Cajun Blast and Cast
Wayne "Mac" McElveen has guided at Grosse Savanne lodge for 15 years. He and Pat have hunted teal together on opening day for several seasons. Mac has been trapping alligators over the past three days, but this morning his focus is on getting Pat and me into the ducks.
"I'm a little worried," Mac confides as we drive toward our hunting spot in the predawn dark. "We had a bunch of teal last week, but a tropical depression blew through with a lot of rain, and now the birds are scattered. Still, there should be enough around for a pretty good shoot."
Expectations are relative to what you're used to. I've hunted teal in Louisiana before, and I know that a slow shoot in the locals' eyes can be a barnburner to hunters from other parts of the country. For that reason, I'm not discouraged by Mac's assessment of our possibilities.
After a 15-minute trip, Mac stops at a remote crossroads and unloads his four-wheeler. Then he ferries Pat and me into a nearby flooded rice field. Our blind—a two-by-four framework covered in wax myrtle—is situated on a levee, facing west. Pat and I uncase our shotguns while Mac tosses out two dozen decoys, sets up a wing-spinner, and drives the ATV out of the field. Pat and I swat bugs and watch for the first flight of "rocket ducks." It's now five minutes before shooting time.
As Mac rejoins us in the blind, a volley of shotgun fire erupts in the distance. Another volley quickly rumbles, and another. The flat landscape reverberates with gunfire all around us. Pat and I scan the skies with our shotguns at the ready. Suddenly Mac raises a call to his lips. Caaack-caack-cack. The notes are raspy and high-pitched. "Get ready," he warns. "Coming from the right."
I hear a wind-rushing sound, and I look just in time to see 20 or more small ducks barreling toward our spread. "Shoot 'em!
" Mac commands, and Pat and I come up firing. He knocks down two . . . and I scratch.
"I do my own reloading," I say. "Must have forgotten to put shot in my shells." It's the only excuse I can muster.
Soon another flight comes, and Pat and I each fold a bluewing. In a few more minutes a single buzzes by, and Pat nimbly downs this bird to complete his limit. He unloads his over/under and becomes a spectator. It takes me a little longer (and a classified number of misses) but I finally catch up, and we strap our birds and head back to Grosse Savanne.
A quick check at the lodge reveals that all the hunters have filled their bag limits, and then there's a call to the dining room. We gather to attack heaping platters of eggs, bacon, and biscuits, and bowls of grits and fruit. Soon the platters and bowls are empty.
Pat clinks on his water glass to gain our attention. "We need to know who's going dove hunting this afternoon and who's going fishing," he announces.
Tough decision. But I finally opt for fishing in the marsh just west of the lodge, toward Calcasieu Lake. By early afternoon I'm motoring out with guide Thomas Alleman for the "cast" portion of the famed coastal Louisiana blast and cast. This too lives up to its billing, as we boat limits of redfish and flounder.
While fishing, I study a system of manmade terraces that zigzag through the marsh. When I ask Thomas about them, he says that these structures are meant to reduce wave-caused erosion and to foster the growth of submersed aquatic plants in what were formerly barren expanses of open water.
I get the full skinny later, back at Grosse Savanne, where land manager Doug Miller explains that these terraces were built by Ducks Unlimited as part of its coastal marsh restoration program in southwest Louisiana. The terraces are improving habitat
and water quality for wildlife and fish. "Without these terraces, these ponds would be big aquatic deserts," Doug says. "But with them, the ponds are reverting back to the rich habitat they once were, and they're providing the food and sheltered sanctuaries that the ducks need to make it through the winter in good shape."