Opening-Day Doozies

Public-land duck hunting can be hit or miss, but these three areas offer some of the best opportunities to bag limits of birds when the season opens this month.

The state’s public lands offer diverse duck-hunting experiences, but having success is far different than at any duck club in existence.For one, permanent blinds generally aren’t permitted, and that makes for a lot more work. And then there’s the pressure: You just never know if you’ll be able to hunt the spots you’ve scouted out.

However, when a flight of ducks swoops in on opening day, all those matters dissipate like November frost.

That’s when these hunters know that the travails of hunting three of the state’s premier public areas are worth it all.

Boeuf WMA

When ducks begin pouring into the state this month, they’ll be looking for resting areas on their way to wintering grounds along the coast. Waves of greys, widgeon, teal and scaup will swarm through the trees in search of backwaters that provide refuge and a bit of food before taking to wing again for the last couple hundred miles to Shangri-La.

Dwight Rogers of Columbia will be waiting, hunching in the grasses around potholes on Boeuf WMA.

“I’ve seen thousands of ducks down there,” he said.

Managers have developed a large green-tree reservoir on the northern end of the management area, but that’s not where success can be found in the early season.

“That’s usually better later in the season, when the mallards come in,” regional biologist John Leslie said. “Down in the southern portion of the management area, we have a moist-soil impoundment called the Crow Field, and that’s excellent in the early season.

“A lot of times, that’s the only water in the flyway.”

The hunting is so good that success rates range as high as four ducks per person — not quite limits, but for a public area those are pretty stout numbers.

Rogers said the area is basically a backwater of the Boeuf River, which forms the eastern edge of the WMA.

“It’s a series of natural lakes and potholes,” he said.

The key is to have some rainfall, but not too much.

“With a downpour of rain, it’ll become a reservoir: It’ll be water wall to wall,” Rogers said. “Three to 4 inches of rain three or four times between now and the season would probably be perfect.”

That would swell the potholes, but leave the river in its banks. And that would give the ducks less water to use, concentrating them for hunters.

Hunting pressure is a major factor on the property, but not in the negative way one might assume.

“You have to have hunting pressure down there,” Rogers said. “If you don’t have any pressure, they’ll just sit.”

That’s generally not a problem during the opening weeks of the season, when hunters dust off their shotguns and hit the woods for the first time.

But it’s a race to secure key hunting locations.

“There are certain spots they are attracted to, no matter what,” Rogers said. “If you can get one of those spots, you don’t have to be much of a caller: They’ll come to you.”

That pushes die-hards like Rogers and his buddies to wake up insanely early, but they aren’t the only hunters who know that trick.

I’ve gotten to the check station at 3 o’clock in the morning, and gotten beat to the spots,” he chuckled.

Even after checking in that early, there’s still a lot of work ahead of them.

“Once we get there, it’s a 30-minute walk or ride to where we hunt,” he explained.

That still puts them there well before the sun is anywhere close to the horizon, but it also assures them of the best chances.

Of the lakes in the Crow Field area — Dalley, Bruen, Barnett, Rock, Open, Cutoff and Cypress — Rogers said the northernmost (Dalley) is generally the best before the river sweeps out of its banks.

That’s probably because they are closest to a refuge impoundment just north of the Crow Field.

“The ducks really use that refuge,” Rogers said. “They’ll move back and forth.”

However, such closed hunting grounds can cause problems as the season wears on.

“When ducks are able to rest and go, they’re going to just refuge jump,” he explained.

Last year, however, managers opened the refuge for limited hunting later in the season, and that really moved the birds around.

The early season, however, remains pretty good because the greys, widgeon, teal, canvasbacks, ringnecks and other species that flock to the area haven’t been educated.

If the river is still within its banks, Rogers said the best technique is to hunt the edges of the lakes and potholes.

“We just throw out our decoys and hide in the grass,” he said. “Early in the season, there are still some leaves on the trees, so you can really be camouflaged.”

Robo-type decoys are a must, he said.

“Everybody else will have them, so you really need one,” Rogers said. “I wish they would ban them, but they do work.”

If heavy rains have pushed the river out of its natural banks, Rogers and his buddies simply launch a boat wherever they can (“I’ve launched halfway down the gravel road by the check station,” he said.) and ease through the woods to the lakes.

His preference is for the water to still be low enough to allow them to leave their boat hidden in walk to their hunting spots.

