come down and eat.
Perrin takes his calling instructions from the ducks, which makes him a very-effective hunter. During the season, and especially the late season, the marsh will have large numbers of duck hunters. Most of these hunters use the same series of calls to try and talk ducks down.
Many hunters give the highball call to get the ducks’ attention, then begin to quack and finish off with the feeding call.
By the time the ducks reach Louisiana skies, they know that if they hear the same calling routine they’ve heard all the way down the flyway, more than likely they’ll get dusted by lead if they come to those calls.
Perrin has observed that the live ducks around his blind talk to each other with different voices.
“When I’m hunting, I’ll often have a live mallard sitting on the water somewhere near my blind,” Perrin reports. “I listen to how that duck talks to the ducks in the sky. I’ve noticed that later in the season the real ducks give loud, steady quacks in a series of five to seven. Then I’ll give the same series of quacks that the real ducks do.”
Often, the birds in the sky can’t tell the difference between Perrin’s quacking and the nearby mallard’s quacking. That’s when they’ll drop down from the sky and often pass by his blind before they go to the real duck. Perrin has learned that those five to seven loud quacks, not a come-back call or a feeding call, pulls the ducks to him.
“At the beginning of the season, you can use your hail calls and your feeding calls because there will be quite a few local ducks that haven’t been called to,” Perrin said. “But at the end of the season, you’ve got to change your calling to better match your calls to how the live ducks communicate, if you want to have success.”
Depending on the weather, you’ll usually see a different crop of ducks in the early season than you will in the late season. But even during the late season, you’ll spot a few blue-winged teal, gray ducks, wigeon and mallards.
“The No. 1 duck that we usually see is the summer mallard — the mottled duck,” Perrin reports. “We have a healthy crop of mottled ducks on the Louisiana coast. Mottled ducks raise their young in our marshes, and they’re here all year. You can expect teal in the marsh early in September before they leave, and then they return to the marsh in November.”
Duck hunting in most areas of the state primarily occurs during the first two hours of daylight, but not in the marsh.
“At first light, we’ll see teal and a few mallards, but our best hunting generally starts at 10 a.m. and continues to 1 p.m.,” Perrin reports. “That’s when we see pairs of mallards flying through the marsh. Although I don’t know why the mallards don’t start moving until late in the morning, for some reason, we always see more mallards later in the morning and up until midday than we do at first light.”
If you stay in a blind until 11 a.m. or noon, you may have the opportunity to bag two mallards as well as other ducks to fill out your limit.
“During the early part of the season, my hunters can be out of the blinds with their limit of ducks by 7 or 8 a.m. each day,” Perrin said. “However, during the late season, we usually have to hunt until at least noon to take a limit of ducks.”
Hunters will find ducks easiest to take in the marsh from the opening day of the season until mid-December. But, unlike the rest of the country, hunters will have a tough time filling limits during late-season duck hunting.
“During the late season, we usually get plenty of north to northwest winds, which will blow the water out of the marsh,” Perrin said. “Because this region has less water, we have fewer ducks. When the water leaves, the ducks leave. When the water comes back in, the ducks return. The amount of water in the marsh determines the number of ducks in the marsh.”
The worst duck hunting occurs when the marshes have three or four strong north winds back to back. A 2-foot tide drop and a northwest wind means the marshes will have very little water in them. If you want to time your duck hunt, especially during the late season, watch the Weather Channel. Look for a strong south wind that’s bringing rain to the Louisiana coast.
“A southwest wind makes duck hunting as good as we get in the marsh,” Perrin says, “unlike other areas of the country, and especially in the South, when most duck hunters are hoping for a north wind. But remember, we said hunting marsh ducks is different.
“When our area has a south wind, the ducks that sit outside the marsh in the lakes and the bays will be pushed back in the marsh. Not all ducks go south and stay south; they move on weather events.
“Southern ducks will move north on a south wind, and that south wind brings water back into the marsh. Northern ducks will move south on a north wind, but that north wind blows the water out of the marsh. So, even though the ducks come down the flyway on a north wind, their swimming pool has dried-up when they get to our marshes.”
