Danny St. Pierre spent most of past week looking at rice fields near Abbeville.
“No birds. Not yet,” he reported Saturday morning. “But I’m not worried. Don’t know how it happens, but every year — and I’ve been doing this for a long time now — the birds come down and we have a good season.”
For St. Pierre, birds are ducks, maybe geese on occasion, but his point of reference wasn’t Saturday’s dove-season opener, but rather this Saturday’s first of the special 16-day teal season.
“I’ll let the youngsters go out and get a few doves, but I’m too busy watching football, and don’t want to miss the LSU kickoff,” St. Pierre said. “Maybe I’ll get up early before (Sunday) mass and see if I can get a few doves for a stew to celebrate the Saints beating the Falcons tomorrow.”
And four days later, and from the tone in his voice Wednesday, it was easy to know he was still smiling.
A cold front blew into south Louisiana and the veteran wild waterfowler said the vanguard of those handsome little birds were winging over the fields.
“There aren’t that many yet, but the first morning to see them is a great day,” St. Pierre said. “I know there will be more tomorrow and Friday and then opening day.”
The new limit
St. Pierre said the hang-around talk is whether there will be enough birds to fill the new six-teal-per-day limit for the Sept. 14-29 season.
“Most times we don’t have problems getting a limit on opening weekend,” he said. “The guys in the rice (fields) with water have the most birds, and the guys hunting the marshes have to wait until the guys in the rice (fields) start shooting and start moving birds to the marshes.
“It’s after the opening weekend that we start seeing fewer numbers. That’s unless we get another cold front or something else that moves the birds back into the rice.”
Hunters head into the season knowing overall teal numbers are down this year compared to 2012.
The 2012 bluewing teal numbers — and it’s bluewing that make up most of the early flights into Louisiana — were estimated at slightly over 9 million birds in the breeding count survey. This year’s estimate is 7.732 million. That’s a 16 percent decrease.
Greenwing numbers declined by 12 percent from 2012’s estimate of 3.471 million to 3.053 million this year.
So why the increase in the daily take from four to six birds?
Federal and state biologists have been working for years to determine what an increased harvest could mean in teal numbers, but looked at the long-term average that shows bluewing numbers are 60 percent and greenwings area 51 percent above that near 60-year population average.
In short, biologists admit, teal populations are in good shape, and bluewing numbers have been far above a baseline number of slightly more than 4 million birds for more than three decades.
More ‘new’ news
New this year, too, is an increase in the possession limit.
For as long as there have been limits on taking migratory birds and migratory waterfowl, the possession limit has been twice the daily limit.
This year, the possession limit is three times the daily limit, an increase that will allow a single hunter to have has many as 18 birds on his or her trip back home. Naturally, that limit must be held at least three days into the special teal season. The same is true for the 60-day regular duck season and the goose seasons.
State Waterfowl Study leader Larry Reynolds explained that federal and state studies show the possession limit isn’t a threat to the overall population of all migratory birds and waterfowl, and will be a help for federal and state enforcement agents.
The special 16-day season is restricted to the take of bluewing, greenwing and cinnamon teal only.
Also included in the special hunt is the take of four species of rails and two species of gallinules. Each of these species has a special daily limit.
Hunters 16 and older must have a state basic hunting license. An exception are made for hunters to reached 60 year old before June 1, 2000.
Hunters 60 and older who reached 60 after that date must have a $5 state Seniors License.
Federal regulations require all waterfowl hunters 16 and older to have a $15 federal waterfowl stamp, to sign the face of their stamp and carry the signed stamp to the hunt.
State law requires a $5.50 state waterfowl stamp.
Federal law requires all migratory bird and migratory waterfowl hunters, no matter their age, to have a Harvest Information Program certification. The fee-free HIP certification is issued through state license vendors.
If you’re hunting on a state wildlife management area, and are between the ages of 18 and 59, you also need a $15 Louisiana WMA Hunting Permit.
Waterfowl guides across the state are advising hunters to bring insect repellent. Mosquitoes have been on the prowl in the early morning. Guides also suggest light gloves to cover hands.
“And,” St. Pierre said, “make sure you have the right shells for your shotgun.”