“It will get to the point when you can’t stand,” Rogers said. “When you can’t stand, you’ll have to hunt out of the boat.”

That’s when an Avery blind or similar setup is essential, but he continues to concentrate his efforts on the open-water lakes.

How many dekes he uses depends on the water situation.

“If we’re walking, we might only use a couple of dozen,” Rogers said. “If we’re in there in a boat, we might have three or four dozen.”

It’s a lot of work for a few ducks, but Rogers said there’s a variety of reasons he continues to push himself.

“You can take five hunts, and four of those hunts might be average hunts,” he said. “But that one good hunt out of those five makes you come back.”

There’s also the allure of bagging an early mallard drake that remains in his mind.

“It’s hard to describe a mallard coming down with its feet out and settling down,” Rogers said. “That’s when you know it’s hammer time. He’s yours: You’ve just got to put the bead on him and pull the trigger.

“Opening day, I’m thinking, ‘Boy, I’m going to get some mallards coming through here.’”

Even if that doesn’t happen, however, he still enjoys his time afield.

“It’s the camaraderie of being able to sit there and drink some coffee and talk, and eat some deer or duck with your buddies,” Rogers said. “We have a blast.”

Complete regulations and maps and be found at

Atchafalaya Delta WMA

Atchafalaya Delta WMA has a legendary track record, hauling in large numbers of ducks ranging from greys to mallards to wigeon to ringnecks and canvasbacks. The birds once rose in morning clouds, moving from resting areas offshore to feed on the nearshore flats and inshore marshes.

That has all changed over the past several years, however.

“Birds have learned, due to pressure, to stay offshore during the day,” said Mike Carloss, Department of Wildlife & Fisheries regional biologist and avid Atchafalaya Delta duck hunter. “They seem to come into the marshes and feed at night now.”

That has pushed hunters to adapt, but opening day can still provide good marsh hunting.

“That first day, you can probably set up in the ponds and do pretty well,” Carloss said. “But they learn pretty quick.”

From that point on, the trick is to work the mud and sand flats south of the marshes. For hunters accustomed to marsh hunting, this can be a disconcerting experience: There is no real cover, so blinds have to be erected around pirogues and boats.

Some hunters erect blinds beforehand, pushing or driving in sticks and brush so they arrive to a somewhat prepared blind. However, it’s important to note that blinds cannot be reserved, so if someone else is in the blind before you arrive, you have to move on.

Carloss said he doesn’t mess with building fixed blinds. Instead, he prefers a more mobile kind of hunting.

“I bring out brush and hunt out of a pirogue,” he said.

He said many hunters are finding great success by moving farther and farter offshore, hunting just open water. However, he just doesn’t like that.

“There’s so many flats around, so why would they come to you instead of going to another flat?” Carloss said.

However, he admits that more limits are killed on offshore waters.

“The farther out you are, the better your chances are,” he said.

So he strikes a compromise, hunting on the outside flats without getting too far away from land.

“I hunt by myself a lot, and there’s just so much that can go wrong,” Carloss said.

There are several keys for which he looks before setting up.

First, he wants to know where ducks are hanging out.

“I historically try to find birds and set up where they’re at,” Carloss said.

That isn’t quite as effective as it once was, but finding a group of ducks in one area at least gives him a starting point.

He then wants to be sure he’ll have as little company as possible.

“I look around and avoid people,” Carloss said. “If you hunt around people who are shooting, your chances of killing ducks is going to be much lower.”

After he’s found a fairly isolated area, Carloss then looks for vegetation.

“I like to see something in the water,” he explained. “Something that looks like there’ll be something for the ducks.

“I want something other than bare ground and water.”

That can be difficult as the season ages, but early on, duck potato is a great source of food.

However, American lotus is exploding on the management area, and that could make it more challenging to find concentrations of duck potato and submergent vegetation.

Although ducks don’t eat lotus, Carloss said he will hunt around it.

“That lotus has very little wildlife value, but ducks will go in there,” he said. “Where you have lotus, you’ll usually have some submergent vegetation present, and you have invertebrates that hang around there.”

He next assesses just how the tide will affect the area.

“I want to make sure I have water and I’ll keep water,” he explained. “If you have an outgoing tide, you could end up with your decoys laying on mud.”

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“People kill ducks like that, but it’s a sloppy hunt and it’s hard to do,” Carloss said.

So he prefers to choose flats that will continue to have water even as the tide falls out.

