Migration Alert: Louisiana Duck Hunters Face Low Duck Numbers, Optimistic about Weather

Nov. 11, 2022 – Mississippi Flyway – Louisiana

© Michael Furtman

Louisiana duck hunters are always looking for an angle. Are the stars lining up for the opening day of duck season when the West Zone kicks off on November 12? Many are counting on the fact that there were no hurricanes or other significant tropical weather events in the state this year. Additionally, many places to the north are suffering from drought and a powerful cold front is headed toward the Bayou State for opening weekend. Agricultural field hunters as well as marsh and coastal hunters are hoping the ducks are forced to migrate all the way to Louisiana to find water.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries flew its November Waterfowl Survey this week, and this year’s total estimate of 802,000 ducks in coastal Louisiana and Catahoula Lake was an all-time low. Duck numbers were down 38 percent from the November 2021 estimate (1.29 million) as well as 28 percent and 48 percent below than the most recent five-year (1.11 million) and 10-year (1.54 million) averages, respectively.

Unlike the total estimate, however, no record lows were recorded for individual species. Gadwalls (+21 percent), green-winged teal (+20 percent), mottled ducks (+5 percent), and scaup (+117 percent) were up compared to 2021 estimates. But large declines were recorded for mallards (-90 percent), wigeon (-82 percent), shovelers (-87 percent), ring-necked ducks (-96 percent), and blue-winged teal (-32 percent). Additionally, blue-winged teal numbers showed a decrease of 24 percent from this year’s September count.

Rod Haydel, president of Haydel’s Game Calls, hunts in southwest Louisiana and reports that the youth season in his area was “mostly favorable.” Haydel is counting on Mother Nature to lend a hand on opening day. “Numbers continue to build, and I am sure with the front coming, along with the full moon, we will get a push of birds for this weekend,” he says. 

Scott Dennis guides hunters on his family land in the marshes of southeast Louisiana in Delacroix. He had a successful youth hunt on Sunday, in which two hunters bagged 10 birds, including five gadwalls, two shovelers, a mottled duck, a scaup, and a ringed-neck duck. “The ducks were in small mixed flocks, and I’m sure they could have limited out, but we could only make a short hunt due to other plans,” Dennis says. “We didn’t see a crazy amount of ducks, but we did see a few huge flocks of pintails with over 100 in each flock, but they were heading north. I’m hoping the stars are aligning for the marsh this season. The grass isn’t everywhere, but there is a good bit around. The low river may also have some northern habitats pretty dry. I don’t wish bad seasons on anyone, but maybe it is our turn this year.”

While the low Mississippi River may be helpful to some marsh hunters, it is causing a bit of concern down in Venice. A perennial waterfowling hotspot, submerged aquatics flourish from the river’s flow of freshwater, which also keeps the Gulf’s saltwater at bay. However, due to the record low water levels, saltwater has crept up as far as New Orleans this fall.

Michael McVay is a Ducks Unlimited regional biologist based in Monroe. “Habitat conditions remain dry for the northeast portion of the state,” he reports. “Recent storms brought about 3.5 inches of rain over the last two weeks, but river levels are extremely low. Water is most definitely a driving factor this time of year, particularly during a dry year like this one.”

“Hunters are finding plenty of success during the early goose season so far. More teal, shovelers, and pintails began showing up around the last week of October, and last week’s cool weather brought in some mallards and gadwalls as well,” McVay adds. “But increases in waterfowl numbers may be only localized. Whether particular areas have higher or lower numbers of birds than last year will be directly related to the current quality of food onsite for waterfowl.”

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