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A young hunter's opinion on the down duck season

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I am a young hunter compared to most on here so was not around to see the great days of the 70s and the 80s but I have heard the stories of the great migrations back then. I have been blessed to have done the majority of my serious duck hunting down in Dularge, LA. I started hunting down there in 2010, and we had great years even some absolutely amazing seasons since. Surprisingly our marsh has seemed to get healthier and the water a bit fresher each year. We now catch a good amount of bass on the lease while trout and redfishing which was nonexistent a few years back. The one thing I focus on every offseason is the amount of feed that builds up in the ponds. It's very simple. The more feed that builds up in the area, the more birds. Last year we had a decent year but were plagued by low water due to our area being so tidal. This past year was awful for everyone in our area including myself. I shot just over 100 birds this year while past years we would average over 400 sometimes getting all the way up to 700. This is hunting the same lease, same ponds, and same types of weather.

There are several theories as to why this season was down statewide, but all I can do is explain what I saw with my own eyes. What I have noticed over the past few years is the decline in the greenwing teal migration in my area. The gray ducks always seem to show up in our marsh as it is known to be a gray duck area. I assume this is because the close proximity to the sandy coast, but the greenwing teal were what helped us really pump our duck numbers up in the past. Each year they show up later and later. In years past we would shoot easy teal limits on opening weekend. Then, they would stay in our area throughout the entire season. Last year they showed up thick for the last two weeks of the season, and this year nada. I maybe shot 10 teal out there this year while the rest were just gray ducks. If you don't have a hard north front to bring new birds down nowadays, it is really no sense in hunting. It used to not be like this. Although I do not have an answer as to why the teal simply don't migrate down anymore I do have an opinion on why the gray duck numbers were way down in our area.

Maybe these issues that Flyway Federation and many people in Louisiana are complaining about with flooded corn fields and more have some sort of merit, but I believe the coastal weather months before the season plays an integral role in the overall migration. Every year my lease and those around me get loaded up with mats upon mats of wigeon grass in the summer. It gets so thick that it makes sight fishing redfish a nightmare due to getting grassed up every cast. High water and storms cause issues, but most of the grass survives if the water resides shortly after a few days. This year the grass was thicker than I've ever seen it, however, we had abnormally strong south winds for weeks towards the end of the summer paired with tropical storms that may not have caused serious coastal damage, but it caused saltwater intrustion for extended periods of time throughout not only Dularge but all of southeast Louisiana. I have a marsh camp that is raised 5 or 6 feet off the water, and I saw the water 3 or 4 feet higher than normal throughout much of August. These strong south winds and storms kept the water high for a longer period of time than a big hurricane would have just blowing through. I've noticed over the years that wigeon grass is super sensitive to high salinity levels. Those mats of wigeon grass that we normally have during duck season that are always loaded with gray ducks absolutely vanished a few weeks after those high water levels. We still had some wigeon grass, but not what we normally do. The only ponds that had grass this season were the ones behind weirs. Those ponds held birds temporarily until we shot them out. I think that the high water wiped out a significant amount of feed in our area that the gray ducks and others rely on to make home during the winter down here. Having a little bit of grass is not enough hold birds all year when you go set up and shoot all of the birds off each spot. Every year since 2010 besides this one, we have massive mats of grass that cover the middle of big ponds and bays. Those of which allow the gray ducks to raft up in areas that are extremely difficult for hunters to reach and almost make them un-huntable. It acts as sort of a safe-haven/feeding area for the birds which keeps them around during stretches of warmer weather.

For example, I was riding around all of Dularge fishing last weekend from Lake Decade, to Sister Lake, all the way to Lost Lake. I may have seen a total of 30 or 40 ducks, and this was after a big front right before this huge arctic blast that just came through. This is unheard of for our area. What I also saw was the lack of any grass beds, which would normally be clearly visible when the water was that low. We just did not have the amount of feed for ducks in general in our entire Dularge area this year. My friends who hunt in Slidell that normally hammer the birds said the same exact thing. Birds on front days, but no feed to keep them around. I imagine it was a lot of the same in other southeastern Louisiana marshes.

