It’s early September, and, like all waterfowl hunters, Larry Reynolds has that can’t-wait look in his eyes.
Sept. 12 seemed like ages away when the last decoys were picked from the pond, the shotgun cleaned and the waders stored in January, and Sept. 12 is almost here. It’s opening day of the 16-day special September teal season.
“And it looks like we’re going to have teal, maybe not everywhere, but teal are here,” Reynolds said late last week.
Proof comes in Scooter Trosclair’s photos. Trosclair is based at Rockefeller State Wildlife Refuge, and nine days ago he forwarded a photo of what Reynolds said, “looks like thousands of teal mixed in with some black-bellied ducks on the refuge.
“Scooter and his crew were out banding wood ducks, and when they set the (ensnaring) nets, hundreds of teal were caught, and we thought we ought to band the teal right along with banding the woodies,” Reynolds said, adding that he’ll know more about the teal season when he takes a look-see at the coastal marshes from an airplane sometime around Sept. 8.
But it’s not the teal season that occupies the majority of his time. Reynolds is the state’s Waterfowl Study leader, and he knows it’s not the teal season that drives the desires of most of the state’s 100,000-plus waterfowl hunters.
The 60-day “big duck” season does, and it’s those November, December and January days that make, or break, Louisiana’s waterfowl campaign. For him, today, predicting any success for those 60 days is the same as most any other year.
“I just don’t know,” Reynolds said. “It looks good right now.”
That’s an assessment of the habitat, and comes during the middle of the hurricane season. Lush and food-rich early September habitat has been wiped out three times during the past 10 years by late August and early September storms. While duck hunting took a back seat to the destruction wrought by 2005’s Katrina and Rita, 2008’s Gustav and Ike and 2012’s Isaac, duck habitat was another victim of those violent tropical systems.
“From what I’ve seen, the Cameron-Creole watershed looks good, and there are a lot of SAVs (submerged aquatic vegetation) in southeast Louisiana where some fishermen are complaining about all the grass. I like to hear that, because when fishermen complain like that I know the habitat is good for ducks,” Reynolds said.
Still, Reynolds has concerns. In no particular order, they were that a yet-unnamed storm could do damage; that there has not been a long-enough water drawdown period in some areas; a drop in the number of ponds on the breeding grounds; and, about the 2015-long El Nino system in the Pacific Ocean.
What? How does an El Nino thousands of miles away affect duck hunting?
“I’m worried about it, Reynolds said, “because typically in an El Nino year we have a cooler, wetter winter here, but it also has meant milder temperatures north of us in the (Mississippi) Flyway, and that’s never good for hunting in Louisiana.”
Reynolds explained the water drawdown problem: “We like for the habitat to dry up a bit. It helps germination seeds that thrive in moist soils, but not wet soils, and those plants make up some very good food for overwintering ducks.”
And about the ponds?
“Everyone has read that the duck population is extremely high, pond numbers dropped by 12 percent on the breeding grounds,” Reynolds said. “And a lot of water (on the Canadian prairies) came later in the year. That means early nesters like mallards and pintails overflew the prairies and settled into more northern breeding habitat areas where reproduction more often than not is lower than average.
“I’m guessing what that means is we’re going to have a solid fall flight skewed toward more adults, and that means trouble for hunters,” he said. “Adult birds wise up more quickly to hunting pressure, and when that happens we wind up seeing more birds than we kill. It means hunting might be spottier than in recent years.”