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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Going Public

Many of the author's favorite waterfowling memories were made on public lands, open to one and all 
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  • photo by Jack Unruh
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Learning the Hard Way 

Nobody warned me that I should reconsider standing up to shoot from a pirogue. Besides, my two hunting partners were doing it. The fact that they had grown up in these boats didn't deter me, but it should have.

We were on Delta National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) on the east side of the Mississippi River downstream from Venice, Louisiana. This 49,000-acre refuge is a mosaic of freshwater and brackish ponds and marsh. 

Accessible only by boat, Delta NWR offers high-quality public hunting for those who can get there.

The September teal season was open. Devlin Roussel and Mike Ellis had invited me to join them on a traditional Delta teal hunt. We'd launched Devlin's large fishing boat before dawn at the Venice marina and headed downriver. After we'd run several miles, Devlin turned into Main Pass and motored a few more minutes before taking a winding, twisting trail into the marsh.

Finally he killed the big engine, dropped anchor, and unloaded three pirogues that we'd ferried in. Our plan was to paddle these traditional Cajun craft to a nearby pond where Devlin thought teal should be working.

I'd never been in a pirogue before, but I was aware of their reputation for being tippy. Devlin steadied my boat while I climbed in. Then he and Mike hopped into their own boats, and soon we were paddling farther into this chaos of water, weeds, smells, and marsh sounds.

I covered the 200 yards to our hunting site without a problem. The tide was low, and the water was calf deep where Devlin and Mike tossed out our decoys. Then we shoved our pirogues into a nearby stand of roseau cane. The cane and shallow muck stabilized the boats enough for us to stand in them with little danger of flipping over.

The bluewings came with the dawn—singles, doubles, and an occasional large flight. Our shooting was steady, and after an hour passed, Devlin and Mike each had their limit of four teal. I needed two more.

I hadn't noticed that the tide was coming in and that my boat was now floating. When the next teal buzzed in, I swung my shotgun hard left . . . and my pirogue flipped to the right. My fall lasted a millisecond. Then I made a four-point landing in thick black goop.

When the next teal buzzed in, I swung my shotgun hard left . . . and my pirogue flipped to the right.

I was covered head to boots. I had mud in my hair and mouth. I wiped it from my eyes and roped it off my clothes. My hosts offered quick assistance before their grins broke into open laughter. After attempting to recover my dignity, I borrowed Devlin's gun and shot my last two teal.

Back at the launch ramp I tried to remain oblivious to bystanders' sideways looks and snickers, but I heard their comments: "Uh oh, looks like Devlin took anudder greenhorn huntin' in a pirogue, and he done gone swimming. Oooeee, I'd lak to have seen dat. He looks like a big oyster!"

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