My point behind this post is that maybe we shouldn't be so quick to lash out and blame farming practices up north among other things. There were several detrimental factors this year that were all up to mother nature. I agree, the coastal zone opens a few weeks too early, and there are some changes that could be made. But, it makes sense to believe that ducks move south following only two things: (1)weather and (2)food. This is not the first year that we have had warm weather during duck season in south Louisiana. On opening weekend this year we had one of the strongest cold fronts that I can remember coming through that early. That leaves us with the issue of food. Also, this is not the first year that hunters up north have been growing corn and other crops then flooding them to hunt and hold birds. This has been going on for years north of us. The exponentially high water late this summer that caused major saltwater intrusion wiped out a significant amount of food source that all of these birds travel to south Louisiana for. It is known that the marshes down here are key to the migration of almost all kinds of ducks. The birds show up to the marshes in the beginning, find their food source, then develop their winter patterns from there. Those ducks move back and forth from the marsh to the fields of middle and north Louisiana due to weather throughout the season, but they always come back to the marsh. I have noticed that especially gray ducks only want to be in ponds when the water is a certain depth. They congregate on certain grass beds depending on how visible the grass is due to water depth. Specifically, birds want the grass to be an inch or two below the water at most in our area. The tides and north winds play a role in which grass beds are visible. It is like clockwork every single year, when the south winds blow the water high into the marsh, the birds move out and into the fields north of us. When the north winds blow the high water out of the marsh, the grays and other birds come right on back. But it is clearly obvious to me that they show up in our marsh in droves early in the season then develop these winter flight patterns from the marsh to the fields based off of the food source available in the marsh. Gray ducks, spoonies, pintails, and all kinds of birds roost in our marsh year after year. You can hear them each night throughout the season when the generator is turned off. They use the marsh as their home during the winter. My theory is the lack of food source in the southeast LA marshes prevented the birds from developing their normal winter patterns in our state as a whole. The birds most likely noticed the lack of feed and caused them to completely change the migration patterns further west this season towards more unaffected areas.

I apologize for the novel, but I've been following all the facebook rants and arguments for months now. I've been in college and grad school since 2012 so I have had plenty of free time to get away to Dularge and watch with my own eyes the changes from year to year. Let?s not let one bad year lead us to believe that duck hunting in Louisiana is dead or a thing of the past. There are multiple legit reasons as to why our duck numbers were lackluster this year. The most important of which is the lack of FOOD in the marshes that these birds heavily rely on. We had very similar issues with lack of feed back in 2011 or 2012 which yielded similar results. However, this year was by far the least amount of feed I have seen in my time hunting in Dularge. The shift of the migration towards the west is real, but is not necessarily permanent. There will most likely not be any big changes to regulations north of us, but this does not mean that Louisiana duck hunting is doomed. The feed in the marsh will grow back, and the birds will find it. Lets just hope that the high water holds off next year.

I just wanted to give my 2 cents. Take it for what its worth.
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Re: A young hunter's opinion on the down duck season
Very well stated FLiesitdies.
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Re: A young hunter's opinion on the down duck season
I remember reading some of your post years back when you were a much much younger hunter/fisherman. Very interesting piece you wrote with some interesting comments. Very well written 'article'. Good luck with school. (from a 'older than dirt hunter/fisherman.
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Re: A young hunter's opinion on the down duck season
My only argument against those lack of feed theories is the incredible amount of both coon tail grass and widgeon grass in all the Big Branch ponds I hunted this past year,probably hunted over 9 separate areas,all loaded to the top with both coon tail and widgeon grass!!Migratory pattern changes may be the single factor altering what we should get on a predictable and regular basis,not lack of feed,in my estimation(by the way,I made sure to see exactly what coon tail grass and widgeon grass looks like before replying)!!Attending Feb 25th Public Opinion Meeting at Ponchatoula High regarding proposed reduction in teal limits from 6-4!!

Mandevillian
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Re: A young hunter's opinion on the down duck season
FLiesitdies

That was a very good analysis of what you are seeing in your area. I can report similar occurrences happened in my area.

As stated in a previous post many naturally occurring events gave us the hunting results we had. There is not much we can do that will make drastic changes in the results, rather we will have to rely on mother nature and the ducks.

