Delta Young Guns

These youngsters work hard to kill consistent duck limits on Atchafalaya Delta WMA.

The e-mail came from a senior X-ray technologist at the local hospital in Morgan City that I hadn’t seen in years. An avid hunter and fisherman, his message basically read that his son and a group of boys who grew up together were now all hunting together. What’s more, they had been making some awesome hunts out on the Wax Lake side of the Atchafalaya Delta WMA. And they were doing it right.

Not bragging, the proud father wanted me to know there was a lot to be said about the next generation coming up behind us.

Ranging in age from 16 to 19, they were doing it themselves. There were no dads, paw-paws, uncles or anyone older than 21 with them. They had learned where to go, employed tactics taught by their fathers, plus figured out a few of their own, and, basically, were doing something you just don’t see a lot of young people doing this day and age.

The teenagers are all hardcore duck-o-holics, which, if a teenager is going to be addicted to something, what better than hunting?

None of the young men has a lease to hunt waterfowl. But instead, they have figured out a way to maximize the public land available to them in a big way.

Fortunately, they were more than willing to take an old man hunting to show how the young guns do it.

The plan was to let a nasty cold front that brought with it lightning, heavy rain and cold temperatures pass before we headed down the spillway to hunt ducks on the WMA. The region is tidal, and those who are most successful know you don’t always have to be out on the management area before daylight to have a great hunt.

Besides, the weather would have birds moving all day.

Adam Rhodes, the eldest of the group, did the introductions at the landing.

“This is Ethan LeBlanc,” Rhodes said. “We call him ‘Mom.’”

“And, why’s that?” I inquired.

“Because he brings everything but the kitchen sink,” Rhodes replied. “He has a checklist, but it’s mainly food like MREs, water and everything he thinks we need to survive — it’s all survival stuff.”

Rhodes went on to introduce Josh Gros as the group’s best caller, along with Nick Gaurisco — considered one of their better shots. Finally, he introduced “Bucky.” At age 16, he was the youngest of the bunch.

“Now I know that’s got to be a nickname. What’s your real name?” I asked Bucky.

“Andrew Gaudreaux,” Bucky replied.

A little shocked and laughing, Rhodes said, “ANDREW! We’ve been hunting with you all this time and been calling you Bucky, and it’s Andrew? I can’t believe this.”

The Atchafalaya Delta is 147,000 acres of growing coastal region. Hunters who walk it will usually find knee-deep water and a slightly shallow mucky bottom before they hit hard sand.

The point being, it can be readily walked, but will remind those who do of a Stair Master with a suction attachment for your feet that instantly increases your heart rate.

Between the energy exuded from their positive karma and youthfulness, the stress didn’t seem to bother them. The 70 or 80 yards Rhodes said we’d have to walk to get to their pre-scouted location turned out to be perhaps 300 yards. While catching my breath, I realized if the young guns had any early flaws in their techniques, it was their judge of distance — definitely something they’d have to work on in the years to come.

I bristled when young Rhodes tried to come to my aid.

“Mr. John,” he said, “if you want, I can pull you in the pirogue.”

They picked an ideal pond, well away from where the average crowd of hunters would go, that was full of feed and had several stands of flag grass that would make excellent natural blinds.

Few hunters can stand for hours in natural cover, or squat in it for that matter. What helped these hunters were custom built seats made out of aluminum that Gaurisco and Gros designed together to use on their hunts. The seats allowed the hunters to sit comfortably, waiting out flights of birds.

The young guns were extremely proficient at using the proper wind direction and deployed several dozen decoys, along with robo-ducks, to attract flying birds to the location. It’s all about technique on the delta, and those who know how to strategically employ sound methods don’t go home disappointed.

That was confirmed by Gaurisco, who had hunted the delta with LeBlanc before the group started hunting together.

“We hunted the delta during the 2009 and 2010 season, and told the other guys about it,” he said. “That year we hunted a different spot, and we needed to find a new place because the ducks were thin where we were. Adam found the pond we’re hunting now, and we’ve all been hunting it together ever since.”

Gaurisco pointed out there were several things that made the spot really appealing.

“The food supply and the population of ducks caused us to pick this place,” Gaurisco said. “The depth of the water was right, and the number of poul d’eau we saw was good too.

“It also was secluded and surrounded by willow trees and stuff along the bank.”

Indeed, the scouting effort the young guns had put in to find the location on the delta would make guided outfitters, who often struggle to keep clients happy, jealous. What’s more, some of the clients would have wondered why they had to get up so early. It was all of 9:30 a.m. by the time we were finally set up. And, under the slate-blue sky, with intermittent white bands of spitting rain, the birds came as if on cue.

Seeing them, Gros, Gaurisco and Rhodes all began calling the ducks, and the birds immediately responded.

Committed to the decoys, it was too late for the flock of green-winged teal to avoid the spread when someone yelled, “Cut ’em!”

A repetitious volley of gunfire ensued with each group of ducks that passed near, over or hooked from behind the decoy spread, which, with a bunch of guys who played baseball together, brought the expected friendly banter and a little self-deprecation after easy misses.

Rhodes, also considered by the others as a good shot, pointed out that LeBlanc (Mom) gets to claim the birds that everyone shoots at but no one knows who killed. However, after missing cleanly on a flock of birds, Rhodes was also quick to share his knowledge and conclusions to where he thought climate change came from.

“You know where global warming comes from?” Rhodes asked out loud to no one in particular. “It isn’t from emissions — it’s from the sky where it’s me shooting holes in it!”

The young guns also mention how being flexible and mobile allows them to adjust to the ducks on the vast acreage of the Wax Delta. Wind changes and pressure from other groups of hunters causes them to sometimes move.

“We hunt the wind and make sure we hunt it right,” Gros said. “If we see ducks landing in another area and not ours, we’ll move if we have time. It’s definitely not a cakewalk when it comes to hunting out here, but it’s definitely worth the hard work and dedication it takes to do it. You gotta do what you gotta do — we do it because we love it.”

The young guns also are doing their part to promote waterfowl hunting and conservation by introducing friends to hunting.

“Waterfowl hunting in general is sort of a dying sport, and we’re doing all we can to hunt and bring people out here,” Gaurisco said. “I grew up hunting, but a lot of people never got the opportunity. Like Bucky — he never had anyone to bring him out here. Me, Ethan, Adam and Josh, we started bringing him last year, and he loves it.”

Waterfowl hunts on public land are often marked by the inability to harvest limits on a regular basis. But often healthy lungs, strong legs and a willingness to make fathers proud by doing something hard are what a bunch of young guns need to overcome a poor hunt, where older hunters are all too ready to give up. Essentially, harvest numbers and lack of limits haven’t entered into the equation for this bunch of young guns — it’s not what they are about.

What’s more, older fellows might call it learning common sense or exuberance, while observing the younger guys trying to put a few skins on the wall the way they themselves had done it years before. One thing’s for sure, I didn’t get that sense when hanging out on Atchafalaya Delta WMA with the Delta Young Guns.

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