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Monday, November 21, 2011

Duck-hunting season's opening day comes with great optimism

Shooting time was only five minutes behind us, but we already knew opening day of duck season was a big success in the Delacroix marsh. We could tell by the sound.
duckhunters13.2.jpgIt arrived like a thunderstorm passing over a tin roof. First a few scattered heavy drops, tap-tap-tapping away with a promise of something big to follow. It did. The sound quickly built to an incessant, thunderous drumming that didn't begin to lose its fury for 30 minutes.
"It's louder than New Year's Eve," Jared Serigne said, smiling in wonder at the roar rising from every point on the compass. "There must be ducks everywhere.
"I haven't heard it this loud on opening day around here for awhile. Maybe we'll have a great year."
Maybe. Maybe not.
Opening day for duck hunters is a lot like the opening game for football fans. We tend to read fortune or disaster into the first-day results, even though experience has taught us the history of the season will be determined by future events.
This opener certainly provided enough about which to be optimistic.
The November aerial waterfowl survey conducted 10 days ago by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries revealed 592,000 ducks in southeast Louisiana, the highest number for November in the last five years. The state-wide estimate was 1.84 million ducks, 13 percent higher than last November's 1.62 million and 20 percent above the most recent five-year average of 1.52 million.
Despite that good news, many hunters were concerned the stiff cold front that blew through the region last week might have hastened many of those birds across the Gulf of Mexico. They needn't have worried.
"There seem to be more ducks and duck hunters around here than we've had in some time," reported Louie Viavant of Chef Harbor Marina. "Almost everyone who went out was back early with their limits. They were really happy."
The good news was solid in the Lafitte area, as well.
"We probably had 40 boats launch this morning with duck hunters, and I think almost all of them came back with their limits," said Kyle Manor at Joe's Landing in Lafitte. "A lot of teal and gray ducks. They're still shooting out there."
duckhunters13.3.jpgSaturday was Tyler Clark Jr.'s first hunt, but Tyler, age 6, didn't shoot like a rookie. He used his .410 to knock down a limit of six teal, part of the 24 ducks bagged by the party of four, which included his dad, Tyler Sr.
It was the same in Hopedale, where Glen Sanchez estimated at least 50 of the boats he launched carried duck hunters. Most of those headed for the Biloxi Marsh, and most of those came back smiling.
"Lots of teal, lots of grays and lots of happy hunters," Sanchez said. "It sounded like a war out there, so I new they were doing good."
Venice-area hunters did well, too, but they had to work a little harder. The stiff north winds that carried the cold front through pushed water levels extremely low.
"That front just sucked the water out of here, but that didn't keep the hunters away -- they've been launching down here for two days," said Mike Frenette, who observed the rush at Venice Marina from his Teaser Fishing Team clubhouse.
"I'm sure there were guys who found themselves on mud flats, but I know most of them shot their limits. You could tell by the noise.
"And the good news is, the wind is going to the south, so that water's coming up. I'm sure it will be even louder down here (today).
"If this is any indication, we could be having a great year."
We could be -- if the rest of the flyway cooperates. Although state and waterfowl managers say ideal nesting conditions on the breeding grounds last spring produced a bumper crop of birds, how many eventually reach the Gulf Coast will depend on weather along the flyway.
Last season set up perfectly for coastal Louisiana hunters. An early snowfall and freeze-up in the Plains pushed birds southward. And drought conditions in the mid-latitude states kept them flying toward the coastal marshes.
Conditions are radically different this year. Last week, biologists said the migration had been slow thus far, with warmer-than-typical temperatures in Canada and northern-tier states. And there are decent to good water conditions in most of the mid-latitude states.
So Saturday's big opening may be indicative of nothing more than a single day of great hunting.
But that was enough for most waterfowlers, who went home talking about the music they heard when shooting time arrived.
"It sounded like a sound track from the middle of the movie Black Hawk Down," said Mike Arnona, who hunts the Lafitte area with his wife, Bari.
"I'm telling you, it was a great day to be a duck hunter."
It certainly sounded like it.

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