Following record heat and low bird numbers during the September teal season, hunters in Louisiana’s Coastal Zone are longing for a good duck opener this weekend. Will they get their wish? Several cold fronts have pushed through over the last couple weeks, including some of coldest air of the season in the last 24 hours. An even stronger cold front will arrive early next week, with Arctic air and unseasonably cold temperatures plunging all the way to the Gulf Coast. Early November temperature records are expected to fall throughout the flyway, and hunters are hoping ducks will move with it.
According to a November aerial survey, however, many waterfowl remain to the north of the Bayou State. Larry Reynolds, waterfowl study leader for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, reports that preliminary estimates of waterfowl in the coastal survey area and on Catahoula Lake totaled just over 1 million ducks, the third lowest November estimate since the survey began in 1969 and ahead of only the 2008 and 2013 estimates.
“It is barely half of the most recent five-year and long-term averages of 2 million ducks,” Reynolds notes.
A bright spot was southwest Louisiana, where almost 600,000 ducks were surveyed, more than double the November 2018 estimate of approximately 250,000 ducks.
Reynold adds, "The 597,000 total ducks estimated in southwest Louisiana on this survey is more than twice the 247,000 estimated in November 2018 but was lower than estimates in the previous 10 years, and 40 percent below the 2008-2017 average of 994,000.”
Nearly 350,000 ducks were surveyed in southeast Louisiana, where November surveys weren’t completed last year. However, total duck numbers throughout the entire survey area were disappointing.
“Despite early blizzard conditions in the Dakotas and freezing temperatures down into the mid-latitudes, there doesn’t appear to have been a major migratory movement into much of coastal Louisiana,” Reynolds says. “A recent survey in Missouri showed duck numbers about 25 percent above average. There continue to be reports of good concentrations of ducks in a few areas, and a strong cold front expected for early next week will hopefully push more birds into our state.”
As for habitat conditions, water levels in the coastal marsh were high and not optimal for foraging ducks in most areas surveyed across southeast and southwest Louisiana. Submerged aquatic vegetation abundance was highly variable, and habitat conditions appear to be only fair at best overall along the coast. In agricultural areas, conditions appear about average for November, with mostly managed water on the landscape and little natural shallow flooding.
Hope springs eternal among waterfowlers, and on Johnson Bayou in southwest Louisiana, Steve Stroderd is excited for what the weather will bring. “I took my son, Luke, out last weekend for the youth hunt, and we saw a bunch of birds. That front coming through today should move more birds down for the opener,” he says.
Just off Big Lake, Kirk Stansel, with Hackberry Rod & Gun, says the marshes are looking good despite the high water. “The marsh has been extremely high due to rain and high tides, but the submerged aquatics have really taken off. We had a really successful youth weekend, and if more birds come down, I think they will like it here,” he says.
A little further east, Brent Smith is hoping to give his dog some work in the rice fields near Gueydan. “I was out last weekend finishing up the blinds and doing a little camp work. Although there weren’t tons of ducks, there were enough to provide limits,” he says.
Jared Hall, with Quackhead Outfitters, has been seeing ducks in his area. “The biggest concentration has been in the Pointe-a-la-Hache area, where there is a lot of feed. There are still a lot of ducks up north, so hopefully these continued fronts will push more in,” he says.
Scott Dennis, with Fanny’s Family Guide Service, is hoping for a strong opening day in the Delacroix marsh. “We had a good youth hunt, and the marsh and feed situation look great. We should be able to hold ducks all season if they continue to migrate with the cold fronts and shorter days ahead,” he says.
For many Louisiana duck hunters, last season was a bitter disappointment, but this is a new year. Buoyed by the approaching cold weather, waterfowlers are cautiously optimistic they’ll get some good shooting.