We’ll start in the southern reaches of the flyway this week, and work our way back up north. A reverse migration, so to speak.
I’m in Buras, Louisiana-a guest of Ducks Unlimited and Ryan Lambert’s Cajun Fishing Adventures. A handful of colleagues and I are here from points ’round the compass to hunt teal and see for ourselves just how the incredible ecosystem that is southern Louisiana is disappearing on a daily basis.
“We’re losing,” I heard Lambert say more than once during my three-day stay in Buras, “a football field of marsh every 38 minutes.” A damn lot of property vital to everything from shrimp to shovelers-and a loss that affects folks regardless of whether they’re north or south of the Mason-Dixon Line, diehard duck hunter or dedicated birding enthusiast.
Discouraging, yes, but there is hope. Wheels around Louisiana, as well as political cogs in Washington, are turning, all in hopes of creating-and here I’ll paraphrase Dr. Thomas Moorman, Director of Science and Public Policy for Ducks Unlimited-a process by which Mother Nature, in this instance the Gulf Coast marshes, can help herself heal. It’s a long road, one wrought with obstacles a’plenty; however, the healing process is, as I understand, attainable.
I hunted with Dr. Moorman-a zoology major hailing from my alma mater, Ohio University, in Athens-on Wednesday morning. Teal were relatively few, a statistic Moorman blamed on three factors-a lack of cold-air systems pushing birds southward; the recent passage of Hurricane Isaac, whose storm surge and resulting influx of saltwater into southeast Louisiana’s freshwater marshes destroyed food sources vital for waterfowl, as well as countless other creatures, big and small; and substantial amounts of sheetwater in the northern part of the state-again, thanks, Mister Isaac-working to stop teal short of their traditional late September haunts in the southern marshes. With all that working against our group, we still managed 30 teal, give or take, in two mornings of hunting, including half a dozen green-wings-birds the locals say are relatively uncommon during the teal season. Signs of an early fall, perhaps?
Let’s jump to central Saskatchewan, where my friend Ben Fujan, an Avery Pro-Staffer and native South Dakotan, and several buddies are in the midst of their annual North-of-the-Border sojourn. Via text message, Fuji reports seeing “lots of juvenile Ross’ geese, with good number of young-of-the-year snows. Below average numbers of adult white geese, but lots and lots of ducks. A few Canadas,” Fuji continued, “and a few specks here, but a lot of ducks.” Elsewhere in Canada, a lady-friend spent the week north of Winnipeg, and, by her own admission, is returning to the States spoiled due to the numbers of birds, dark geese primarily with plenty of ducks, she and her gunning partners put on the ground.
In Minnesota, Mark Brendemuehl, Avery Territory Manager, opened his season this past weekend in the western part of the state. “We had a mix of teal, mallards, woodies, and pintails on Saturday,” said Mark, who sent me the above photo of his 8-year-old boy-dog, Coot, making short work of this gorgeous drake woodie that skirted the edge of the spread and fell just inside the ‘tails. “On Sunday, we hunted a cornfield for woodies, and ended one shy of a six-man limit (18 birds) in 15 minutes! Water’s still hard to find,” he continued, “and most hunters are focusing on rivers or fields.”
Iowa’s five-day early season kicked off on Saturday, 22 September, and ran through Wednesday, 26 September. Like Brendemuehl’s Minnesota, Iowa is dry. Hunters were concentrated and pressure was high; however, I do know of some great hunts – blue-wings, wood ducks, mallards, and pintails being the guests of honor – that were had along the Mississippi. Temperatures that flirted with or dipped below freezing over the weekend have moderated; whether or not any remaining teal will stay in The Hawkeye State for the mid-October regular opener has yet to be seen.
Elsewhere, teal hunters in Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky, and Mississippi all seemed to fare well, thanks in large part to a pair of recent chilly Canadian air masses that pushed good numbers of birds south. John Gordon of Memphis, a customer service guru with Avery Outdoors, sent me an email this afternoon-and I quote-“Hope you’re doing well on the blue-wings in Louisiana. We smashed ’em on Saturday just north of Cleveland, Mississippi.” Another cohort reports a great opening morning in south-central Kentucky. If blue-wing numbers are any indication, Ducks Unlimited may very well be right in their assessment of 2012 being yet another banner year for both waterfowl and those who chase ’em.