Deer hunting days up, but take down _lowres

File photo Tommy Rice shows off the nontypical whitetail deer he took near Star Hill in West Feliciana Parish. The 28-point buck scored 228 7/8 points in the Boone and Crockett Program, and ranks third on the state's category for deer taken with a modern firearm.

Welcome to the hunting season.

Excited?

Sure hope so, because with Saturday’s first early morning shot at doves, there’s a chance to hunt in Louisiana’s fields, forests, swamps and marshes for most of the days from then until near the end of May. Add in year-round fishing, and we’re set for another for 24/7/365 well into next summer.

Just so happens the opening day of the dove season coincides with the regular-season kickoff weekend for Louisiana colleges and high schools. If you want to know how important outdoors is in football-mad Louisiana, know the state sells more hunting and fishing licenses annually than the combined total of season-ticket sales for the Saints and our football-playing colleges and universities.

Yes, and Saturday begins nine months of, first, doves, then teal, then overlapping archery, primitive weapons and modern firearms season for deer, then squirrel and rabbits, then geese, then the start of a near two decades long 60-day duck season. It’s a run into February for the last shots on small game, then the Conservation Order for geese into the first day of March, then the spring turkey season with the curtain ringing down on a special May season for squirrels.

Wow, it’s tiring just writing all that’s offered, and that’s not taking in the passion-driven days and nights raccoon hunters spend with dogs in the woods, nor seasons for nutria, nor efforts to reduce our state’s insidious feral hog population.

We have more than one million acres of public lands in the state’s wildlife management areas, and those WMAs swallow up thousands of hunting hours for our resident hunters. All they have to do is venture into these lands that have produced Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young quality whitetails, not to mention season-long squirrel and rabbit hunting opportunities on newly created Small Game Emphasis Areas.

For upland bird hunters, there are months-long opportunities to visit a hunting preserve mostly to fill the desire to continue the quail hunting tradition instilled in older hunters long before their hair turned gray.

Compare that to two-week deer-hunting seasons in northern states and the relatively weather-shortened period duck hunters have in the north-central prairies and there’s every reason to believe we’ve earned our Sportsman’s Paradise status.

Top that!

OK, if you’re an elk hunter or search for wild quail coveys, or believe in-the-wild pheasant and chukkar are your game, you won’t find much of that here.

Then, again, you can join the ever-growing numbers of outdoorsmen who double up on hunting trips for the blast-and-cast trips, taking ducks and geese in the morning, then changing equipment for an afternoon fishing trip, and that’s something you won’t find in the high mountains or on South Dakota fields.

What’s difficult to explain to folks who’ve never hunted here, nor fished, is we’re not bragging when we talk about taking a limit of ducks, then battle redfish, or take a limit of bass, or catch enough speckled trout in the same day to lay out a fit-for-a-king supper that same night.

But after they come and see, feel and taste Louisiana, they understand, and the last handshake before they start their return trip home goes with a “I can’t wait to come back,” message.

We can’t wait for their return — and to leave their money — and that’s the bonus for our state.

There’s nothing wrong with capitalizing on the natural blessings given our state.

We can’t sell mountains, or white-water rafting, or elk hunting because you can’t sell what you don’t have.

What we do have, and we can back it up, are overwinter ducks. For all but two of the past 20 years, Louisiana has chalked up the most bountiful duck hunts in the Lower 48.

We can sell fishing, because our waters can deliver what we promise — that includes everything from bass and panfish, to speckled trout, to tackle-busting redfish, to taking on the brute force of a yellowfin tuna, to the marathon of battling a giant blue marlin.

Just last month, Toledo Bend celebrated being named Bassmaster’s No. 1 lake on its list of the Top 100 bass-fishing waters in the country, and that’s not our words, but Bassmaster’s.

With a state election cycle coming this year, maybe it’s time we insist our incoming officials take a look at selling our state across the nation, and the world.

It’s not like us to do that, not with the outdoors, not when we’re so low on the national lists in other categories.

Yet, like the out-of-state hunters and fishermen who leave here knowing they’ve truly found a treasure, it’s not like we have to start from scratch when it comes to proclaiming to the outdoors world that we can deliver on our promise of world-class duck hunting and fishing.

Our state is recognized around the world for our food, our heritage, our ability to rebound from global-scale tragedies, and the friendliness of our people.

And it’s time to lay out the welcome mat for outdoorsmen.