At that point, it’s a matter of paddling from his boat to the area and pushing the brush into the mud or sand around his pirogue.

Carloss continues to make assessments of his setup.

“I watch for birds, and if I see that birds are passing an area or that they have a distinct flight pattern, I’ll move,” he said. “It’s a pain to do, but if I’ve dedicated the day to hunting, I’d rather go home with birds.”

His two favorite decoy spreads are a standard V and a fish hook.

“I want a hole right in front of my blind,” he said. “When I use the fish hook, I put a few decoys to the left of the blind, a few in front of the blind, and form a line off to the left.

“I want a line of decoys that the birds can just follow right in.”

However, Carloss carefully watches how birds react to his spread.

“If the decoys don’t look like they’re doing well, I will go out and rearrange them,” he said. “I think the hunters who do the best are those who are willing to adjust and adapt.”

For complete regulations and maps, go to

Lake Ophelia NWR

Bobby Coco has duck hunted all his life, but when he lost his lease two years ago, he turned to the nearest option — Lake Ophelia National Wildlife Refuge.

“I’m used to driving up to the blind and having a heater,” Coco chuckled. “This is definitely different.”

The refuge, located north of Marksville, offers pretty decent duck hunting on several lakes scattered around its 17,500 acres, but Coco has focused most of his energy on one lake.

“I hunt Westcut Lake in the northeast corner of the property,” the Brouillette resident said. “It’s mostly open water with some buttonwoods on the banks.”

His technique is fairly straight-forward: He simply sets up about two dozen dekes in the open water just outside the buttonwoods.

“The water was real, real low last year,” Coco said. “The water was outside the buttonwoods.”

After placing the decoys in the shallows, the hunter would pull out some camo netting and fashion a crude blind.

“I just cut some limbs off the buck brush and put that netting around me,” Coco said. “There’s no top: If it rains, it rains.”

He then huddles and waits for the birds to fly.

That sounds pretty easy, but Coco said that explanation defies reality.

“There’s a lot of work involved,” he said. “You can only park in the designated parking areas, so access is a problem anywhere you go.

“What you have to do is go in with a four-wheeler in the truck, unload your four-wheeler and load your truck onto your four-wheeler.”

He then drives to the lake.

“You then have to unload your four-wheeler and carry everything in,” Coco said. “I just walk in with all my stuff.”

However, he makes use of the boat rack on his ATV, and brings in a fiberglass pirogue to try and simplify things.

“I load all my stuff into the pirogue when it’s on the boat rack, and then I just paddle to my area,” he said. “Then I can go get my ducks with the boat.”

This year, he plans to hunt other areas, as well. Nicolas Lake, located in the northwest corner of the property, offers good hunting, but access is very difficult.

“You have to have a Go-Devil,” Coco said. “I didn’t have one this year, but my son bought one, so we’re going to hunt there.”

That lake is different from Westcut in that it’s got a lot of flooded buck brush.

“Buck brush is a magnet for ducks no matter where you are,” Coco said.

That will change the equation, but he said it’s actually pretty easy to hunt once you reach the lake.

“You just find the biggest hole you can, and set up the decoys around it,” he said. “If it’s big enough, I’ll use a Mojo, but if not, I’ll use pull strings to add some movement to my spread.

“A lot of times, I’ll just kick the water to get it moving.”

Then he’ll just duck down in the brush and wait until the greys, woodies and mallards that dominate stretch out their feet for a soft landing.

Hunters should know, however, that the northernmost portion of Nicolas Lake is located on private land, and therefore can’t be hunted by the public.

Limits aren’t an everyday occurrence on Lake Ophelia, but Coco said there are plenty of ducks to make it worth the effort.

“If I can go twice a week and get my limits, I’m happy,” he said.

There are some rules of which hunters should be aware:

• Hunting is allowed only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

“Saturdays and Sundays are really crowded,” Coco said. “You have to get there early.”

• Access to the refuge is not allowed until 4 a.m. each morning.

• Duck hunting is allowed until noon.

• There is no duck hunting on sections 1B and 2B.

All regulations and a map are available at the refuge’s Web site:

About Andy Crawford 863 Articles
Andy Crawford has spent nearly his entire career writing about and photographing Louisiana’s hunting and fishing community. While he has written for national publications, even spending four years as a senior writer for B.A.S.S., Crawford never strayed far from the pages of Louisiana Sportsman. Learn more about his work at www.AndyCrawford.Photography.