The December duck counts reflected 3.6 million birds throughout Louisiana. That number combined with frigid temperatures to the north had most hunters enjoying a successful start to the second half of duck season. However, short-lived cold fronts and wildly varying temperatures kept birds on the move. In, out, and across the state, there really was no rhyme or reason and it was difficult for hunters to establish patterns. That may be changing.
There's a massive cold front moving in by the weekend and this one is expected to last for several days. More than 90 percent of the country is expected to see below normal temperatures and ice and snow may make it into areas of north Louisiana.
Captain Lee Daughdrill owns Calcasieu Point Charters and hunts in the southwestern part of the state. Although he's consistently filling straps, the hunting in his area is not what he's used to. "We're killing ducks, but it's not up to par for what our property is capable of. We're moving around and resting areas, but we're still having to work to get our limits," he says. Having access to over 25,000 acres to hunt, Daughdrill can pick and choose birds normally, but has not been able to be so selective this season. "The specks and mallards aren't responding to calls. You'll see them, but they are not coming down," he adds.
The crazy weather patterns have been a factor. "We had the one big Arctic blast come through and had great hunting for one day. However, the ducks slowed down and the geese left and did not come back. We're seeing thousands of ducks get up off of Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), but they're not coming down," Daughdrill says. "Don't get me wrong, we are having good hunts and putting together limits of teal and big ducks. It's just not as fast," he adds.
Over in the East Zone, Jon Despino of ShellShocked Guide Service has experienced the same unpredictable weather, but their hunting has been much more consistent. Their hunting area includes Catahoula Lake and Louisiana Delta Plantation. "This may be our best season in ten years," he says. The water levels on Catahoula Lake are a little high from the rain, so Despino has been primarily hunting the agricultural fields on Delta. "Our fields are in top-notch shape and we've been smoking them. When it's cold, we have a lot of mallards and pintails, and when it's hot, the teal move in from the south. The teal have been a big help with the warm weather. We're maintaining a good mix of ducks, but the geese have been a little spotty."
Having enough property to be able to scout and move with the birds has been a key factor for success this season. With the birds constantly on the move, it can be the difference between a limit and an empty game strap. Of course, not all hunters have that luxury and some are where the birds want to be and some aren't. "These are now older birds that have been shot at quite a bit. It's harder to get them to commit and finish. The key is to find that acre where they want to be," Despino says.
Quack Heads Outfitters hunts on leases across the southeastern marshes. "All in all it has been a great season, but not one of the best we've ever had," says owner Jared Hall. Like others, Hall has been battling the high temperatures and unpredictable bird patterns.
"Areas around Spanish Lake in Delacroix have been great, but the warm weather has hurt the migration on the northern end of Plaquemines Parish," Hall says. "Venice has offered some great hunts, as it usually does, but higher than normal winds have pushed the birds into areas that are harder to hunt. It's a day-by-day deal. You either strike out or strike gold."
The home stretch of the 2016–2017 season is here and the weather is shaping up to move more birds into the state and get those already here into more predictable patterns.
By Chris Holmes, WF360 Louisiana Migration Editor