The most wonderful time of the year is just about upon us.
And no, I’m not talking about the Christmas shopping season.
Although you can be sure these weekend warriors will be awake just as early, if not earlier on Black Friday.
But instead of searching stores for low prices, many who love this time of year in southeast Louisiana are searching our various waterways, lakes and ponds for low-flying birds.
That’s because duck hunting season starts in November – specifically Nov. 15 in the Coastal Zone spanning most of Lafourche, Terrebonne and St. Mary parishes and Nov. 22 in the East Zone, encompassing small northern portions of those parishes and above.
And if you’ve gotten used to seeing these adventurous young souls on weekends, their days integrated into the rest of society on off days may be numbered. That is, unless if you’re heading to the duck blind right there with them.
“The guys that we hunt with, we’re together every day, every afternoon throughout the week as well, not just on the weekends,” avid Cut Off duck hunter Ren Cheramie said. “After the hunt, you get to call all your buddies and brag about what you killed or they get to do the same if you didn’t kill anything and for us duck hunting guys it’s more of a family. We’re best friends. I’ve been hunting with some of the guys I grew up with and played sports with since I was able to.”
Cheramie and his group hunt on weekends in order to fit everyone’s work schedule.
“We really don’t hunt the full 60 days out of a hunting season. We might hunt a couple long weekends around Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he said. “… If we could get off of work when a good cold front is coming through we’ll try to make one of those hunts, but we won’t just make a random hunt just to do it so we don’t mess up those weekend hunts.”
Because his lease is in accessible vehicle proximity and can make it from the house to the blind in less than 30 minutes, Cheramie said he and his fellow hunters are very spoiled and very lucky.
That doesn’t take away from task of successfully bagging their limit, however.
“It’s a challenge. We go out there and you have to do your best to conceal yourself. Also, it’s not easy pulling out a gun and shooting a duck. Not everybody can do it. A lot of us have been doing it all of our lives, and we could go out one day and you could shoot six shots and kill six birds and you could shoot 60 shots and not get one. It’s a lot like sports; you prepare for it. In the offseasons you have to prepare your gun. You have to make sure your equipment is in check; you have to make sure it’s still good. It’s the unknown. You don’t know once the sun comes up what birds are going to go where, and if they’re going to come at all,” Cheramie said.
Preparation is also key for fellow Cut Off duck hunter Brock Danos, who said he’d like to make 20 or 30 hunts this season in or near Catfish Lake.
“A big part of it is being prepared for any kind of weather that’s going on that day, because you hunt differently for the current weather that’s going on,” Danos explained. “If you have a big cold front that’s coming through the night before you want to hunt the next day, you’ve got a lot of new birds that come down. And say that day you want to throw out a bunch of decoys because the new birds are young, and when they see another big group of birds they want to come down for them, and that hedges your hunt to kill more birds.”
Unlike quite a bit of duck hunters, Danos doesn’t implement a retrieval dog during his hunt, instead opting to be the dog himself. It’s the added challenge with the wilderness the keeps him coming back.
“You have to go get the birds yourself that you shoot. It sounds simple to put it like that, but you put into perspective whatever kind of boat you’re in or if you’re in a pirogue. In the winter, the tide’s real low and sometimes your birds are in barely any water or no water at all up in the mud so you’re paddling a pirogue and it’s not the easiest thing to just go ahead and get your birds,” he said. “It takes a little bit out of you to paddle out into the marsh and chase a bird that’s half dead or floating down a big pond with the wind.”
Wes Doucet of Larose not only implements a retrieval dog, but he trains man’s furry best friend, also. That training comes in handy when it’s show time.
“Their tail is going 100 miles per hour, and they know the job,” Doucet said. “You’ve been spending all year training them. You can’t just put it in the pen and whenever hunting season comes along in November let me pull the dog out and start messing with it. You train year-round to get this dog ready, and it’s lights, camera, action.”
Doucet compared a dog’s first encounter chasing a duck to a coach trotting out his team for the first game of the year.
