Courville’s amazing haul includes a 24-year-old canvasback and a double-banded 19-year-old pintail
If you think the odds were long on winning this month’s record-breaking $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot, that was nothing compared to what Matthew Courville accomplished this duck season out of Grand Chenier.
The freshman at St. Thomas More in Lafayette experienced a truly amazing, odds-defying run himself by shooting five banded birds this season, including a double-banded pintail drake that was hatched in 1997 and his first-ever canvasback drake, which was banded back in 1992.
So how does a 14-year-old kid explain the unexplainable? Heck, three of the birds were banded long before Courville was even born.
“I don’t know,” he said, after a long pause. “Just really lucky I guess.”
His incredible run started early — on the opening day of teal season — when Courville dropped a banded blue-wing out of a flock of about 10 birds near their Lower Hog Bayou Lodge camp with his buddy, Connor Duffy.
“It kind of made my friend mad because the flock passed right over him and he said, ‘No, you shoot them,’” Courville said. “And I did, and I got him.”
The banded ??????? was hatched in 2007 in Johnson County, Kan. He didn’t know it at the time, but Courville’s band bonanza was just beginning.
“I was happy with just one then,” he said.
On Dec. 18, he upped the ante when he shot the double-banded pintail, which fell in the marsh grass and earned him a cool $100 for the second reward band on the drake’s leg.
“I walked back there and took one step, and it was laying there dead with its head on its back,” Courville said. “I did not see the band immediately. Then I saw the green one on its foot, and I was like, ‘Oh my God.’”
The pintail was originally banded in 1997 in British Columbia, Canada, and was banded for the second time in 2009 in Lauderdale County, Tenn.
Just after Christmas — on Dec. 28 — Courville shot a snow goose in Rayne that was banded in 2010 in Nunavut, Canada.
“It was working a different field, and it did one pass over us, and my friend shot first and hit it, but it was still flying,” he said. “I shot second and it folded, and they all said I shot it, so I kept it.”
In case you haven’t kept up, that’s now three birds and four bands in about three months.
“At that point, I was just thinking this was going to be a good season,” Courville said with a laugh. “I was also thinking my friends were going to hate me.”
But he wasn’t done yet —not by a long shot.
His first ever canvasback drake back at Grand Chenier yielded yet another band on Jan. 10. Incredibly, the 24-year-old bird also was banded in Nunavut, Canada way back in 1992 — when a guy by the name of Bill Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush to win the White House.
“My friend Caleb Clark was hunting with me, and it was the last bird,” he said. “We only needed one more and a pair flew over us, and he decided to video it and see how cool it would look in slow motion for us to shoot a duck.
“I shot one shot and aimed at the hen, and I got the drake out of it.”
Which, of course, ended up having a band.
“I looked at it and I saw the silver, and I screamed at my friend, ‘You’re going to hate me,” Courville said with a chuckle. “And he knew exactly what had happened when I said that.”
With four bands now proudly displayed on his lanyard, Courville put the finishing touches on his special season with yet another band from a most unlikely bird – a poule d’eau that had been banded in St. Mary Parish in 1994.
“I went over and got it and it was banded, and I was like, ‘That’s a weird one,’” he said.
So Courville’s final tally for the 2015-16 season was six bands from five birds.
But if you include his first-ever banded duck — a spoonbill drake taken on the last hunt of the 2014-15 season — that’s six banded birds and seven total bands in one unbelievable calendar year.
Larry Reynolds, waterfowl study leader for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, was incredulous when he heard the details of Courville’s season, and noted that “way, way, way less than 1 percent” of the entire duck population is ever banded.
Even more amazing were the banded species Courville shot, Reynolds said.
“It’s a tremendously small percentage of the population,” Reynolds said. “When you look at the species that are typically banded, it’s mallards, it’s wood ducks, it’s white-fronted geese, it’s Canada geese.
“But you’re talking about species that are virtually never banded. A banded shoveler is incredibly rare. A banded canvasback is incredibly rare, and you’re talking about a kid that’s killed all of these in one year and some are over 20 years old.
“Every single one of those things is worthy of a Louisiana Sportsman story in and of themselves, and now you’re saying it’s the same kid that’s done that. My reaction is that’s amazing — I want those guys buying my lottery tickets from now on.”
The double-banded pintail and the banded canvasback are currently at the taxidermist, and the mounts will always serve as a reminder of a very special season when Courville seemingly didn’t miss a bird with a leg band.
“I’m just hoping that everybody’s wrong for saying I’ll never shoot another banded bird again,” he said. “I’m hoping it stays this way.”
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