The waterfowl season was so bad for some they complained about shovelers like this duck as the only birds harvested. (Submitted Photo/Courtesy of John K. Flores)
The 2018-19 waterfowl season receives low grades
Some 15 years ago, I wrote in this column how poor the 2004-2005 waterfowl season had been around these parts.
The following year, some local politicians and powers that be put together a town hall style meeting in Morgan City, inviting Delta Waterfowl Senior Vice-President John Devney and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Waterfowl Study Leader at the time, the late Robert Helm.
I’ll never forget how embarrassed I was after watching these men receive a thorough tongue lashing from one of our ignorant state representatives and a couple of parish councilmen.
Afterwards, I apologized to Devney, assuring him these politicians didn’t represent St. Mary Parish residents. As a result, I gained a friend and have been able to call Devney whenever I have a question or just to ask how his duck season was.
The truth is, Devney and Helm had absolutely no control then or now, what the fall migration will be where ducks and geese are concerned. Categorically, the finest science in the world goes into managing North America’s waterfowl populations that hunters across all four flyways have benefitted. However, there are natural cycles and trends.
No one can predict when the next long-term drought will occur. And, no one can predict, other than negatively, what the impact coastal wetland loss is having on wintering populations of ducks and geese. For perhaps hundreds of millennia, waterfowl have come to our coastline to rest and put on fat reserves for the trip north the following spring where nesting occurs.
Nonetheless, when you take a look at the numbers, some things are obvious. For example, 20 years ago, 80 percent of the white-fronted goose population wintered in Louisiana. Now, in spite of an increase in overall numbers, only 32 percent winter in the state.
During five-year studies on mallard populations in the early 2000s, some 29 percent of the Mississippi flyway population made Louisiana their winter home. More recently, from 2011 through 2014, the study showed that number declined to 9.6 percent.
Aerial survey numbers estimated 1.94 million ducks in the state the first week of December. The numbers were 36 percent below the previous year and 32 percent below the long-term average for the survey.
Local hunters are feeling it. Statistics coming from opening day of the first split in November, hunters harvested 0.9 ducks per hunter. On opening day of the second split, that number had risen significantly to 3.2 ducks per hunter, only to fall to a paltry 0.6 ducks per hunter the Wednesday following New Year’s Day.
Social media has gotten pretty emotional, complete with conspiracy theories of Ducks Unlimited short stopping ducks by purposefully flooding unharvested corn fields — Note: one of the same things mentioned in my column 15 years ago.
One bit of diatribe I read on Facebook had guys complaining about shooting at northern shovelers and blue-winged teal all season and not getting big ducks like mallards, pintails and gadwall.
Some of the grades from locals were pretty low.
“It was an F for me,” said Adam Rhodes, an avid waterfowl hunter who hunts the Atchafalaya Delta Wildlife Management Area. “All 5 times we went hunting, not only did we see few birds, we killed even fewer. I rarely struggle to get a full limit, and this year, I didn’t limit out once. It was very poor. We hunted on what you would think (would) be ideal days and didn’t kill anything.”
Houma water fowler Hunter Parra was one of the few who had an outstanding season. Parra hunts off of the Antill canal west of the Orange Grove near Gibson.
“As for a grade this season — AAA plus, Parra said. “I have been extremely blessed this season. I am one of the few that has consistently killed ducks all season. I have killed 12 different species this season, 8 of which are going on the wall. I’ve had this lease for 3 years, and up until this season, I killed one duck out there. The difference this season is grass and vegetation. This has been the best duck season of my life.”
Though Hunter Andras, owner and operator of DukNutz Decoy Anchors, considered the season the worst he’d seen in 25 years being in the blind, he still gave the season a C plus. According to Andras, his blind killed 465 ducks on 37 hunts. Andras defines his blind as wherever he hunts and the group that is with him.
In spite of the average grade, Andras pointed out poor nesting conditions on the breeding grounds that impacted duck numbers, along with wet and warm weather conditions to the north that derailed the fall flight, number-wise. These factors, he said, is what led to a slow year down south but mentions it will bounce back — it always does.
My own personal grade would have to be a D-minus. Out of five hunts I made this hunting season, four were complete busts — never firing a shot — and one turned out to be good where a buddy and I killed eight ducks.
With one weekend left to hunt coastal zone waterfowl, there is still opportunity to possibly end the season on a high note. With some of the low grades experienced this year, maybe one more hunt will bump it up a notch.