Ducks

Garrett Rhinehart holds the three ducks he took during Saturday's youth lottery hunt on the White Lake Conservation Area. The young hunter passed on early morning flights of teal to wait for the chance to take 'big' ducks, and came up short of a six-duck daily limit with a mallard drake, a pintail, and a gray duck.

Ah, duck season — finally — and the lingering question for tens of thousands of Louisiana hunters is will there be ducks?

That concern comes after what only could be called the state’s worst season in more than a decade. It came during a period of wet and relatively warm weather in the Midwest — heck, there were ducks in southern Canada in late December — and so much water down here that ducks spread far and wide across the coastal marshes and up and down the Mississippi River.

Ah, but there hope this year.

Check the weather lately?

Downright frigid conditions invaded Canada and the northern midwestern states three weeks ago and Arctic blasts continued into this week.

Freezing weather up North is a key ingredient in this duck-season recipe, and when downright frigid air comes as far south as Arkansas, then this soup becomes much more rich to a Louisiana duck hunter’s taste.

Chris Jennings, writing for Ducks Unlimited, made this observation near two weeks ago: “A cold front sweeping down from the Arctic is poised to empty the Canadian prairies of waterfowl. The north-central U.S. could also lose birds next week as shallow wetlands and flooded croplands lock up tight.”

We won’t know about how many migratory waterfowl made the long trek from breeding grounds until late in the week after State Waterfowl Study leader Larry Reynolds and his staff have had a chance to sort through this week’s aerial surveys covering all four corners of the state.

For now we have to rely on on-the-ground reports.

The first hunts

Kirk Rhinehart is a sad man these days after taking his 17-year-old son Garrett on the White Lake Conservation Area youth lottery hunt Saturday — but not because of the ducks.

“It was the last time I’ll be able to take my sons on a youth hunt,” Rhinehart said. “It’s a great opportunity for young hunters, and the (Louisiana) Wildlife and Fisheries staff does a great job for families.”

Rhinehart said Garrett passed on several early-morning shots on large groups of teal and waited for the chance to take home bigger ducks.

“We saw mostly teal, bluewings and greenwings and spoonies — and I was surprised to see how many greenwings here already because the don’t arrive until later in the season — but Garrett was able to take a mallard drake, a pintail and a big gray duck,” And we had a big bunch of greenwings buzz us just before the end of the hunt, Rhinehart said. “But, man, they came right at us and were gone in a flash.

“Garrett got what he wanted for the hunt, and that’s the most important part.”

Rhinehart said another youth hunter took a limit of six teal and the other four young hunters had one or two birds each.

“We also saw a number of specklebellies (geese), but no snow geese, and there were mottled ducks, but, as usual, they wouldn’t listen to a call and stayed out of gun range,” Rhinehart said.

The Rhineharts will have to wait for the Nov. 23 opener in the state’s East Waterfowl Zone to begin their 60-day duck season.

“Last season we had a terrible opener. No birds. We spent some time checking our area north of Gueydan and we’re seeing a lot more birds there now than we had last year,” he said.

He said he saw “a couple thousand” ringneck ducks in the area to go along with the usual teal and spoonies, the local name for “shovelers.”

“It looks like most of the ducks are in the marsh, and we need some to move into the (rice) fields,” Rhinehart said.

Needs, regs, rules

  • Louisiana basic hunting license
  • Unless you have a Louisiana lifetime combo or hunting license, you need a State Waterfowl Stamp (LA Duck). It’s required for ages 16-59.
  • Federal Duck Stamp required for all waterfowl hunters ages 16 and older, including those who are not required to have hunting licenses. Stamps can be purchased from U.S. Post Offices and from website duckstamp.com ($25) or from state Wildlife and Fisheries license vendors, LDWF online licensing and by calling (877) 447-1318 ($27.22)
  • HIP certification (Harvest Information Program) for all hunters, no fee from vendors and fee through LDWF website: wlf.louisiana.gov.
  • This season’s limits are six total ducks, but no more than four mallards of which no more can be two hens, three wood ducks, three scaup, two canvasbacks, two redheads, one mottled duck, one black duck & one pintail.
  • You’re allowed to take five mergansers, but no more than two hooded mergansers, and 15 poule d’eau (coots).
  • You are allowed to have three times the daily limit in possession, but not afield, and must be tagged with hunter’s name, address, number of birds be species, and date of each hunt. And, birds must have head or one fully feathered wing attached for identification purposes.
  • And, by now, waterfowl hunters must use nontoxic shot, and cannot carry buckshot on a waterfowl hunt.