Duck season ends on positive note, drought hurts some

The 2010-2011 duck season looks to be one that will be talked about for a while in Louisiana waterfowling circles. Without a doubt, the birds came down to our state, aided largely by frequent cold fronts and a flyway-wide drought that put more birds in Louisiana ponds for most hunters.

But, although the drought was a boon for many, it was also a bust for others as the lack of water made for some unusual distributions of birds that left some hunters scratching their heads. Nevertheless, it looks like this season was an overall good one following a few frustrating years of recent memory.

Hunter Shaffett with Whispering Oaks hunting lodge (225.301.7335) had a great season in the timber and ag fields near Vidalia.

“This season was about as good as our best in the last five years, with about 1,700 ducks harvested,” Shaffett said.

His bags consisted mostly of gadwall in the timber, along with mallards, but Shaffett noted that the mallards actually tapered off in the later part of the season. Nevertheless, the gadwall kept showing up in force, making for great late-morning hunts that allowed guests to sleep in and get a good breakfast before heading out.

“The grays were pouring in around 9:30 or 10 a.m., so we’d take our time getting out there on some days,” he explained.

Shaffett also reported strong numbers of shovelers and pintail that also made for some memorable hunts in his ag field blinds.

Capt. Erik Rue of Calcasieu Charter Service (337.598.4700) felt that, overall, it was a pretty good year for his crew hunting the ag fields of Bell City and Hayes.

“I think the (number of) specks were down a bit from our usual numbers, but the ducks were definitely better than last year,” Rue reported.

Like many have also noted, he felt that the overall lack of rain hampered the ag belt’s ability to hold birds because most of the flooded acreage was hunted, thus pressuring birds out of the fields. Even so, Rue reported a fair number of pintail and mallards through most of the season, when the weather cooperated.

David Faul of Bin There Hunting (337.438.4868) indicated that hunting in the Welsh area was again weather-dependent for the second split, similar to what he saw in the first split.

“We had some great hunts when the fronts came through, but had to work for them on the blue-bird days,” Faul noted.

Faul’s bags consisted of mainly green-winged teal, pintail and mallards, but he also harvested an unusual amount of redheads in his fields. He also observed a surge of blue-winged teal in his area the last week of the season, birds which had been absent since early in the season.

“Overall, it wasn’t great, but certainly was better than last year,” he added.

Rick Hall of Doug’s Hunting Lodge (800.888.0960) was certainly pleased with the ducks down in the marshes south of Gueydan and Lake Arthur, particularly with the spike in mallards visiting his area.

“I thought it was a good season for ducks and geese; certainly better than the last few years,” Hall reported.

Hall’s marsh bags included plenty of mallards, along with teal, pintail, gadwall, wigeon, shovelers and mottleds. He felt that the spike in mallard numbers was directly correlated with the flyway-wide drought. The consistent frontal passages also helped to support this cause.

Hall also reported respectable specklebelly harvests, with his outfit chasing geese in the ag fields in the Gueydan, Klondike and Thornwell areas.

Though, overall, the agricultural field hunters enjoyed a pretty good year, there were reports of some hunters in the fields and freshwater marshes of southwest Louisiana struggling. This observation was again largely attributed to the lack of rainfall throughout the summer and into the winter of 2010, which undoubtedly altered birds’ habits. Those that pumped water in order to flood only a small field often saw birds disappear in short order after only a few hunts.

In his travels across the ag belt of Southwest and Central Louisiana, the author observed the most ducks on farms fortunate enough to flood large expanses of fields rather than a few isolated ponds. For many, this just isn’t practical with today’s fuel prices and rainfall deficit.

Roland Cortez of Cajun Fishing and Hunting Charters (985.414.4997) was very pleased with the season in the marshes of lower Terrebonne Parish.

“Overall, I think we had a solid year down here, with a variety of ducks in the marsh,” Cortez said.

His bags included gadwall, pintail and teal, along with a good many divers. A storm-free summer looks to have paid dividends for this coastal area, with a strong recovery following Hurricane Gustav in 2008.

“From what I hear of the neighboring public areas like Pointe-aux-Chenes WMA and others, it sounds like there was good hunting to be had there, as well,” he added.

Over in the Delacroix Island and Reggio areas, Mike Smith of Louisiana Marsh Guide Service (504.682.1966) reported a great season in the marshes of St. Bernard Parish.

“Overall, we had a great year, with nearly 1,300 ducks taken in our blinds,” Smith said.

His bags consisted of mainly teal and gadwall, but also included pintail and an unusual number of divers like canvasbacks, redheads and goldeneye. Smith said the key to his late-season success was hunting the middle of larger waters over large decoy spreads, which paid off on wary ducks.

“The second split was slightly slower than the first, but overall I was very encouraged by the birds in our marsh and hope to see the same next season,” Smith added.

Reports out of Venice showed that, without a doubt, this perennial waterfowling powerhouse was in great form. Aerial surveys showed strong numbers of gadwall, pintail and a variety of divers on the lower Mississippi River delta, and hunters’ bags brought plenty of ground-truth to those surveys throughout the season. Again, it appears that, for now, the wintering grounds for thousands of migrating waterfowl were spared from significant impacts following the April 2010 BP oil-spill disaster. Time will tell what long-term implications the event will pose to this area.

User reports from the season can be viewed in our Waterfowl reports forum.

About Darren Digby 69 Articles
Darren Digby has been hunting and fishing the marshes of Southeast Louisiana since childhood. He lives in Baton Rouge with his wife Ella.