Duck, Duck, Goose is a children’s game, one some Louisiana waterfowls aren’t getting a chance to play.
Weather is a big reason: Fog, periods of heavy rains, constantly shifting winds and rising, then falling, then rising temperatures — and being on the downhill side of a 60-day season — have frustrated duck hunters across the state.
“We couldn’t go for two days because the fog,” Danny Ross said Tuesday after watching LSU’s Fiesta Bowl win over Central Florida. “We had it all worked out Saturday. We had a decent hunt that morning and were going to hunt Monday and Tuesday, when we’d get back in time to watch the game, but the fog was brutal. Couldn’t go … fog was so thick we might not have been able to get back for the game.”
That was in the southeast marshes. In the usually duck-rich southwest marshes, rain has pushed water levels in some places back up to the point where the dabbling ducks can’t get to the available food sources, the submerged aquatic plants.
“It’s been OK, but just OK,” Randy McDowell said after holiday hunting near Sweet Lake. “We see ducks on the north wind, but then the ducks seem to disappear when the wind switches.”
But there’s more to this than the conditions: With only three weekends remaining in the Coastal and West zones — the East has four weekends left — hunters have to know the ducks in their areas have seen decoy spreads, have been called at and shot at for more than four months.
Whenever we get to this point in the season, it’s time to recall points made by three of our state’s most veteran duck hunters.
Fred Parnell, Fred Laborde and Eli Haydel — may God rest their souls — confided their life experiences in stories printed long ago, and bear a condensed repeating today.
Parnell: “We have a lot of (hunting) days with east and south winds and it’s hard to hunt an east wind. The ducks don’t seem to know what to do on an east wind, and lots of hunters don’t either … but remember ducks, like airplanes, like to land into the wind and take off into the wind, so you set up accordingly.”
A one-time World Champion duck caller, he said hunters need to back off their calls, too, because using the call too much is worse now than not calling enough.
“You just have to work the ducks a little harder and a little smarter than earlier in the season,” he said.
Laborde: “Might consider changing the set-up to take advantage of the wind. Move across from your blind. Take fewer decoys, and on windy days find and know the areas where the ducks will get out of the cold winds ... and cover your face, too.
“You have to make sure your blind looks like the place you’re hunting. If it’s still green, then make sure you’re green, and if it’s brown, then make sure you’re brown.
“And thin out your decoys, and might want to consider pairing off the decoys, drake to hen, because that pairing off begins later in the season.
“We see more poule d'eau now than any time during the season and having poule d'eau decoys helps along with a ‘confidence’ decoys, something like a snowy egret or blue heron decoy near your new blind can help because there are lots more birds moving into the marshes than just ducks.”
Haydel: “We make all kinds of calls (Haydel’s Game Calls), and a hunter must know how and when to use them.
“If ducks couldn’t hear, then we wouldn’t use calls, and if they didn’t have good eyes, we wouldn’t use decoys, so remember when you use a ‘hail’ (loud) call with the ducks coming towards you, then they’re going to look in that direction and all you need is one of those eyes to see something they don’t like and they’re gone.
“Use louder calls when they’re going away, and something like soft ‘feed’ calls when they coming in. And use different calls, maybe a pintail whistle, or gray duck call and learn how to use these calls, because all these ducks have heard mallard hen calls from Canada across maybe 20 states and then down here, and something else might just work better.”