With the old west zone divided into two hunting zones, forming the new coastal zone, St. Mary Parish duck hunter’s season this coming fall will look much like last year.
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Waterfowl study leader Larry Reynolds said, “As you noticed for the St. Mary hunters, most hunters in Louisiana are not going to see any change in their hunting opportunity from last year. Although I proposed changes to the zone boundaries in both northwest and southeast Louisiana, and I still believe those changes are the most biologically sound thing to do, they were not implemented. The survey results showed hunters in affected parishes around Lake Pontchartrain did not support the proposed boundary changes to put all of the coastal marshes in the new coastal zone.”
In the northwest, when the commission approved the proposed boundary change along Hwy 167 from Jonesboro to the Arkansas state line, Reynolds says calls from hunters convinced commission members to reverse themselves, holding to the traditional confines of the previous line.
On tap next for commis-sioners is to approve the proposed hunting dates for the 2012-13 season that was presented at the July 3 commission meeting. The public comment period ends Aug. 2. And, if there isn’t significant input, the dates published are pretty much a done deal.
St. Mary Parish coastal zone hunters will see season dates virtually unchanged from 2011-12. The same thing goes for that portion of the parish that falls into the east zone, with one exception. The Youth Waterfowl Hunt for the east zone will be held the first weekend in February after the season is over.
Unlike the coastal zone, where the kids get first crack at the ducks Nov. 3-4, I doubt there will be much interest come Feb. 2-3. It is my experience that late season ducks are wary, call shy and have found sanctuary elsewhere from 60-days of Louisiana hunting pressure. What’s more, by that time of year, most Dixie Youth baseball coaches are beginning to look over their rosters to see whose coming back to play the upcoming season.
The struggle with creating three waterfowl hunting zones and establishing hunt-ing dates boils down to traditions and hunters not really knowing what they want, so they fear changing what they have.
Reynolds said, “The new west zone proposed dates are intended to allow additional early-season hunting, and the staggering of the second split openers allows additional hunting days for hunters willing to travel to hunt different zones. If the dates are approved, duck season will be open somewhere in Louisiana from Nov. 10 through Jan. 27. Again, the public comment suggests that not everybody is happy with the zone arrangements or the season dates. I expected that from the new west zone and the conflict in the coastal and east zones are the same traditionally — some want to hunt earlier and some want to hunt later.
“It’s impossible to please everyone, and sometimes even it seems impossible to please even the majority. But, I’m confident that this new zone configuration provides the foundation for us to move forward in providing season dates that better suit hunters in northwest Louisiana with-out compromising opportunity for northeast or coastal hunters.”
Beyond hunting zones and season dates, what Louisiana waterfowl hunters should get this year is a whole bunch of ducks as announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, based on the 2012 breeding survey.
Hunters will recall the record pond counts and exceptionally wet conditions on the breeding grounds during 2011. That moisture and habitat condition paid dividends this year in a big way, as this year’s survey is the highest on record dating back to 1955 — the year surveys began.
Reynolds said, “The popu-lation estimates coming from the breeding grounds are outstanding, except for pintails, and I expect many of them (overflew) the prairies for more northern breeding habitat because of the dry conditions in late winter and early spring. What we are seeing is the result of outstanding production from a very high breeding population last year carryover into this year.”
This year’s boom could be next year’s bust as conditions change on the prairie. From weather changes year to year to habitat loss, it’s hard to comprehend how quickly ducks respond both positively and negatively to these factors.
“Although good spring rain in some breeding locations improved habitat conditions markedly,” Reynolds emphasized, “pond numbers dropped 32 percent from last year. Still, they’re above the long-term average, but we expect lower reproductive output than last year. My concern is the trends in habitat conversion on the breeding grounds. We already know that CRP acreage is falling and a recent report showed reductions in CRP acreage were larger than we anticipated. Furthermore, the drainage on the breeding grounds has really picked up. Without Clean Water Act protection and because commodity prices are making the swamp-buster provision of the Farm Bill less of a deter-rent, pothole wetlands on the breeding grounds are being drained at an alarming rate.”
Louisiana hunters may not have gotten what they want in the form of season dates and the new three hunting zones, but they did in this coming year’s coming fall flight.
And, as the chorus of the Rolling Stones’ song contin-ues, “But, if you try some-times, you just might find, you get what you need.”
To make a comment or share an anecdote, recipe or story, contact John K. Flores at (985) 395-5586 or email@example.com.