By Chris Holmes, WF360 Louisiana Migration Editor
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) December waterfowl survey reflects a significant increase in duck numbers since the last survey was conducted in November. The second half of the season began this past weekend, and many waterfowl hunters remain optimistic about what is to come.
The overall count for December (3.02 million ducks) was nearly double the number of birds counted in November (1.55 million). The total was 26 percent below last year’s December count, but was 6 percent higher than the long-term average.
Of course, the recent winter blast that blanketed much of the nation came right in the middle of the split. Many parts of Louisiana were covered in snow, even areas just outside of New Orleans. Many states to the north had extended freezes, and waterfowl hunters are counting on that kind of weather to move more birds into the state.
Captain Jimmy Corley, with Waterfowl Specialist Guide Service in St. Bernard, reports, “I’ve been seeing lots of gray ducks (gadwalls) sitting on the big lakes and open water areas around Hopedale, and saw quite a few gray ducks, teal and wigeon around the Biloxi marsh. I also saw a lot of divers on Lake Lery.”
Captain Brayden Wood guides for the historic Coastal Club in southwest Louisiana. Located near Cameron Prairie and Lacassine National Wildlife Refuges, this private lodge has been open since 1929. Wood blames what he calls “stale weather” for what proved to be a lackluster, but not terrible first split. “We had some slower days, but what we lacked in quantity, we made up for in quality. The majority of our birds were mallards, pintails and ringnecks,” he says.
“I’m optimistic that as long as these fronts keep coming, we will have a much better second half of the season,” Wood adds. “One bright spot has been the goose hunting. It’s been phenomenal in the Welsh and Thornwell areas. The specks are arriving and staying.”
Roughly 58 percent of the ducks surveyed by the LDWF in December were in the southwest, compared to 63 percent counted in the region during the November survey. This change was attributed to a large increase in diving duck numbers in the southeast.
Not all the news from the December survey is good. Larry Reynolds, LDWF waterfowl program coordinator, noted that habitat conditions across much of northwest Louisiana are in poor shape due to prolonged drought. The same is true in the northeast. More rainfall will be required to improve habitat conditions in these areas.
Rod Haydel, of Haydels Game Calls, spends most of his time hunting in the marshes of south Louisiana. “In the areas that I hunt, there are plenty of geese around, and they keep coming,” Haydel says. “Unfortunately, the duck numbers have not followed suit. Some areas are holding birds, while some are not.”
Looking ahead to Christmas week, long-term forecasts indicate a major cold front with accompanying wintry precipitation will sweep through the Midwest and push all the way to the Gulf, setting the stage for a large waterfowl migration into Louisiana. If the forecast holds true, the state’s waterfowlers just might be rewarded with full straps in time for the holidays.
Find or submit migration reports to the DU Migration Map.
A lifelong resident of southeast Louisiana, Chris Holmes is a freelance writer, avid waterfowl hunter, and fisherman. He will be providing Louisiana migration, habitat, and hunting alerts to Waterfowl360 throughout the 2017–2018 waterfowl season.