Duck Numbers Down, Hunter Success Still Spotty

More ducks poured into Louisiana in December and early January, but the numbers still lagged far behind previous years’ counts, the Department of Wildlife & Fisheries announced.

(PRWEB) January 26, 2005 -- More ducks poured into Louisiana in December and early January, but the numbers still lagged far behind previous years’ counts, the Department of Wildlife & Fisheries announced.

Biologists found an estimated 2.5 million birds along the coastal zone and around Catahoula Lake when they flew aerial surveys Jan. 4-11.

That’s 800,000 higher than December’s surveys, but it’s still well below January 2004’s estimate of 3.4 million. Southwest Louisiana had the highest number of ducks, with a total of 1.4 million birds. The majority of that number — 1.3 million — were dabblers, and in Southeast Louisiana, another 1.074 million birds were counted.

Catahoula Lake was almost devoid of dabblers, with only 1,000 greys counted. The popular North Louisiana hunting area didn’t do much better with divers — there were only 33,000 ringnecks and 29,000 canvasbacks. The DWF report shows that counters estimated another 150,000 ducks in Northeast Louisiana, although there was no breakdown by species.

State Waterfowl Study Leader Robert Helm said he had received reports that hunting fell off fairly quickly after the opening weekend in November. “It started off relatively good,” Helm said. “The rest of the first split, we basically didn’t have any weather.” That meant few birds made the trip south, he said.

By the second split, overall hunting was pretty blah. But he said localized areas had high numbers of teal and produced pretty good hunting. “There’s been pockets of hunters here and there that did well,” Helm said. But the most-successful hunters were east of the Atchafalaya River. “I think Southeast Louisiana overall did better than Southwest Louisiana,” Helm said. Venice was one example of surprisingly good hunting for much of the season.

“Venice was good overall until Christmas,” he said. “I’m frankly surprised they did as well as they did as long as they did because of the hurricane affects.” By Christmas, however, the little feed that was left after Hurricane Ivan blew past the area was gone, and hunting success fell off. The Caernarvon marshes also offered good shooting. “That’s one of those areas that seemed to do reasonably well,” he said.

But there were regions within the southeast where hunters struggled. “The Terrebonne marshes were pretty poor,” he said. Oddly, this wasn’t a matter of marsh conditions — there was plenty of food, and hunters should have found birds teeming in the area. “Frankly, I can’t explain that,” Helm said.

Pecan Island was a high point in Southwest Louisiana, but big ducks weren’t the big-ticket item, he said. “Teal hunting carried the load down there,” he said. Central and North Louisiana hunters seemed to have done fairly well, with the ample flooded backwaters playing a big role. “I think the hunting in Central and North Louisiana was better, particularly who hunted the backwaters,” Helm said.

That didn’t seem to be the case for field hunters, who had plenty of water but few ducks.

“Field hunters didn’t do well after Christmas,” he said. That’s probably due to the onset of the wet season, and the proliferation of mast in those low lands. “The September teal season was bothered with drought,” he said. “That turned around in October with some of those tropical vents, and it never looked back.” The result was that birds could find refuge and food in the backwater areas, so they weren’t forced to forage in the flooded fields.

Likewise, hunters throughout the state who reported good success had to move from the staples of greys and mallards to other, normally less-desirable species. “I’m getting a lot of reports that ringnecks were a big factor,” Helm said. That’s a big shift for Louisiana hunters, who traditionally have been very picky about what duck species they shot. “Not that long ago, the ringnecks were there, but people chose not to shoot them,” Helms said.

That change in attitude has highlighted just how fortunate Louisiana waterfowlers have been over the years, he said. “Louisiana hunters, on the whole, have never realized how good they had it,” Helm said. “That’s just not the case anymore.” As to why there haven’t been more birds show up, Helm can only point to the weather as a major contributor. “There’s still a lot of birds to the north of us,” he said in mid January. “Missouri is holding a lot of birds.” Another factor also may be in play, however.

Helm said gadwalls have been found in larger numbers in East Texas. “There may be some distribution issues that we haven’t picked up on,” he said. “Maybe those birds shifted a bit to the west.”

But he said the fall in hunter success could have as much to do with a change in the age structure of the flocks arriving in the state as with reduced numbers. “With the warmer weather to the north of us, more birds are killed by northern hunters,” Helm said. “As the birds move south, they’re more educated than they used to be.”

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By Andy Crawford

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