By Chris Holmes, WF360 Louisiana Migration Editor
All three Louisiana migratory bird hunting zones reopened for the last half of the season on December 15. After a 12-day break, hunters couldn’t wait to get back afield to see if additional ducks had settled into the state. However, the excitement was tempered somewhat by the December aerial waterfowl survey, the results of which were published the day before.
“The 1.94 million ducks estimated on this survey is 36 percent lower than last December’s estimate of 3.02 million and 32 percent below the long-term December average of 2.84 million. The Southeast portion of this survey was not completed in November, so no comparisons can be made for that region. However, estimates increased markedly from November in both the Southwest (247,000 to 886,000) and Catahoula Lake (103,000 to 156,000) survey regions, reports Larry Reynolds, waterfowl study leader for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF). Although it was not the news hunters wanted to hear, most took it in stride and headed out for the opener anyway. Mixed results are being reported across the state.
Garry Provenzano has hunted the marshes of eastern St. Bernard Parish for over 40 years. “We knew that the numbers in our area were low, not just from the survey but also from scouting. However, you have to go to know, and we weren’t going to miss an opening day,” he says. Unfortunately, his hunt bore out the survey results, which showed that of the 890,000 ducks counted in the Southeast Coastal region of the state, 76 percent were divers. “We killed only two [scaup] and didn’t see that many more ducks of any kind. I’m hearing that plenty of birds are still up north and hopefully they will get some snow and frozen water to get them moving to our state,” Provenzano continues.
At Honey Brake Lodge near Jonesville, head guide Jared Mophett says the action during the second opener was steady but dropped off a bit during the week. “We were holding a lot of birds in the area during the split; I estimate about 30,000 on the high end to maybe 20,000 on the low end. However, with no new birds coming down, the hunting declined as the shooting moved those birds around,” he says. Mophett is optimistic regarding the remainder of the season and believes that the worst thing that could happen is more rainfall. “We have lots of water around and all the rivers are already high, which spreads out the birds considerably. Hopefully we won’t get more rain and a lot of flooding.”
Also echoing the survey results, Mophett believes that the state has not received a big push of birds yet, but with the bulk of the season remaining, he’s optimistic that they will get there. “We’re going to get them; it is just late, but they will come,” he says. “My advice to hunters looking for birds now is to find them and get on them. The high water has the birds that are here spread out with many options. There are a lot of empty spots, so you need to find where they are.”
Jeff Simmons of Simmons Sporting Goods in Bastrop is reporting better shooting than his area had in the first split. “We killed 15 this morning, mostly teal, and there were a lot more ducks than most every day of the first split,” he says. However, several days of foggy conditions hampered early-morning hunting. “One day soon it will be sunny, windy, and there will be lots of ducks. It’s the same old story: not a lot of ducks and tons of water for them to spread out into. Nothing is consistent right now,” he adds.
Guide Brian Windsor has been getting in a few personal hunts with his trusty Lab Tate in the southwest coastal marshes. “I made some hunts in the tidal marshes south of Vinton with an overall small number of birds being harvested,” he says. “We were seeing mostly greenwings, with a fair number of bluewings mixed in.” However, early in the week he hunted his blind in Grand Chenier, a few miles west of Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, with greater success. “There are substantially more birds in that area,” Windsor reports. “Big groups of greenwings and good size flocks of pintails. There are also some small flocks of mallards from time to time, but not many gadwalls.”
Cohost of local outdoors show Bayou Wild, Martha Spencer, participated in a duck-and-goose combo hunt near Whiteville in St. Landry Parish on Thursday morning. At the time of this writing, she provided a live report from the blind. “It’s about 52 degrees and raining. We’re seeing tons of geese, but they are flying in big groups. We have five specklebelly geese as of now and only one spoon and a pintail. We’re not seeing a lot of ducks and the ones we are won’t come in,” she said.
The December duck count for the Pelican State is substantially below average. Weather conditions to the north are allowing ducks access to feed on open water with no need to move south at this time. The Louisiana season closes in the Coastal and West zones on January 20 and the East zone on January 27. With a little more than half the 60-day season yet to go, Louisiana hunters are banking on favorable weather conditions to bring the birds their way.
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 2018–2019 wa-terfowl season.