“You’ve worked so hard all year, especially if it’s a young dog because you don’t know how they’re going to act. And they feed off your energy. They feel you getting excited and they’re excited, just waiting for that first splash. It’s exciting after that first shot and watching them hit the water, especially if it’s a wounded bird. You wingtip a bird, and it’s getting away and to watch a young dog go underneath the water, completely submerge themselves chasing a duck. To me is the best sight in the world.”
Blessed by marriage and a 3-year-old daughter, Doucet said he doesn’t get to hunt as much as he used to; however, it’s easy to see absence makes the heart grow fonder for the south Lafourche native.
“There’s a lot of anticipation, especially if you’re a young kid or a young adult, about what could happen,” Doucet said with excitement. “If the wind’s blowing and you got a little bit of rain, that’s perfect duck weather. Just a little bit anticipation, getting in the boat, getting to your spot, getting to your pirogue paddling out, throwing your decoys out, making sure your spread’s nice… That first 15 minutes before light and you’re sitting there and sometimes you could hear birds in the distance calling, wings flapping. It’s just a wonderful experience because you’re anticipating, ‘OK, we have to wait another five minutes,’ and you see ducks coming from all different directions and you’re at the edge of your seat.”
However, Doucet admits he doesn’t always make it out there with 15 minutes to spare because something inevitably seems to always go wrong. Believe it or not, the frustration just adds to the fun, he said.
“We always say if you’re not having trouble, you’re not having fun. Well, we used to have the most amount of fun, you could say, because we’d always have something that went wrong,” Doucet said with a laugh.
With potential hurdles – including boat motor problems, the boat taking on water, guns jamming or simply just forgetting your decoys in the truck because it’s still hours from the sun coming up and your brain still isn’t functioning properly – duck hunting connoisseur Devin Breen agrees with Doucet’s assessment, saying no good duck hunt should be easy.
“Misery hunts are always the best,” Breen said.
To say Breen, a Northshore native who has duck hunted in seven states and said he’ll hunt wherever the ducks are, is obsessed with duck hunting would be an understatement.
He strives to hunt almost every single day the season is open and spends his non-seasonal time researching and showing home-built wood duck houses throughout southeast Louisiana.
“This will be my 14th year of dedicated hunting. I learn more and more every year, and I do research throughout the year,” Breen said. “A lot of times, I love bringing people that have never duck hunted… I’ll put them in the blind, and I’ll tell them, ‘I won’t shoot unless you want me to and unless you are a bad shot. I’ll help you.’ I’ll sit there. I’ll call them. I’ll work the birds, and it shows them how duck hunting really is, appreciating how they come in and just the way they flock in and land. It’s how you can work the birds … that’s what gets people hooked on duck hunting, just you being able to communicate with them and they feel comfortable in your decoy spreads and your calling.”
For Breen and others, it’s about bonding with nature as much as having a successful hunt, although he says he not only always gets his limit but hand picks which types of birds he’d like to bring home.
“I’ll take out my wood duck call, and I’ll give them a chatter call and the feed call, and you’ll see them. You’ll watch the birds. They’ll be flying away from you. If you’re good at calling, you do a couple of calls and you’ll see the whole pack break. They’ll either go left or right, and you call a little bit more and they’ll circle you and you just do low calls and then you just stop. When they’re coming right back into you, these birds flock like you’d never imagine,” Breen explained. “They’ll come down and drop 10 feet in half a second, do a flip right before they hit on the water. Just hearing their wings coming is ridiculous. It’s more of an experience to me than anything.”
It’s the emotional connection that keeps hunters coming back year after year.
“Some people see it as, ‘Oh, you’re just going out there killing some poor innocent animals.’ But I guess it goes back to the roots of down here. That’s how people made their lives and a lot of families were grown on living on the land down here, especially in the south Lafourche area. It’s kind of keeping it alive, like you see a lot of people with the shrimping going away, and it kind of brings you back to your roots,” Cheramie said.
Coastal Zone duck season runs from Nov. 15 to Dec. 7, and Dec. 20 to Jan. 25. East Zone duck season runs from Nov. 22 to Dec. 7 and Dec. 13 to Jan. 25.
Raceland native Tyler Rivet poses next to his boat after a highly successful duck hunt last season. Thousands of Louisiana hunters are patiently awaiting the start of duck season – a time they tout as among the best weeks of the year.