Will duck season be good? Experts say you just never know until it happens

Deer hunting season looks ripe
December 1, 2014
Most hunters remain giddy for season to begin
December 1, 2014
Deer hunting season looks ripe
December 1, 2014
Most hunters remain giddy for season to begin
December 1, 2014

Louisiana’s duck hunting season starts in mid-November – a day always circled on the calendars of every avid hunter.

But will there be ducks when the hunt gets underway? That remains to be seen.

Duck hunting experts argue hunting season is very fickle and that any small change in climate or habitat can go a long way in affecting whether or not the season is a success.

Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Waterfowl Study Leader Larry A. Reynolds said conditions look good right now, but added that until November gets here, all bets are off.

“No one can be sure what kind of hunting season we are going to have,” he said. “We, in Louisiana, have reason to be optimistic, because there are plenty of ducks in the population, and our habitat conditions are good. But we had a similar situation last year, and the hunting was not very good, so one can never be sure.”

When it comes to hunting ducks, it’s all about the weather – both in Louisiana and places far to our north.

Hunters explain that duck hunting is an art form of nature – the science of snagging ducks out of the air during their annual migration pattern from northern states to the South.

But there are countless factors along the way that can affect the timing of that migration or the extent to which the ducks fly south.

Reynolds said hunting fans should cheer annually for a harsh, brutally cold winter in Canada and the Northern Plains states, conditions driven by snow and ice.

He said birds are acting on instinct when migrating, and they won’t leave at all until the temperature goes awry.

“The migration of birds is driven by weather and habitat conditions north of us,” Reynolds said. “Good habitat conditions north of us and/or warm weather can greatly delay migrations and hurt hunting success. Poor habitat conditions north of us and/or very cold weather is what tends to speed up the migration and improve our hunting success, but the truth is that there can also be anything in between.”

The good news is that the globe did its part in the 2014 summer. According to a story in the Boston Globe, this past summer was the coldest American summer in the past 30 years with several major cities touting temperatures far below average.

The Farmer’s Almanac believes the cool summer will equal a harsh winter. The 198-year-old publication (which is the bible for many hunters and gardeners) suggests this year’s winter will be brutally cold, especially in the North and Midwest. The book even predicts record lows to be eclipsed in several southern states.

That plays right into the hands of hunters.

“The colder it gets, the better it is for us,” said Houma native and avid hunter Reed Billiot. “The birds get on the move when it gets cold. They can’t survive it when the weather gets bad. Our sport is predicated on cutting them off in flight and clipping them as they are making their move.”

But no matter how cold things get in other parts of the country, conditions need to be ripe in Louisiana, as well.

And LDWF officials are very confident that will be the case for 2014.

Once birds are on the move, there needs to be ample breeding grounds and habitat conditions in Louisiana so the birds continue their push toward our area. Reynolds said those numbers are easier to predict in advance, and things are looking good.

“We know the breeding populations are in good shape. They are up from last year and are at the highest level on record,” Reynolds said. “We know the habitat is in good shape, both on the breeding grounds and here in Louisiana. … We have reasons to be optimistic there.”

There is a lot riding on hunting season being a success in Louisiana. The sport has become wildly popular in recent years.

Reynolds said the number of waterfowl hunters in Louisiana has doubled since 2005 and continues to grow more and more each year. It’s become more a part of our culture and has become somewhat of an expected hobby for young males in various reaches of Southeast Louisiana, he said.

“Duck hunting has grown in popularity. It’s back to almost what it was in the mid-‘70s,” Reynolds said. “A popular Louisiana-based duck-hunting family culture has likely helped, as has the good hunting conditions over the past few years.”

Reynolds said conditions were prime for solid seasons in each of the past three or four years, but the 2013 season took a bit of a step back, and the hunting wasn’t very good.

Will 2014 follow suit? Time will tell.

“They can make those figures and they can make the projections, but the truth is that you just never know until you get out there on the first day,” Billiot said. “It’s such a fickle game. Think about it. We’re trying to intercept birds flying thousands of miles to our area, and we’re trying to be sitting in the mud at the exact right time as they are passing by. It’s a Cajun physics equation, and it’s imperfect science. But I’ll be damned if I’m not out there on opening day to try and make it happen.”

This pup is awfully proud of his Master’s hunt for the day, nabbing several ducks from Louisiana’s marshes. Experts tout that the cool summer is a good omen for the 2014 season, but add that until November gets here, all bets are off.