You mention salinity effecting vegetation in the ponds you hunt. Prior to the big duck season the high tide event we had wiped out our vegetation and with that went the teal we usually have. The divers liked what we had put puddle ducks were gone for the most part. Guys that hunt 7 miles from me were not affected by the event, their vegetation survived and they shot teal after teal with a grey or two mixed in. Habitat does make a huge difference.

When duck hunting in coastal zone tidal marsh areas all we can do is hope for good conditions. Even when things are poor we still shoot some ducks unlike others who don’t fire their guns at times. I don’t think duck hunters up the line will have much pity for us, but we need to do all we can to make sure everyone up the line is playing by the same rules.
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Re: A young hunter's opinion on the down duck season
Delta Duckman,Unfortunately Josh Goins exposed a raw nerve last year and doubt anyone would have valid arguments against what he exposed and just for kicks and giggles google a few Northern States,see what pops up on You Tube and see where the ducks 'mysteriously' have shown up,not anywhere near here,unfortunately.Glad ya shoot a few when others less fortunate struggle and how much better could it be for all of us if we got back to normal and predictable duck migrations like we had not that terribly long ago,just prior to Katrina to refresh some memories out there!!!

Mandevillian
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Re: A young hunter's opinion on the down duck season
To the Young Hunter,
I agree wholeheartedly that in the last two years, Green Wing teal have all but disappeared when they used to be what we shot most. Unlike you however, I am in the southwest LA portion of the Coastal zone and we had unlimited food and are not really affected by tide. Our problem was twofold - 1) water was everywhere so the few ducks that were here spread out. 2) It simply never got cold. As far as I know, the first day of duck season that had temperature in the thirties was the last day of duck season. With the early coastal zone season dates, it was the second to last week of duck season before the midwest really got cold and the ducks came down, Those last two weeks though the ducks were thick as mosquitoes in September. The last two weeks were truly epic hunts, kind of like the old days when we had real winters. The rest of the season was the worst in memory.
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Re: A young hunter's opinion on the down duck season
Some food for thought: Throughout the 90s I can remember the SE LA marsh being loaded with birds in the weeks leading up to opening day. Ducks literally raining from the sky and filling every pond on our property while we got the blinds ready for the coming season. As the season would progress and cold fronts push the water out, many areas throughout the marsh would be left as mud flats and inaccessible to birds and hunters. If you were lucky, as we were, you still had ponds holding water in the late season. This concentrated the birds to the few areas that had water and if you could access it made for really good late season hunts. However, many were not as fortunate and by the time the second split came around their lease was one big mud flat and unable to access. I can remember a lot of folks arguing to open the season earlier at the time to take advantage of those early migrating flocks, thereby not having to deal with the lack of water in the late season. Its a double edged sword however. If the season were to open earlier but mother nature doesn't cooperate and send timely cold fronts to push the birds down having the season run later would then look more appealing.
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Re: A young hunter's opinion on the down duck season
FLiesitdies, Very well captured and true for the area I hunt as well, habitat changes, coastal erosion, etc. all add to it, I hit our marsh in the early spring freshwater fishing and the marsh was loaded with ducks headed back up, I've seen quite a few migration swings since hunting the Caernarvon area since 1969 and all the effects you mention equaled slow seasons but we always manage to shoot a few ducks and as usual late season fronts pushing all the water out, just like Last Cast is saying we're at the mercy of mother nature sending birds our way
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Re: A young hunter's opinion on the down duck season
We are most definitely at the mercy of mother nature hunting down in the marsh. I agree with all of you guys, the pendulum swings back and forth year to year and unfortunately mother nature doesn't always give us the luck of the draw. We seemed to have suffered as a whole together this year which does make me worry a little. I have never seen such consistently terrible reports especially in southeast Louisiana throughout an entire season. I can remember when I first got my lease in Dularge my friends and I were in the process of trying to figure out where to build blinds because we were not yet familiar with the area. All it took back in those first few years was to ride around the property until we jumped up hundreds in gray ducks and teal in a pond and that's how we would figure out where to begin the blind building. This is not the case for the past three years at least. The migration has most definitely been pushed back in our area most likely because of the lack of cold fronts in late October and Early November. We haven't shot a limit on opening weekend in years before this one, but we were greeted with a very strong front that Friday before the season started. The first week of this season I limited out every hunt on the lease. This leads me to believe the birds arrived in our area early, realized the food source was scarce or not up their standards, and this caused them to move onto other areas further west where feed was more abundant. I feel as though the birds absolutely showed up briefly early on in the year. Of course warmer weather will move them out as always, but normally the birds return with the different fronts that pass through each year. However, this year the marsh was not up to the standard it has been in past years so they did not return to our areas with each front like they normally do.

