OUTDOORS: Halftime nears for duck hunters

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 10, 2002


At sunset Sunday, a final gunshot in the marsh will signal halftime for – duck hunters. And with both the East and West Zones shut down temporarily, hunters are reviewing the success or lack thereof during the first split and the future of the next.

“Spotty” has been the most common word describing the conditions hunters saw from their blinds. Two major factors have separated good hunts from fair and even bad ones.

First, areas that were not affected by the tropical storms and Hurricane Lili or the unusually heavy October and November rains have been most productive. The storms destroyed much of the grasses and other plants that waterfowl feed in many areas. Areas that do not have feed will not hold ducks for any length of time.

Other areas, mainly in the southwest rice belt had so much rain; the birds that did show up were scattered making them harder to hunt. The other factor was timing. Seems like hunters who hunted the first days following the arrival of frontal systems found limits of ducks.

Hunters are also reporting ducks are harder to lure into range. This is an indication that what we are seeing are more old birds and less first year migrants. The older birds are decoy and call shy, having seen it all before. All this combined with a reduced fall flight to start with has not produced a banner season thus far. Even “mediocre” might be a little generous.

So what is ahead when both zones reopen next weekend in the East Zone and on Dec. 21 in the West? There is nothing can be done about an absence of feed but a lot depends on the weather from here on out. Hard freezes up north will drive more birds into Louisiana and that will help.

Less rainfall will help concentrate the birds in the northern and southwestern parishes. And there are some tactics hunters can use to improve their chances on those older, wiser birds.

Make sure your blind is in preseason shape. Total concealment is extremely important in fooling late-season birds. Make sure you are completely camouflaged, especially shining faces.

Use many more decoys than normal, wary ducks like the confidence of plenty of company.

Motorized decoys can add that little bit of life to motionless dekes on those windless days. Limit your calling to soft quacks and a little feeding chatter or use a less common call like a pintail or widgeon whistle for all species. You might want to move up a number on your shot size to compensate for having to make longer shots on birds hesitant to decoy.

If you have been shooting 4s you might want to make a switch to number 2s to increase velocity a little further out.

Hunters should remember that this second half of duck hunting means changes in the pintail regs. In the West Zone pintails, like canvasbacks, are closed to hunting. In the East Zone pintails can only be taken through Dec. 27.

Gifts for the sportsman

If you have not started already it is time to shop for the fishermen and hunters on your list.

Over the next few weeks, I will be making some suggestions for some of the latest and greatest gift ideas at a variety of prices. So start shopping or in some cases, hinting.

One of the best gifts to give hunters is one of safety. And the Stylus high-intensity compact light provides that but will not spook game nor hinder night vision.

What makes it unique is its safety-green LED that provides a green light that both illuminates the trail like a flashlight and can be seen as much as a mile away by other hunters.

It is about the size of the average pen so it is not another cumbersome hunting accessory to pack along through the woods. Those durable LED bulbs can last as long as 100,000 hours and the Stylus can be clipped to your cap to keep your hands free or fits neatly in a shirt pocket.

Priced at about $20 this is a great stocking stuffer any hunter will appreciate. For dealer information access www.streamlight.com or call 800-523-7488.

DON DUBUC is the outdoors reporter for L’Observateur.