If you want to be a duck hunter, not a sky watcher, then Louisiana is the best place to be. That wasn’t the case for the past four Novembers.
But when the waterfowl-hunting stars align, like they have during the past two weeks, our state becomes the one spot in Canada and the lower 48 states that becomes the envy of all wild waterfowlers.
That wasn’t the case when surveying the conditions in southern Canada and the Midwest a month ago.
True, we were looking at numbers that told us there were slightly more than 49 million ducks on North America’s breeding grounds, the highest in the survey’s 50 years.
Mallards, estimated at 10.9 million during the spring survey, was the highest since the 11.2 million in the 1958 survey. Two species Louisiana count on the most in the early season’s first split, gray ducks and bluewing teal, had the highest-ever respective counts at 3.8 million and 8.5 million.
Looking at these numbers is the starting point: Midwest conditions, mostly water levels on lakes and ponds in eastern Nebraska, southern Missouri and Arkansas, and weather up north are other major factors.
Worry here came when 70-degree days lingered in the Dakotas into early October. Hunters there, in Minnesota and Michigan complained about the lack of ducks, especially mallards. While a few teal had moved south, mallards and other big ducks stayed on the breeding grounds. Late warmth and a late breeding cycle gave every indication we’d have another extra-late migration.
Remember last season when the ducks held up north until a series of polar blasts iced conditions into northern Louisiana. Remember, too, that the late migration came despite weeks of colder-than-normal stretches in late fall into winter’s first days.
When those extraordinary below-zero temperatures and heavy snows swept into southern Arkansas in January, we had ducks, but only for the last three weeks of the last season. Problem was, lots of hunters had given up on what they believed was a poor season by the first week of January before when ducks by the hundreds of thousands descended on our lakes, marshes, ponds and rice fields.
Not today: Hard freezes and enough snow to cover ag fields plunged into the Midwest. Heck, a morning low in the teens put a thin layer of ice on Arkansas’s major duck areas last week.
That meant the only place migrating Mississippi and Central Flyways ducks had were Louisiana and Texas, and they came by the millions.
The hope is that our hunters who complain about the lack of ducks and point fingers at this guy or that group for a poorer-than-expected season, will etch this grand start to our season deep in their memories, and know that Mother Nature is driving this bus and giving us the long-awaited success.