If you could hear the cries of waterfowl hunters amidst the now week-long din of disappointment uttered by Saints' fans, then you might have heard a low moan — sometimes even a loud and long string of words unsuitable for tender ears — long before Tommylee Lewis got mauled by that Rams' defensive back.
These hunters knew what to do with a yellow flag — and they were throwing them — but, like Roger Goodell and those NFL referees working that NFC championship game, Mother Nature turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to their plight.
Fact is the duck season in the southwestern marshes and the rice fields left hunters with the same kick-in-the-guts feeling as Saints fans suffered.
"One friend with a Pecan Island lease said virtually no ducks," Jim Mayer said last week echoing what most anyone who paid attention to hunters heard for last half of the another 60-day season.
"Look," a noticeably distressed Robbie Stuntz said, "if we'd not had what only could be considered an average first split in Vermilion Parish, we would have had no ducks for a dinner table. I love to eat ducks, but we would've gone hungry with the ducks we had from Christmas to the end of the season."
It wasn't any better in Texas: Houston Chronicle outdoor writer Shannon Tompkins said his state's hunters are sorely disappointed about the Jan. 27 end of a 72-day duck season.
Like Louisiana, there were some areas where hunters enjoyed moderate success, but, he wrote, "those have been the exception rather than the rule. There have been many more slow mornings in the blind, with hunters watching only a trickle of birds in the sky. And, much to the chagrin of waterfowlers, such slow days have occurred in areas traditionally rich in wintering birds."
And, like Texas, Louisiana had its exceptions. A club between Pecan Island and Grand Chenier reported taking only 60 fewer ducks than it did during the 2017-2018 season, this year's total of more than 4,000 ducks. And, word was, the cold snap sweeping the Midwest before the Jan. 20 Coastal Zone's final weekend, pushed enough ducks to this club for a remark of, "It was like opening day."
But Arkansas hunters, who rely on migrating mallards, reported the same disappointment as most Louisiana and Texas wild waterfowlers.
Maybe it should have been expected: State Waterfowl Study leader Larry Reynolds' team came in with a very low estimate of ducks in the state during the December and January flyovers of coastal marshes and Catahoula Lake.
State wildlife biologist Shane Granier posts weekly reports from the state's four major duck-hunting wildlife management areas, and the final 2018-2019 count showed only an average of 1.9 ducks per hunter, the same average during the busted 2013-2014 season. That low take accounted for the lowest number of hunters checked by Granier's team, some 1,976, the lowest count of the past eight seasons.
During January, Reynolds had long talks with waterfowl biologists throughout the Mississippi Flyway, and the most sobering of all reports came in early January from former LSU wildlife professor and Delta Waterfowl president Frank Rohwer.
"Frank said there were still ducks in Saskatchewan (in January), and we're all scratching our heads about that," Reynolds said.
With the Arctic pushes during the past four weeks, it's doubtful ducks remain in that Canadian province, but it takes time for ducks to move this far south, and that last weekend report possibly was a signal that those birds made the big move.
There were other factors. Major and minor rivers swollen by rain and runoff from the North and Midwest didn't allow for late fall and winter rains across Louisiana and Texas to drain. Texas hunters were hurt because flooded areas gave so much more room for ducks to spread out, and the result is a dramatic decline in duck concentrations. Louisiana had the same problems, issues that began during September's special teal season and continued into the 60-day "big" duck run.
That situation not only scattered ducks, but gave overwintering waterfowl a chance to eat from grasses and other food sources that would have been on dry ground in more "normal" years. And, Reynolds reported in the study group's flyover that marshes in the state were lush with submerged aquatic vegetation — duck food.
The disappointment resided in more than duck hunters. Jim Mayer is a shotgunner. His passion extends beyond marsh blinds and into chasing the elusive and hard-to-take woodcock. He said it was his group's most disappointing season in years. That season ends with the close of January, and he said vast stretches of the usually woodcock-filled Sherburne Wildlife Management Area was void of the timber-doodlers, as were several other reliable woodcock haunts.
Late-season dove hunters also said they didn't see as many mourning doves after Christmas as they'd seen in past years.
It's possible the cold weather came too late, or that December's cold pushed species like teal and doves too far south to hunt.
The bass scene
Major League Fishing, the newly formed big-time pro bass circuit, kicked off its season this week on Lake Toho in central Florida with an array of top-tier anglers, most of whom have left the Bassmaster Elite Series, and you can count locals Greg Hackney, Cliff Crochet and Gerald Spohrer among the 80-angler field, along with Kevin VanDam and at least 14 other Bassmaster Classic champions.
The pro circuit's name is Bass Pro Shops Bass Pro Tour, and BPS' top man Johnny Morris made the first cast of the inaugural event Tuesday from the Kissimmee, Florida launching site.
This is a catch-and-release/from the boat tournament and total weight is the key. Randy Howell took the first-day lead with 49 pounds, 12 ounces total. Ish Monroe was nearly nine pounds back and Spohrer was fourth at 35-4 among the first 40. Hackney and Crochet are in the second 40. The field competes for two days to get to elimination rounds on days three and four, then there's a knockout round on day five, then the championship round on day six, when the field is pared down to the top 10. Stay tuned.