DEVILLE — The Krewe of Honk was more than ready to greet the crowds flying in from everywhere. Anticipation was building on the clear, bright, cold Mardi Gras Day sunrise.
No, not New Orleans, not for this camouflage-costumed bunch. Try a soybean field some distance west of Catahoula Lake in central Louisiana.
Near first light, the crowds the krewe awaited were moving. Thousands of blue, snow and Ross’ geese took flight.
The hunt was on, the first of the Conservation Order season for Blake Soileau and his Full Strap and Stringer Guide Service, the first in several years for veteran outdoor communicator Don Dubuc, and the first for State Waterfowl Study leader Larry Reynolds.
“I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time,” Reynolds said.
When waves of geese filled the air, Soileau triggered the battery-powered electronic call, something that’s a big no-no in other waterfowl seasons.
The cold, northwest wind that blasted Louisiana for three days helped make the massive decoy more lively. And the flights of geese took notice.
Soileau was screaming: Specklebelly geese aren’t on the menu today, nor any day in the Conservation Order season. Hunters are limited to taking blue, snow and Ross’ geese.
There are reasons: Reynolds explained that about 20 years ago North American waterfowl biologists started noticing blues, snows and Ross’ numbers increasing. Normally that’s a good sign, but in this case the numbers of these species were literally eating themselves out of house and home. The geese were destroying their breeding habitat, and further studies showed lower body weights, which meant lower reproductive rates. If the habitat continued to degrade, the fear was a population collapse.
Reynolds said there’s a solution, one no biologist ever wants to consider — by any of a handful of undesirable means, they could control breeding grounds’ populations.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided on another method: Extend seasons and modify hunting regulations. The Conservation Order allows the use of electronic calls, an unlimited take of birds, the use of unplugged shotguns, and extended hunting hours to one-half hour after sunset.
“It’s difficult for hunters to control (waterfowl) populations,” Reynolds said. “The Conservation Order has helped, but these birds are very difficult to decoy. There are so many eyes in the sky and by the time they get here, they’ve been hunted along the flyway. But the ‘Order’ has helped.”
The morning hunt was successful: A good mix of the species were among the 30 geese, and Soileau said he expects to continue guided hunts through to the end of the season on March 6.
“We weren’t ready to put our shotguns away, not with all the geese in our area,” Soileau said. Hunts can be booked by calling Soileau (318) 730-8809 or go to website: www.fullstrapandstringer.com.