Every duck season is a mixed bag. A hunter whose marsh or ag field is loaded with feed and perfect water depth may be covered with more ducks than Eli Haydel’s blind in heaven, while that guy’s lease neighbor swears migration patterns have changed and birds have forgotten Louisiana even exists.
And so it was with the Bayou State’s first split, which ended Sunday.
Not every hunter reported good action, but New Orleans waterfowler Ty Hibbs sure did, and best of all, a lot of it was accomplished on public land.
“The first split was pretty good to us,” he said. “We did a lot of hard hunting, but it paid off.”
Hibbs, who hunts more days than he doesn’t every season, did some of his first-split hunting on private leases near Delacroix and Myrtle Grove, but most of it was on Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge and Biloxi Marsh Wildlife Management Area.
The latter was especially good to him and his frequent hunting buddy, Jonathan Allen.
“I really love the Biloxi Marsh ever since they banned the mud boats,” Hibbs said. “I just think it’s been a hundred times better. Those birds are just stupid in there when you find them. They’re like they should be. They come straight in since they don’t have any pressure on them.”
Hibbs’ style of hunting on Biloxi Marsh is unlike anything attempted by most hunters. He certainly doesn’t bust his rear end to get set up an hour before legal shooting time. He said he feels like that technique can be a hindrance.
"Normally, what I do there is just go out at about shooting time,” he said. “I don’t ever go early. I just see where the birds are holding. When I find a pile of them, 15 to 100 set up in a pond system, I just go in and set up on them. They always come back.”
Hibbs is so fanatical about his hunting style on Biloxi Marsh that he refuses to compromise. He’ll keep moving until he finds a big enough body of birds.
“I hunted there last Tuesday, and I probably ran 35 miles before I saw anything worth hunting,” he said. “There were a few birds everywhere — singles, doubles and triples — but no big flocks, and it’s hard to pick something to hunt out of that.
“We finally got set up around 8 a.m., and shot five grays, a wigeon and a bunch of teal.”
That’s kind of an average bag for the Biloxi Marsh, Hibbs said. Gadwall, known colloquially as gray ducks, are the predominant “big duck” on the public tract.
“There’s a couple of really big flocks of (green-winged) teal bouncing around the Biloxi Marsh right now,” Hibbs said. “They’ll help you round out your limit, but for the most part, the only big ducks you’re going to kill are gray ducks.”
Hibbs said waterfowlers planning hunts on the St. Bernard Parish tract should familiarize themselves with it now during the break in the action. They’ll have more than a week since the second split doesn’t open in Louisiana’s Coastal Zone until Dec. 15.
“I’ll be fishing a lot during the (break), but I’ve got two days off right before the second split,” Hibbs said. “That’s the perfect time to go (scout). The birds will be untouched for two weeks. That’s key because you can find the big groups and where they want to be. You can see them dive-bombing in from the heavens.
“On public land, it’s all about finding that right grass. If you pass by a flock and they don’t flinch — they don’t even want to get up — that’s the good stuff,” he said. “That’s where you want to be opening morning of the second split. You want to mark that down, and hunt there.
“You also want to go out on really low-water days to make sure you can get in areas if a front blows through. You don’t want a two-hour slog getting in there.”
During the opening weekend of the second split, Hibbs will likely hunt some of the bigger ponds on the tract, but that will change as the season progresses, especially as it nears its Jan. 20 closure.
“A lot of the public land in south Louisiana — minus Venice — is all potholes, ditches and bayous,” he said. “When those birds start getting shot up, that’s where they go, to the small stuff. I like to hunt the (small water), but I’m not going to go into a pothole and throw out 24 decoys. There’s no point. Sometimes I go as far as putting only two decoys out.
“We’ve all seen two mottled ducks sitting in a pothole cutting everything off because they’re two ducks quacking up a storm, and it just looks natural.”
No matter the size of the pond he’s hunting, Hibbs will target the ducks with 3-inch Hevi-Metal shells loaded with No. 3 shot.
“They’re a little more expensive, but I’ve seen a lot of days when they make a big difference,” he said.
He shoots them from his 12-gauge Benelli.
“If it’s real windy, and the birds are not working too well, I’ll go with a full choke, but I really don’t like shooting at ducks that are far in general,” he said. “I don’t like losing birds or wounding them for no reason. I really try to stick with a modified (choke) for the most part.”