Unlike other duck-hunting areas where sportsmen put on waders and walk to their blinds, in the marsh, you’ll either hunt from boat blinds or platform blinds early in the season or sunken pits during the late season.
“We put platform blinds in the mangrove trees a couple of feet above the marsh for early-season hunting, and then sink pits made of plywood reinforced with fiberglass and gel coating down in the marsh for the late season,” Perrin said.
The sunken pits will sit only 1 foot above the marsh’s mud. Perrin then places straw grass around the pits to camouflage them. To protect the wooden pits from rotting or leaking, Perrin fiberglasses the outside of the plywood pits.
“After we’ve laid two coats of fiberglass over the plywood, we nail the box together and gel coat the outside of the box to help make it water-proof,” he said.
Perrin then digs a hole in the marsh and fills the box up with water to sink the fiberglass-and-wood pit.
“Once we get the pit sunk to the depth in the marsh where we want to sink it, we then drive 4x4s down in the marsh beside each corner of the pit. Next we make a frame of 2x4s from each corner post and side, and nail the frame to our 4×4 posts. The 2x4s and the 4x4s will keep the pit from rising up out of the marsh when we pump the water out of the pit.”
Perrin prefers a small Labrador retriever instead of a large one for hunting in the marsh.
“I like a small dog because it doesn’t seem to get tired as quickly as a big dog does,” Perrin says. “When I get in my pirogue and pole the dog around, the dog’s not heavy in the front of the boat and won’t tip me over like a big dog may.”
The marsh dog has to swim in an often thick slurry of mud and water with the consistency of pudding, unlike dogs that swim in flooded timber or in open water.
“I also like a smaller dog,” Perrin said, “because a smaller dog can get through the mud much easier and better than a bigger dog can. When a big dog gets in the mud, he’ll often have a hard time getting his body out of the mud to make the retrieve.
“One of the advantages to hunting in the late season is the weather is usually so cold the alligators are buried-up in the mud. Then they’re not as likely to attack and eat your dog as they are in the early season. I’ve never lost a dog when I’ve hunted in the late season.
“Now, the early season is a different story. At that time, knowing the marsh is the key to saving your dog. Since we hunt alligators in the marsh, we know where the big gators stay. We try and remove them during gator season. When I know there is an extremely-big alligator in a particular section of the marsh, I won’t let my dog go into that area.”
Perrin has had friends who have had their dogs eaten. But gators aren’t the No. 1 threat to dogs in the marsh.
“The nutria that live in the marsh cause more damage to the dogs than the alligators do,” Perrin said. “Often when a dog is going to pick up a duck, he’ll run into a nutria that grabs him on the nose or bites his skin, tearing gashes in his hide. I have dogs bitten and cut by nutria every season.”
During the early season, you’ll generally get to shoot often, limit-out early and still arrive at work before 9 a.m.
“We provide what we call a blast-and-cast combo,” Perrin explains. “We take our hunters out duck hunting. As soon as the hunt’s over, we have a bay boat waiting for them at the dock. They step out of the duck boat and into the bay boat. Many times they’ll get their limit of redfish and speckled trout before noon. Then they can return to the camp to find their ducks cleaned. While the hunters eat breakfast or lunch, we’ll clean the fish that they’ve caught. They go home with ducks and fish for their day in the marsh. Life doesn’t get much better than this.”
To choose the perfect day for duck hunting in Louisiana’s marshes, Perrin suggests looking for a south wind that’s bringing bad, windy, rainy weather.
“You want the wind to blow from the south, and the rain to be pouring down,” Perrin advises. “The hour before the rain hits and also the first hour when the rain really starts pouring down, ducks will come from every direction into the marsh. We know we’ll have a great day of duck hunting when our hunters say, ‘I don’t want to go out in that mess to hunt ducks.’ But, the hunters who do go out in that ‘mess’ will enjoy one of the greatest days of duck hunting they’ve ever had.”
For more information about duck hunting in Louisiana’s marshes, call Morgan Perrin at (504) 416-3212 or Bo Hamilton at (504) 813-9037.
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