Louisiana East Waterfowl Zone hunters are praying their Saturday opener goes as well as last weekend’s first chances at ducks the wild waterfowlers had in the state’s Coastal and West zones.

Camo-wearers hunting on private lands and leases across the Coastal Zone couldn’t contain themselves when they reported over-the-top hunts.

And why not?

State Waterfowl Study leader Larry Reynolds’ initial report on Wildlife and Fisheries first big-duck survey of the season showed the state was home to more than 3 million ducks, more than three times in the November 2013 survey estimate. It was the highest state survey since 1995’s 3.43 million ducks, a time when waterfowl numbers were in the midst of rallying from lows in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The oddity in these early numbers is that gray ducks far outnumbered the number of teal observed over the coastal parishes. Reynolds’ count estimated more than 1.1 million grays compared to the 379,000 bluewing and greenwing teal.

Even more odd was that teal made up most of the take in some areas in the southwestern coastal parishes.

“We took 23 teal and one gray duck,” Baton Rouge hunter Frank Dreher reported from the west side of Calcasieu Lake. “There were more ducks in the air than we’ve seen in a long, long time, and the reason we didn’t take more big ducks was that teal were in our face from shooting time on.”

Dreher said one two-hunter blind had their 12 ducks by 7:30 a.m. The other two hunters were done by 8:30 a.m.

Farther north and east, longtime waterfowler J.B. Esnard was in a blind at David Faul’s Bin There club near Welsh.

“Legal shooting time was 6:05 a.m., and by 6:45 a.m we had our 24-duck limit. Most of our limit was teal with 4 spoons (shovelers). Sunday morning we hunted the same blind and we had our (three hunters) 18-duck limit, but it took a bit more time,” Esnard said.

Esnard’s report came with a tip for marsh and rice-field hunters in the Coastal Zone. He usually uses No. 2 shotshells in 3-inch and 3.5-inch shells. Esnard said he switched to BB sized shot, “and it made a big difference. It was a great hunt.”

Record-setting cold throughout the North-Central and Midwest states pushed this solid number of birds into the southern states. Arkansas hunters enjoyed the benefit of the Arctic blast, but only briefly. While there were plentiful mallards in Arkansas, the last two cold fronts apparently pushed thousands of grays, pintail and ringnecked ducks into Louisiana.

After near freezing temperatures in south Louisiana for most of the last week, warmer weather ahead for the pre-Thanksgiving Day weekend is expected to scatter ducks.

A rainy cold front pushing in Sunday will help hunters for the holiday week.

East Zone hunters open the first split in their 60-day duck season Saturday.

Anticipation for public-lands hunters is high that this weekend’s front will enhance what was an extraordinarily strong opener.

From a Wildlife & Fisheries’ report, the average opening-day take was more than four ducks per hunter on three coastal state wildlife management areas.

Pass a Loutre WMA led the way with a 4.6-per-hunter haul (165 estimated hunters, 766 estimated ducks taken), while the Atchafalaya Delta WMA (865, 3,620) and Pointe-aux-Chenes (735, 3,083) had a 4.2 average. Salvador WMA had a very poor .3 ducks per hunter average.

Teal dominated the bags in these areas, too, with gray ducks and spoonies the next most taken species.

Dewey Wills WMA hunters

The greentree reservoir on the Dewey Wills WMA does not have enough water to support ducks and will not be available for Saturday’s opening day of the East Zone season, Wildlife and Fisheries announced Wednesday.

“The 400-acre reservoir, bordering Saline Lake, does not have adequate water due to a summer draw-down on the Saline-Larto complex,” the release stated.

A summer draw-down on the complex helped repairs to the Cross Bayou weir and, state managers said there is not enough water in the system to allow pumping water into the greentree reservoir. They noted that the weir is closed and will allow rainfall to hold in the greentree area.

The WMA, located about 20 miles northeast of Alexandria, takes in parts of the southern reaches of LaSalle and Catahoula parishes.

WMA managers also advised that Taylor Bayou Road on the Dewey Wills WMA is closed for temporary repairs. This closure will restrict access to the Taylor Bayou boat launch, while the greentree reservoir parking area is open to hunters and other outdoorsmen.

For up-to-date information, call Cliff Dailey at (318) 487-5885.

Duck Stamp Act

The U.S. House voted Monday to raise the federal waterfowl stamp fees from $15 to $25 as part of the Duck Stamp Act of 2014.

The legislation now moves to the Senate floor.

The last increase in the federal duck stamp was in 1991 when the fee was pushed from $10 to the current $15 charge. All waterfowl hunters 16 and older must have a signed duck stamp in their possession while in the field.

According Ducks Unlimited, a supporter of the increase, the federal duck stamp’s introduction in 1934 has raised in excess of $750 million and has conserved more than 6 million acres of North American waterfowl habitat.

Get home safely

With more folks getting ready to go afield for the holiday week, it’s time to remind hunters to file a hunting plan or a float plan now that cold weather has set in across the state.

Before you head out, make sure someone knows where you’re going, what launch you’re going to use, where you’re likely to be (area of the marsh, treestand location, etc.) and what time to expect you to arrive home. Include the make and license number of your vehicle and the make and color of your boat.

Carry your cellphone, and leave that number, too. If you know you’re going to be late.

And, wear life jackets and, when appropriate, Hunter Orange vests and hats.