Louisiana’s duck season is headed into the final stretch, with all three zones opening this past weekend. Despite the record-low duck counts for November, the first split saw mixed results, with many hunters doing better than expected. The December aerial survey, conducted just days before the reopening, did not show stellar numbers, but does offer hope that more birds will bring better shooting opportunities.
“With multiple cold fronts since the November survey creating conditions favorable for ducks migrating into our state, we have seen a substantial increase in ducks in three survey regions. However, the overall numbers remain below average,” says Larry Reynolds, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) waterfowl study leader.
Steve Stroderd hunts in southwest Louisiana, which has consistently reported higher numbers of ducks relative to other parts of the state. That area has a bigger share of puddle ducks than most areas. “Our first split was the best we’ve had in the last three years. We had a couple hunts that were slow, but on most hunts we killed limits or near limits. Most of our birds were [gadwalls] and blue- and green-winged teal; however, we did kill some wigeon, pintails, spoonies, mottled ducks, and one lost mallard,” he says.
While still well below average, the December aerial count is much higher than last month’s survey total. “The 2.21 million ducks estimated on this survey is over 2.5 times the 855,000 seen in November, but it was 14 percent below last December’s estimate and the most recent 10-year average of 2.57 million and remains 21 percent below the long-term December average of 2.79 million,” Reynolds reports. Most species showed marked increases over the November counts, but blue-winged teal and shovelers were the only dabblers above the long-term December averages. Nearly 75 percent of all dabbling ducks were surveyed in southwest Louisiana, while the coastal southeast accounted for 77 percent of all divers.
“The 76,000 ducks counted on Catahoula Lake, although a substantial increase from the 12,000 in November, is about half the 149,000 counted last December and 46 percent below the 10-year average,” Reynolds says. “Water levels during the survey were nearly two feet above the management target, markedly reducing foraging habitat for dabbling ducks.” Habitat conditions were previously noted to have been heavily impacted by the several hurricanes that hit Louisiana this year. “With the exception of Catahoula Lake, habitat conditions have improved since the November survey. Acknowledging the negative effects of multiple hurricanes on food availability, water levels have fallen across most of the coast, providing better access to existing food resources for dabbling ducks,” he adds.
The northern areas of the state are faring about the same. Surveys in the northeast have not been completed over the past several years, so valid historical comparisons cannot be made. “About 139,000 ducks and 264,000 geese (212,000 light geese and 52,000 whitefronts) were counted in surveyed areas of northeast Louisiana. The largest concentrations of ducks were seen in flooded fields in the Bunkie–Grand Cote area, where over half of the total ducks were seen. Other concentrations were noted on Catahoula NWR, the fields east of Hebert, and between Bonita and Mer Rouge,” Reynolds reports.
In northwest Louisiana, another 6,900 ducks were counted, primarily on the locks, lakes, oxbows, and fields along the Red River and Upper Toledo Bend reservoir. “That is only 5 percent more than were counted in November, about half the 13,300 counted last December, and 33 percent below the December average of 10,350 since this survey was standardized in 2005.”
Garry Provenzano hunted Shell Beach marsh on Saturday. “There was a fair amount of shooting around, but it was sporadic. The [gadwalls] were few and far between, but we had a couple teal and the dos gris [scaup] were consistent. Between the two of us, we only managed a one-man limit,” he says.
A few miles away, in Delacroix, Scott Dennis of Fanny’s Family Guide Service had good action on the first two days of the final split. “I saw more gray ducks yesterday than I did the last two years, but they wanted open water. We had a mixed bag of grays, teal, one mottled duck, and a couple divers. Not great, but I’ll take it,” he says.
New Orleans area meteorologist Zack Fradella reports that Arctic air is beginning to pile up and will be heading south later in the week. “A cold blast is still on track to arrive just in time for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. This one will blow in quite dramatically, bringing possibly the coldest Christmas we have seen since 2013,” he says.
While there is no guarantee that it will move more ducks into the state, hunters are certainly looking forward to it.