Duck hunters need to check the hunting schedule — now!

Checking out a calendar, you’re within one month of special 16-day teal season, and make sure you know about the change in this year’s schedule.

To give these game birds a chance to get deep into the state, the wild waterfowl thinkers at Wildlife and Fisheries opted to open the 16-day season Sept. 15 instead of what usually is September’s second Saturday (Sept. 9 this year).

So know Sept. 15 is a Friday, which means the teal season will end on a Saturday, Sept. 30, not a Sunday, as has been the custom.

Know, too, if a cold front begin to push these very game gamebirds into our state, there should be enough of them to satisfy at least a one-day, six-teal limit.

That’s because this year’s breeding population survey, the annual undertaking by U.S. and Canadian waterfowl biologists, shows an 18 percent increase in bluewing teal numbers, a jump to an estimated 7,889,000 bluewing breeders, and it’s bluewings that make up most of the teal showing up in Louisiana’s special early season.

Greenwing teal begin arriving this far south later in the year and the survey’s estimate is a 16 percent decline in that species, but, at 3.605 million birds, is 70 percent higher than the long-term average of the years since 1955 when this joint counting effort began.

While the 60-day duck seasons were announced nearly seven months ago, the survey’s estimate of mallards, a key in determining the length of the 2018-2019 season, showed an 11 percent decline, but, at 10.488 million birds, remains 34 percent above the long-term average.

Another key to next year’s season length, the biologists’ count of breeding ponds, showed an overall 22 percent increase, which, if all goes according to form in the next months, hunters should have another in the more-than-two-decades run of 60-day duck seasons.

Overall, the survey estimated 47.3 million breeding ducks in Canada and three U.S. states, and while that’s a 2 percent decline from last year, this year’s count stands as the fifth-highest in 60-plus years.

Like most hunters, former LSU professor Frank Rohwer, now Delta Waterfowl president, liked last week’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announcement.

“Duck numbers remain really strong, and most duck populations remain near or above long-term averages,” Rohwer said, noting a 10 percent increase in pintail breeders was more than welcomed information.

“Isn’t it great to finally have some good news to report about pintails?” Rohwer said. “They’ve increased due to the way water was distributed across the prairie this year. The pintails’ preferred breeding range — southern Alberta and southern Saskatchewan — provided ample shallow wetlands. I also expect pintail production to be substantially improved over last year. I expect the estimate is high enough that hunters will be blessed with a two-pintail daily limit for the 2018-19 season.”

More good news for south Louisiana hunters was a record count for gray ducks, which, along with teal, take up most of the bad in the regular season’s first days. The gray duck count (gadwall in the report) hit 4.18 million, up 13 percent from last year and 111 percent higher than the long-term average.

Ducks Unlimited’s top biologist Tom Moorman’s main take from the report centered on the wet conditions in the breeding grounds. Moorman spent the past several years working in Louisiana and Mississippi.

“Hunters should always remember that habitat and populations are going to vary over time, so we must keep focused on habitat conservation efforts over the long term,” Moorman said. “Ultimately, we need to maintain landscapes so that when precipitation and other conditions are right, the ducks will respond, produce more ducks and provide us all with a nice return on our conservation investments.”

Big season hunts

State Wildlife and Fisheries managers have set a Sept. 20 close-of-business deadline for waterfowl hunts in the marshes and rice fields on the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area in Vermilion Parish.

Marsh hunts can accommodate two hunters for Nov. 16, 25, 26, 28; Dec. 21, 23, 29, 30; and, Jan. 9 and 16 dates.

Rice field hunters can handle three hunters for the following dates: Nov. 11, 12, 15, 17, 18, 19, 22, 25, 26, 29, 30; Dec. 2, 3, 16, 17, 20, 23, 27, 29, 30; and, Jan. 3, 6, 7, 10, 13, 14, 17, 19, 20, 21.

To apply, you have to be at least 18 years old. Applications can be had from LDWF field offices or printed from LDWF’s website: Each application (one application for each date requested) must include $5 check or money order payable to LDWF.

You can deliver applications to Room 418 inside LDWF headquarters, 2000 Quail Drive, Baton Rouge or mail to LDWF, Room 418, 2000 Quail Drive, Baton Rouge, LA 70808 with a notation of “Attention: White Lake Marsh Lottery Hunt” or “Attention: White Lake Rice Field Lottery Hunt.”

If selected, there will be an additional $225 fee for three-hunter rice-field hunts, and $350 for the two-hunter marsh hunts.

For more information, email Wayne Sweeney:

First shots/new rule

Dove hunters need to get ready more quickly than duck hunters. That’s because opening day for the dove season is less than two weeks away.

And dove hunters need to be advised of a brand-new rule requiring nontoxic shot, Nos. 6 to 9 shot sizes, are required for all dove hunting on wildlife management areas and any fields state wildlife managers lease in early September.

This new rule was adopted to limit exposure of lead to wildlife in areas impacted by dove hunting.

Need more? Email Steve Smith: