The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) December aerial survey was conducted last week and brings some great news for hunters. Although the severe weather mid-week cancelled some of the flights, most of the state was surveyed. (The northwest survey could not be completed, and it will be conducted at a later date.)
Jason Olszak, LDWF’s waterfowl program manager, says the December 2022 duck estimate for coastal Louisiana and Catahoula Lake was 2.1 million, an increase of 164 percent from the record-low November 2022 estimate of 802,000. The December 2022 figure is also 47 percent higher than the December 2021 estimate of 1.4 million ducks, which was a record low. The numbers for both southwest and southeast Louisiana showed a marked increase over December 2021. However duck numbers from Catahoula declined significantly. Compared to December 2021, the latest estimates increased in both the southwest (+59 percent) and southeast (+137 percent) portions of the coast but declined at Catahoula (-89 percent), Olszak reported.
The counts are much higher in coastal areas than they were in November, and hunters should expect overall better hunting for the second split. Individual species counts provided mixed results. Green-winged teal, scaup, ring-neck, shoveler, mottled duck, and gadwall numbers increased from last December, while canvasback, wigeon, mallard, blue-winged teal, and pintail numbers decreased. Only greenwinged teal (+106 percent) and blue-winged teal (+28 percent) were above their most recent 10-year average estimates for December. This survey marks a December low for mallards and wigeon, and the third lowest estimate for mottled ducks (2021 and 2017 were lower), Olszak said.
Although the aerial survey for November saw record-low numbers in parts of Louisiana, hunters pinned their hopes on favorable weather and drought conditions in many areas of the country. Those hopes appear to have been realized. Despite the low numbers overall, hunter reports from across the state showed better than expected hunting during the first season split. John Gilmore hunts near Welsh in southwest Louisiana and reports average to good hunting so far. “We did excellent on the geese but had to work a little harder for the ducks. Some days were quick limits, but on other days we had to stay a bit longer and be a little less picky on our birds,” he said.
Near the end of the first split, the weather warmed and during the closed part of the season, record-high temperatures were seen in many areas across the state. However, a shift back to cold weather moved in last week and hunters were greeted with much lower temperatures. Even colder weather is expected over the Christmas weekend. Central to north Louisiana will see temperatures in the teens and 20s, while the coastal areas will see lows in the 30s and possibly some light freezes.
Captain Bill Lake is a seasoned fishing guide and a passionate duck hunter. He hunts in the Gibson area between Houma and Morgan City. “Our first split was about as expected, with hardly any big ducks to speak of. We shot nearly 200 teal and only about 25 big ducks,” he said. “We had about 800 blue-winged teal and probably a couple hundred big ducks get up when we arrived on the lease—mostly gray ducks, spoonbills, and ringnecks. I think the second split will be loaded with teal again and probably a bunch of ringnecks will show up. Big ducks? We’ll have to wait and see.”
Cassidy Lejeune, DU’s director of conservation programs for south Louisiana, has no doubt that hunters are benefiting from the many projects completed and ongoing across the state. “Between the terracing and coastal restoration projects, we’re seeing much improved habitat conditions in areas near these projects. Certainly having the habitat in the best condition possible helps attract and hold ducks in these areas,” he said. “We’re out there just doing what we do. Along with our partners, we’re working to strengthen and rebuild the coast as well as improve wildlife habitat.”
Bray Bourgoyne and his friends hunt both the east and west zones. His first split in the east was pretty good. “We had mixed bags of mostly teal and wood ducks with some miscellaneous big ducks mixed in, but not too many,” he said. Some areas were plagued with low water, making it difficult or impossible to access the places where they usually hunt. “Water was scarce for most holes. You had to walk too far to even consider some, and then it was a 50/50 shot whether they had water once you got there. However, we looked around a bit today and the water has come up several feet in the spillway. We’ll have a lot more access than we did in the first split.” Like others, Bourgoyne is counting on the colder weather to help with his success. “This front coming in should do us pretty well if we can find them.”
The weather looks like it is going to cooperate, and the overall survey count is much more positive than when the season began. This is good news for Louisiana duck hunters who are looking forward to the second split of the 2022-23 season.