Unseasonably warm temperatures, dry conditions, and low duck numbers are the issues Louisiana duck hunters faced as the state reopened this past weekend.
“We were blessed to get a little rain during the break but still need a few more inches to hold more water. Our first split was tougher due to drought conditions, but we still had some great days,” reports Jared Mophett, guide and habitat manager at Honey Brake Lodge in Jonesville. The weather warmed up in November, and except for one or two minor cool fronts, temperatures have remained well above average across the state, flirting with record highs in several areas. “Our numbers look pretty good right now, but we need mother nature to participate with weather changes,” Mophett adds.
The cold weather may eventually come, but the ducks so far haven’t. “The December 2021 duck estimate for coastal Louisiana and Catahoula Lake is 1.4 million, which is the lowest December estimate on record,” says Jason Olszak, waterfowl program manager for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Olszak’s recent aerial survey was not promising. Although the results from the aerial survey were up slightly from November, the numbers for the coastal areas are skewed by a big increase in Catahoula Lake counts. “This estimate is heavily influenced by the high count at Catahoula Lake, as both coastal regions show marked declines from last December,” Olszak says, noting that the southwest region is down 27 percent and southeast region is down 68 percent.
Down in Buras, Cajun Fishing Adventures owner Ryan Lambert has experienced the same weather blues. “Our season started off great with customers doing very well. However, as the warm weather moved in, the ducks moved out. There are thousands and thousands of ducks sitting out in the open waters of the Gulf, but there’s been no weather to move them back in,” he says. Lambert notes that this is not just a Louisiana issue. “I just returned from Mexico and had a really bad trip,” he says. In an area known for liberal limits and high duck numbers, Lambert reported one or two mornings in Mexico without firing a shot and overall low number of ducks. “Our marsh in Buras is in good shape, but we need some weather changes to get the birds in the area.”
In north Louisiana, Jeff Simmons of Simmons Sporting Goods also reports a steady decline in action as the first split in the west zone wore on. “After 16 days, we ended up the first split just about the same way as it went yesterday. A few folks killed some birds, up into the double digits. But a lot more had poor hunts. This 77-degree weather and no ducks doesn’t make it very exciting,” he says.
Olszak acknowledged that hot weather and low bird counts are affecting most of the region. “Current national temperature projections show above average conditions for the next few months well into the mid-latitude states. Similar to Louisiana, states to our north have recently reported abnormally warm and dry conditions, with mixed effects on waterfowl abundance and hunting success. Recent estimates from aerial waterfowl surveys in Arkansas are also half of their long-term December average, while Missouri duck counts are above both their short and long-term averages. Weather and duck populations notwithstanding, low estimates and limited waterfowl distribution in Louisiana have been reflected in mixed harvest reports during the first split,” he says.
According to New Orleans meteorologist Zack Fradella, a weather change is on the horizon, but it won’t come for a couple of weeks. “Enjoy the chill to start Christmas week, because the holiday continues to look like a fry fest,” he says. “It will be a 70s Christmas, maybe even 80s. A flip to sustained cold doesn’t happen until after the New Year in my opinion, and it could be quite a cold start to 2022.”
The good news is that the east zone runs through January 30 and the west zone has one more split, but then also ends on January 30. There’s still time to get the cold weather to move in along with some more ducks.