Waterfowl hunting preview for 2016-17

Barred Up Outfitter’s Head Guide Benjamin Page with a limit of ducks from opening weekend last season.(Submitted Photo/Courtesy of John K. Flores)

By JOHN K. FLORES

When Louisiana’s waterfowl hunters step into their blinds starting this weekend with the coastal zone youth only weekend, it will be 21 consecutive years they will have been able to enjoy a 60 day, 6 duck limit. Imagine that for a minute. A 21 year old waterfowl hunter who is finally old enough to buy his or her first beer, has never known anything else.
By contrast, I can remember the days when the Louisiana’s duck season ran 30 days and had a 3 duck limit back in the late 80s, due to excessive drought on the duck breeding grounds. What remains interesting to me, back then you’d have thought every duck in the flyway was down here along the coast. The birds in my bag always included mallards and a couple of times during the season we had ice on the ponds we hunted.
The 2016-2017 Louisiana waterfowl season is the first season under the new United States Fish and Wildlife Service flyway rules where season dates were set and approved during the spring. Moreover, set so early they are without the benefit or consideration of pond counts and the breeding numbers surveyed this year.
So, what does that mean? It simply means enjoy it while you got it. Essentially, though duck breeding numbers were only down 2 percent from 2015’s survey and the overall breeding duck population still remains 38 percent above the long-term average in 2016, prairie conditions in terms of moisture declined.
According to press information, released back in mid-August by Delta Waterfowl, May pond totals were down 21 percent from the previous year and are 4 percent below the long-term average. Essentially, that means things were pretty dry going into nesting season this past summer.
This is important information, because of what’s happening on the prairie today, where farmers are tiling fields to help them drain faster. In other words, tiling lowers the subsurface water table quicker, thus drying out agricultural fields faster, and thereby allowing farmers to maximize grain harvest profits. No one can fault a farmer for doing what he feels he has to do for his family.
However, for the past several years each spring and summer, Mother Nature has stepped in and supplied enough rain to compensate for a reduction of pot holes in agricultural areas in North and South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota. Moreover, conservation groups like Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl and The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation continue to work with state and federal agencies to develop policy and increase lands where ducks can nest. But, is it enough? Time will tell as the Dakotas and Prairie Canada did experience once again, some late spring rains this year.
Delta Waterfowl President, Dr. Frank Rohwer, in his late August report said, “Wetland conditions are not very good compared to recent years. We have high numbers of ducks sharing fewer ponds. Ducks just don’t do as well when they’re crowded.”
“Gadwalls will likely take advantage of the improved water conditions we had in June and mallard production should be helped by it too. Mallards are strong renesters. We’ll be hunting flocks with more adult ducks in them this season, but the flights should be strong,” Rohwer said. More locally, many hunters considered the 2015-2016 duck season pretty much a bust. What’s more, the recent 2016 September special teal season also was a bust locally. Any good reports for blue winged teal came from the southwest part of the state in the rice fields.
One of the predictions from Rohwer and other wildlife officials is hunters will see higher numbers of adult birds in their bags this season due to prairie conditions. That prediction held true for the teal season says Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Waterfowl Study Leader, Larry Reynolds. Reynolds mentioned during his opening weekend the majority of the teal he and his son harvested were adult males.
So far this fall above average temperatures have persisted over much of the Mississippi Flyway. Reports from southwest Louisiana seem to indicate some birds are down, but a cracking norther would be nice between now and November 12 when the big duck season gets underway for all of us.
With the number of birds in this year’s fall flight predicted to be just slightly lower this year, time will tell how many make it down to Louisiana come fall.
The main thing is duck hunters get 60 days and six bird limits again this year. With dryer conditions on the prairie and lower duck production this past summer, a high number of adult birds will be swinging from the game strap. So, enjoy it while you got it…
EDITOR’S NOTE: Flores is The Daily Review’s Outdoor Writer. If you wish to make a comment or have an anecdote, recipe or story you wish to share you can contact John K. Flores by calling him at 985-395-5586 or email gowiththeflo@cox.net or go to his Facebook page, gowiththeflo outdoors.

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