Photo Submitted by Hunter Andras
Hunter Andras with a strap of Atchafalaya Delta WMA ducks from opening day.
John Flores: Hunters do well even with low duck numbers
It’s hard to tell if hunters were paying attention or not to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries aerial population survey report issued last Friday. Essentially, duck and goose hunters showed up in the marshes and agricultural fields along the coast this past weekend in droves to open the 2020-21 waterfowl season.
The LDWF report’s comment section started with one glaring statement. “The 855,000 ducks estimated on this survey is the lowest November estimate since this survey began in 1969.”
Also included in the comments were comparisons of the long-term averages of some species to the actual survey estimates. For example, the November LTA for Green Winged Teal is 254,000. The aerial survey estimated just 49,000. Moreover, the LTA for Pintails is roughly 236,000 birds. The survey estimated 41,000.
Gadwalls, also known as gray ducks, are popular “big” ducks in a hunter’s bag, but this species numbers were also down significantly. The November LTA for Gadwalls is 788,000. The LDWF estimated them at around 288,000.
Essentially, just two diving duck species, Ring-necks and scaup were above the long-term average.
According to the report, habitat conditions along the coast were heavily impacted by tropical events this year. High water conditions remain along much of the coastline with little submerged aquatic vegetation and even less seed-bearing plants.
In spite of the low estimates and less than ideal habitat conditions along the coast, many hunters found moderate to excellent success this past weekend, with some complaining the worst ever.
Steve Stroderd is a Lab Technician for CITGO and resident of Carlyss, just southwest of Lake Charles below the town of Sulphur. Stroderd also hunts the Johnson Bayou area in the extreme southwest corner of the state near the Texas state line.
Stroderd said, “Way better opening weekend for sure compared to last year. We had as bad of conditions as could be had and still managed to kill. One of our blinds smacked the teal in quick order and my blind had two shy of a three man limit. The birds were there. We let my eight-year-old kill his limit first. I’ve heard pretty good reports overall west of the Calcasieu River along the coast, but I also have heard a few rough ones too.”
Grant Henning, owner/operator of Henning’s Guide Service, who has hunting blinds around Sweet Lake, south of Lake Charles and Thornwell, south of Jennings, had spectacular shooting during the opening weekend that went on into Monday.
Henning said, “Saturday and Sunday we had three blinds with limits of ducks and two blinds with limits of specks. And, one of those had 75 snows. On Monday we killed a limit of ducks, specks and had eight snows.”
John Saucier, owner/operator of Sportsman’s Charters in Gueydan, had concerns leading up to the opener last weekend. But, after posting a solid opening day on Saturday and observing geese pouring in from the north that evening ahead of a cold front, he felt a lot better.
Saucier said, “On opening day we did decent. Out of five blinds we had 27 specks and 47 ducks. Over the weekend we wound up averaging about 12 birds per blind. But on Sunday the birds really didn’t move well, and we had no wind early, so the blinds that hunted later in the morning did decent.”
“We had some geese and mainly ducks, which is weird compared to years past,” Saucier continued. “We usually kill more geese here early in the season, but last week I was worried, but it’s looking better each day.”
Further east, Lafayette resident Danny Womack hunted his lease near Forked Island south of Abbeville. The semi-retired electrical supplies salesman has hunted the same duck ponds in that region for more years than he can remember along La. 82.
Womack said, “We did good on Saturday shooting mostly Blue Winged Teal, but we limited out. On Sunday it was a lot slower and we had to work for our ducks and didn’t limit out, but we still had a good time.”
The only complaints Womack had was the unseasonably warm weather and way too many alligators in his ponds. Womack mentioned he wasn’t able to let his little Boykin Spaniel named Scout, get out of the blind to retrieve ducks for fear of losing him to the reptiles.
Towards Houma just south of Bayou Black, Bill Lake, owner/operator of Bayou Guide Service, hunted the marsh in Terrebonne Parish with five other hunters. His group of guys killed 25 ducks of which 21 were teal — mostly Blue Winged Teal.
Lake said, “The opener was better for us last year as there were more big ducks around. We saw lots of big ducks high early in the morning. We had about 1,000 teal on our lease during the past two weeks, but it appears a lot of those teal are gone. We don’t have any Ring-necked ducks yet. They showed up around the first of December last year. And, not as many coots this year so far. We have a lot of grass, so I expect the birds will show up soon.”
Closer to home, Chackbay resident Hunter Andras hunted public land. Andras has hunted the Atchafalaya Delta on opening day for the past three years. On a scale of 1 to 10 he gave the opener a solid 8.
“It was actually better than the previous two season openers,” Andras said. “Barring the heat conditions, we had a great strap of ducks. Had the scaup limit not changed from last season we would have easily harvested our four-man limit, as a solid 300 scaup hit our decoys throughout the morning. We also noticed more big ducks early on for this time of the year. We saw Pintails, Canvasbacks and Gadwalls. If it wasn’t for strong winds early Saturday, we would have picked up some Wigeon that were trying to work the spread.”
The Atchafalaya Delta WMA opening day bag check revealed a paltry 1.6 ducks killed per hunter, with 496 hunters actually checked on Saturday.
LDWF Waterfowl Program Manager Larry Reynolds hunts the marsh just north of Creole in Cameron Parish. Creole happens to be ground zero for both hurricane Laura and Delta. The top biologist says in his region the marsh is a mess. Nonetheless, he and one other hunter still managed 10 ducks opening day — a mix of teal, Gadwall and Northern Shovelers.
Reynolds said, “I’m getting mixed reports as usual with good reports coming from Terrebonne Parish, mixed reports from very good to worst-ever in both the southeast and southwest coastal areas, but most saying, ‘better than I expected after seeing your survey.’”
To book a hunt with Sportsman Charters you can contact John Saucier by calling 337-912-5966. Henning’s Guide Service can be reached by calling 337-802-9000.