The shortened first split for East Zone duck hunters ends Sunday, but will continue through Dec. 4 for the West Zone hunters.

The move from what was for more than two decades a 16-day East Zone first split to a nine-day opener around the Thanksgiving holiday came with questions, especially when the West Zoners were pounding ducks for the customary 23 days split to open their season.

The ready answer was that East Zone hunters have been asking for more later-in-the-season dates for years. And, will little rainfall preceding the first split — State Waterfowl Study leader Larry Reynolds confirmed vast East Zone areas were dry in early November, the recent rains across the eastern parishes will help put some water on the ground.

And rainfall in the Mississippi River Valley will help: The rivers stages forecast update Wednesday showed a rise for the big river from Wednesday’s 24.9-foot reading at Red River Landing to a projected 36-foot reading Dec. 10, the day the East Zone begins a lengthy 51-day second split.

More rain in the forecast also means local rivers and bayous will have more water, too.

That will help East Zone waterfowlers, many of whom hunt flooded timber and bottomlands that attract late-arriving mallards and other large ducks.

Until more water fills backwater, off-the-rivers areas, ponds and ag fields, the East Zone is being helped by controlled water releases into Catahoula Lake.

Reports from Catahoula are solid during the first split’s first five days. Hunters there are leaving the vast shallow-water lake with limits. Teal, pintail, gray ducks, spoonies are mixed with a few ringnecks, wigeon and mallards.

Action has been solid for hunters in the state’s West Zone, an area that takes in all the coastal parishes.

“There was more gunfire Saturday and Sunday than I’ve heard in the last 20 years,” Jim Boyce said. “I haven’t seen that many birds (near and at the mouth of the Mississippi River) in more than 15 years.”

State biologist Shane Granier’s report from the public hunting areas validates Boyce’s account.

Granier’s list showed an check of 500 hunters on the Atchafalaya Delta Wildlife Management Area produced an average of 4.4 ducks per hunter, a noticeable increase from the survey taken at the same time in 2010.

Pass a Loutre WMA numbers were slightly better — an average of 4.5 ducks per hunter — with the Pointe aux Chenes WMA coming in with an average of 3.3 ducks. Salvador WMA’s number remained lowest at 2.2 ducks.

As far as picking the best spots in these WMAs, the Main Delta and Wax Delta areas in the Atchafalaya had respective 4.5 and 4.3 averages, while the Pointe aux Chenes Unit and the limited access area (no internal combustion engines allowed) area at that WMA produced respective 5.7 and 5.5 ducks per hunter marks.

Bluewing and greenwing teal dominated the take with pintail and gray ducks second and third on most “harvest” sheets.

In the woods

When David Moreland speaks about deer and deer hunting, it’s time to listen,

“(I) killed a doe this past week with the .444 (primitive weapon) and she was definitely eating acorns, white oak acorns and the small acorns from the cherry bark oak,” Moreland said.

“The Felicianas are full of acorns and while she was low in weight, no doubt because of the drought and the pine-dominated forests — she had produced a single fawn — our deer will pick up weight during this bumper mast crop, and the oak trees are certainly a place to find success.”

Moreland, the retired state Wildlife Division chief, said he took the doe late in the afternoon “in a food plot late (that) had fair forage growth. It appears deer are looking for acorns and the succulent plants in a good food plot.”

In his hunting-season travels, he said he went into the upper reaches of the Atchafalaya Basin and found the area “absolutely loaded with acorns, striped oak, water oak, overcup oak and obtusa oak.

“Based on the trail cameras, the reproduction in this area is good despite the flooding and much better than Area 2. Deer do not have to move much to find an acorn and plenty of them. If reproduction is good, then growth and development should be fine.”

Moreland added that he’s been on the ground in Bossier Parish — in State Deer Area 2 — and that “the first round of breeding in Area 2 should be kicking in gear…and for the next week or so should provide these hunters with some good hunting if the weather remains cold.”

Corps closes canal

Construction on a gate across Bayou Verret has forced the closure of the Pier 90 launch at Sellers Canal and U.S. 90 on the west bank in St. Charles Parish.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers closure will run through December.

Pier 90 is a popular launch and access area to Lake Cataouatche and Lake Salvador for freshwater anglers and waterfowl hunters.

The launch at Bayou Segnette State Park off the Westbank Expressway in Westwego remains open.

The Corps work is on the Western Tie-In, which is part of the West Bank and Vicinity portion of the Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System. The system has levees and floodwalls running nearly 4.5 miles along the Davis Pond Freshwater Diversion Canal and Outer Cataouatche Canal and also has a navigable closure structure across Bayou Verret, an elevated crossing at U.S. 90, two railroad gates and a second highway crossing that ties into the Mississippi River Levee.