This past weekend, hunkered in a makeshift natural blind surrounded by decoys, Amanda Rhodes sat motionless waiting. Covered head to toe with camouflage, including face paint that some would consider overkill, she blended in with her surroundings. So much so, the pintails she hoped for began to work.
Basically a novice, the 24-year-old Morgan City native, who teaches first-grade at Raintree Elementary School in Baldwin, only has duck hunted the past couple years after being introduced to the sport by her brother, Adam. What’s more, it was her brother she shared a blind with this past weekend on opening day of the 2012-2013 waterfowl season.
According to the Hunter Participation and Harvest Summary prepared by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, an estimated 1,230 hunters hunted Saturday on the Atchafalaya Delta Wildlife Management Area.
Rhodes was making her hunt on the Wax Delta side of the wildlife management area, where the bulk of the participation occurred.
With so much pressure, on more than one occasion, ducks working the blind would spook at the report of any shotgun fired several hundred yards away. And, because it wasn’t coming from her or her brother, it frustrated the two siblings when the birds would flare and climb high in altitude well out of range for a decent shot.
Nonetheless, those hunting the management area still had ample opportunity to harvest limits of ducks on opening day. The thousand plus hunters killed an estimated 4,620 ducks for an average of 3.8 birds per hunter. Not bad when you consider hunters never report the number of shots they fire while educating ducks.
With such a good average for an opening day, those who hunted the Wax side of the Atchafalaya Delta Wildlife Management Area seemed to be in a festive mood. One pass through the campground canal, where tent campers numbered in the 100s, provided a Mardi Gras-like atmosphere.
Smoke poured from barbeque pits and some sort of duck gumbo or duck sauce piquante was on the stove at a good many of the floating camps moored on the state grounds.
As Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries personnel completed bag checks, there were few, if any, bad reports.
At one camp, four hunters from Gonzales had limited out on big quality ducks made up of pintails, widgeon, gadwall, redheads and a canvasback. The hunters gathered around the strap of birds, taking pictures with their cell phones to post on social media.
Even Rhodes’ cousins, who own a floating camp they keep on the delta, had limited out during their morning hunt.
The perseverance of Amanda and Adam Rhodes finally paid off when the pintails felt the decoy spread looked safe enough. Firing, then racking her Mossberg 20 gauge pump action shotgun a second time, firing again, Amanda was on the mark as two pintails she and her brother killed lay on the water. It was her first one ever.
“I wanted a pintail so bad,” she said with excitement, while her brother made the retrieve beyond the decoys. “I got my first mallard last year, and I really wanted to get a pintail. I wanted to mount one. It’s such a pretty bird. But, I also want to get a redhead and canvasback too. I just think they’re all really, really beautiful.”
The schoolteacher tells how she has taken feathers to the classroom as part of a way to introduce her students to outdoor activities, biology and science. Moreover, many of them think she is pretty cool because she hunts — particularly the older boys in grades above the one she teaches.
Besides duck hunting, Rhodes says she enjoys shooting all kinds of guns.
Rhodes said, “I love to shoot, and I’m working on getting my concealed weapons permit. I think women should be familiar with firearms, and I personally refuse to be a victim if I can prevent it. But also, for some reason, shooting relaxes me; it’s sort of a release, I guess. I’ve even shot my dad’s Smith and Wesson .500. In short, if it fires, I’ll shoot it.”
The Atchafalaya Delta Wildlife Management Area is a 141,000-acre refuge that only can be reached by boat. Though it varies individual to individual and the effort put into hunting it, the popular WMA typically provides better than average waterfowl hunting throughout much of the 60-day season.
In order to legally hunt the WMA, hunters are required to have their basic small game license, their state and federal Duck Stamps and a wildlife management area permit. The refuge is first come, first serve — in short — no one can claim a blind location permanently as his or her own.
For the hunt, applying camouflage paint was no more difficult than putting on makeup. And, though not a tomboy, Rhodes says she loves anything outdoors but still finds time to be feminine.
“My dad took me hunting when I was young, and I’ve killed squirrel, so I’m not a girly-girl,” Rhodes says. “We did a lot of things growing up, and I like anything outdoors. But, don’t get me wrong, I like shopping and all that too, letting that feminine side of being a girl come out.”
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