Southwestern marshes loaded

It’s the best of times in the Southwestern marshes, and, comparatively, possibly the worst of times in the Southeast.

And with another cold front pushing into the state before Saturday’s East Zone opener, there could be more evidence that Hurricane Isaac put a damper on the duck and goose seasons across the Southeastern parishes long before the first wild waterfowl considered flying south for its annual migration.

While the numbers were above average for public hunting areas, the number of ducks taken from the Pass a Loutre (Mississippi River), Salvador (Barataria) and Pointe aux Chenes (Terrebonne estuary) wildlife management areas fell short of what hunters found in the Atchafalaya Delta WMA and rice fields and marshes in Vermilion and Cameron parishes.

Hunters crowded the Atchafalaya Delta on Saturday, opening day for the state’s new Coastal Zone and the West Zone. Lines at the Calumet launch off U.S. 90 were so long that some hunters turned around, nixed the opening day crowd and planned to return for midweek hunts.

And the numbers in the Delta WMA’s Wax Delta and Main Delta proved the point. An estimated 1,230 hunters took 4,620 ducks, an average of 3.8 birds per hunter. The Main Delta proved best with a 4.8 ducks-per-hunter haul.

The other three WMAs didn’t come close to those numbers. Pointe aux Chenes had an estimated 800 hunters taking 2,618 ducks with a bonus of an estimated 2,600 poule d’eau on opening day.

Pass a Loutre and Salvador attracted 125 hunters each, and it wasn’t that the respective averages of 3.8 and 3 ducks-per-hunter were far from the Atchafalaya’s, but that the numbers of birds didn’t come close.

Farther west, the Deux Chenes Club south of Abbeville had scattered success on opening day, but mostly because of the number of hunters spread across rice fields and crawfish ponds.

Sunday’s cloudy, windy conditions made for quick limits instead of a 5-6 ducks-per-hunter opening-day take. Veteran hunters from there through Pecan Island and over into the Lake Arthur area bristled at sky-busting hunters and the volume of calling from blinds.

“Too much of either isn’t good. But put those two things together, and it hurts any hunt, most of all opening-day hunts,” Reggie Aguillard said after taking a three-hunter effort that produced 15 ducks (the limit is six per hunter per day) from his blind west of White Lake.

What was surprising there was the report that ducks were moving in from the east, when the usual pattern is north-south movement.

Farther west, near Calcasieu Lake, Haydel Game Call’s Rod Haydel said he saw more ducks near their blinds than he’s seen in 20 years.

Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday hunts proved him right: Randy Barksdale reported eight hunters with limits of mostly grays, greenwing teal and pintails Saturday, 59 ducks for 10 hunters Sunday — “One blind was limited with three men at 6:38 (a.m.),” he said — and with patriarch Eli Haydel among five in a blind for a Tuesday hunt, the haul was limits of grays and wigeons by 7 a.m.

The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries preseason aerial survey explained the disparity from east to west: Skimming State Waterfowl Study leader Larry Reynolds’ survey report, the southwestern parishes held an estimated 948,000 ducks with 421,000 grays, 212,000 pintails and 169,000 greenwing teal the top numbers, while the southeastern parishes held 358,000 birds, 225,000 grays among them.

The survey showed a noticeable decline in the number of bluewing teal in the state. Last year’s November survey included an estimated 451,000 bluewings.

This year’s number is a staggering low 33,000, an indication that hunters likely should expect a strange 60-day season through the end of January.

Ducks Unlimited’s Mike Checkett’s overall early season outlook touched on several factors, notably that Louisiana’s survey proved the bluewing teal movement was “early this year, and the drought conditions across the Midwest have been having an impact on food resources, water availability and distribution of waterfowl. The early hurricane (Isaac) in Louisiana and superstorm Sandy have definitely mixed things up as well. It is starting to look like another crazy year on the back the last three…driest year ever, wettest year ever, warmest year ever.”