For the first split, I fell victim to only hunting the areas that have been productive in years past. We all fall victim to this in fishing and hunting, but this tough season called for some switching up of the routine. Once I began to scout the entire property day after day I was noticing the birds congregating in the ponds that were directly behind the weirs like I mentioned in my original post. I had very good hunts in each of these ponds before I shot them out quickly thereafter. Obviously without an abundance of feed in the area the birds did not stick around once they were shot out of these holes.

As I said in my post, I have been hunting my lease along Lake Merchant for 8 or 9 years now, and the amount of coastal erosion I have witnessed in just my short time is extremely alarming. There are blinds on north banks of medium sized ponds that we have to rebuild further onto the bank every year now simply because the waves from the south winds batter the north banks of our larger ponds all summer long. My fear is that our areas erosion has gotten so out of hand that there is not enough land barrier to protect our ponds from saltwater intrusion caused by even normal summer weather patterns. The ONLY areas that I have noticed have remained unaffected by erosion and high water are the ones that are protected by weirs. These weirs protect ponds that are as far as miles behind them. I also fish out at Raccoon Point for trout throughout the summer and the amount of progress that the rock piles have made is astounding. The beach located behind these rock piles seems to be building year after year. There is no doubt that those rock piles have saved what would be a nonexistent island without them.

I strongly believe that if we could create some group similar Ducks Unlimited or Delta Waterfowl that would put all of their donations towards building small weirs or rock piles in marsh areas, we would see a strong increase in not only the health of our marsh, but also the duck hunting in our areas. The point behind my original post is that I strongly believe that the marsh system acts as one whole unit for those birds. Every section from saltwater coastal marsh, to brackish marsh, to the fresher areas further to the north are all key for those birds. The birds are normally attracted to this area because of the vast amount of habitat and abundance of food that is available to them. When of these key sections isn't up to par with what it normally is, the entire marsh region is negatively affected as a whole. Just like others have stated in the comments about the lack of greenwing teal in our area over the past years. The areas in which these teal are attracted are deteriorating rapidly which I believe is the reason why these birds just don't come to our area anymore. For example, Lake Merchant is an area that has been pounded by erosion much like Sister Lake located directly south. This area has historically been known for holding large amounts of gray ducks and green wings throughout the years, but these numbers have declined year after year directly correlative to the amount of erosion this area is experiencing. Sister Lake is currently in much worse shape, but if proper actions are not taken, hunting in Lake Merchant, Bay Junop, Fourleague Bay, and Lost Lake may be a thing of the past. I know there are plenty of other areas in southeast Louisiana that are experiencing these same issues. I know it would be expensive and labor intensive, but nothing in life worth doing is free or easy. We have seen the enormous benefits that these small intermittent rock piles have done for areas like Grand Isle and Raccoon Point. Why haven't we thought about building similar rock piles further inland along the banks of our bigger lakes. The marsh in these areas is extremely vulnerable to this erosion that has taken place. Yes, I know there are other issues that arise in states north of us that may be short-stopping birds or affecting our migration. Maybe these issues will be resolved, maybe they won't. For the most part these decisions are out of our hands. However we still have the power to maintain and protect the area that is in our backyard. As someone who would hate to see my area and any others become un-huntable, I find it hard to believe that we are doing all we can to protect our habitat and make it as appealing to ducks as it should be. Ducks Unlimited started the idea decades ago that 'If you build it, the ducks will come.' This has proven to be true throughout all of the country. This same thing can be done down in here in our marshes of Southeast Louisiana. We had an awful year no-one can deny it, but the duck migration to south Louisiana is not over. However, if our areas keep deteriorating then once the migration does turn back around, the birds will not stay like they should
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