South Louisiana's Other Ducks

South Louisiana's Other Ducks

Hunters willing to look past greenheads find tremendous duck hunting opportunities throughout the southern part of the state -- even during down years. Here's an in-depth look at several top spots.

Photo by R.E. Ilg

Listening to the hissing and cursing has come from Louisiana duck blinds the past two seasons could be enough to make even the most grizzled waterfowl veteran call it quits. However, most of these curses are directed at the lack of greenheads.

Well, get over it: Other ducks are to be had in Louisiana that provide excellent opportunities for any hunter willing to get his or her elitist nose out of the sky and pressed against the side of a shotgun.

I've never understood what the fuss was all about, really. Admittedly, I don't have thousands of dollars invested in a private lease, hundreds of decoys, and a high-bred retriever. Maybe if I did, I'd be hissing and cursing too.

All I've been interested in the past couple of years has been shooting some ducks. I haven't really cared what kind: gadwall, teal, widgeon, wood duck, pintail -- it hasn't mattered to me. If I happened to lure in a suicidal mallard, so much the better.

In other words, I haven't been too selective as to what I've shot the past two years. Selective waterfowlers interested only in mallards can't see past their blinders to appreciate all the other ducks flying by.

If you've been complaining about the lack of ducks recently, changing your attitude about what ducks you shoot can have you reliving the proverbial good old days in no time.

KATRINA'S AFTERMATH
Due to publication deadlines, this article was written just prior to the devastation brought by Hurricane Katrina. At press time, it was impossible to determine how the aftermath of the storm would affect duck hunting this season, or to determine the status of the facilities and hunting seasons at all of the public lands mentioned here. Be sure to check the situation at each location before considering your hunting options this season.

Waterfowl hunters who don't mind aiming for a mixed bag of Louisiana ducks this season can find several public areas along the Interstate 10 corridor in south Louisiana. Here are the best bets for taking a limit of Louisiana's other ducks around New Orleans and Lake Charles.

NEW ORLEANS AREA

Big Branch NWR

Sited on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain between Slidell and Mandeville, Big Branch offers hunters the opportunity to hunt for teal, pintails, widgeon, gadwalls, wood ducks and a variety of other ducks in a natural coastal marsh surrounded by St. Tammany Parish's fast-developing communities. The refuge includes a brackish marsh near Lake Pontchartrain that gives way to an upland zone consisting of pine ridges and bottomland as you move north.

Duck hunting is allowed on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday until noon during duck season -- including special teal hunts and youth waterfowl hunts. Blinds and decoys must be removed by noon. Retrievers are allowed at Big Branch.

Access Big Branch NWR by taking Highway 434 south from Interstate 12 in Lacombe to the lake, or turn east off of 434 onto Highway 190 and drive 2 1/2 miles and turn south on Transmitter Road. Transmitter Road ends at Bayou Paquet Road, which runs through the refuge.

Delta NWR

The Delta NWR is home to literally tens of thousands of Louisiana ducks. The main drawing power of Delta lies in its abundance of the rich food sources found in this 49,000-acre hunter's paradise. However, it's the combination of food, fertile soil, and shallow water that keeps the ducks coming back year after year.

A little more than half the refuge is considered a freshwater marsh. As hunters leave the main tributaries and move closer to the Gulf of Mexico, they move from a freshwater marsh to brackish marsh. Delta duck potato, elephant ear, wild millet, delta three-square and Roseau cane are the dominant types of vegetation in the area.

Duck hunting is allowed on Delta NWR on Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday until noon northwest of the main pass and south of Raphael Pass. Access to the refuge is by boat only. Airboats, mudboats, air-cooled propulsion engines, and motorized pirogues aren't allowed.

Hunters should pay attention to the tide and the winds. Low tides move ducks to the middle of ponds and bays and can leave hunters stranded on a mudflat. North winds can also push water out making an area to shallow to hunt. On the other hand, a strong south wind pushes water and salt in, making ponds and bays too salty and too deep to hunt.

Only temporary blinds are allowed on Delta NWR, and blinds and decoys must be attended at all times and removed each day. Most hunt from boat blinds, with some jamming pirogues into the roseau cane points. Hunting the vegetation points allows hunters to take birds coming in from two different directions.

Manchac WMA

This 8,324-acre WMA gets a lot of attention because of its location between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The area is in upper St. John the Baptist Parish about 17 miles north northeast of La Place. The northern border is defined by Pass Manchac, which connects Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain.

"Manchac WMA used to be a cypress tupelo swamp," said LDWF program manager Randy Myers. "It was logged, and has since been changed to a coastal marsh and intermediate marsh because of the saltwater intrusion from the southwest."

Teal, gadwalls, widgeon, scaup and an occasional mallard can be found in potholes throughout the WMA, but the most popular area for ducks and hunters is a 100-acre pond near the Lake Pontchartrain shoreline known as "the Prairie." Bulltongue dominates the vegetation there, but there's also a lot of submerged vegetation like widgeon grass and pondweed to attract the different ducks to the area.

Manchac WMA is also home to 50 wood duck nesting boxes, which are designed to make up for the lack of natural nesting sites within hollow trees.

Manchac offers an excellent opportunity to take a mixed bag of ducks, but hunters should avoid hunting on the weekend, if possible. The area tends to get a lot of pressure from New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Another key thing to remember: Pay attention to the weather. Hunters should try to hunt when rough weather has moved t

he ducks off Lake Pontchartrain and into the marsh.

Pass-A-Loutre WMA

This 115,000-acre WMA in southern Plaquemines Parish lies at the mouth of the Mississippi River, approximately 10 miles south of Venice. Pass-A-Loutre is arguably the best area in south Louisiana for taking a mixed bag of ducks. However, it isn't exactly an easy place to get to. That, coupled with the fact that this marsh doesn't offer much solid ground obliges hunters to rely on a boat to hunt the area.

The WMA is challenging to get to because you have to boat down the Mississippi River, which calls for a boat large enough to hold its own with the big ships with which they must share the river. However, once you get there, Pass-A-Loutre opens up into a vast area of fresh and intermediate marsh with hundreds of different potholes, open bays and lakes.

Pass-A-Loutre offers abundant dabblers, including pintails, gadwalls, and teal, but you'll also find opportunities to hunt canvasbacks, redheads, ringnecks and other divers.

Pass-A-Loutre is obviously attractive to these ducks because of all the water available for them to use. However, the presence of water grasses like widgeon grass, pondweed, and wild millet is what holds ducks in the area.

The most important factor to keep in mind when hunting Pass-A-Loutre is the tide. Ignorance of tidal information could mean a hunt with no ducks that ends with your boat stuck on a mudflat. You may come to an area during an afternoon scouting trip and find it loaded with ducks, only to come back the next morning to find them all out in the middle of a bay because the tide is out. Likewise, you may could get to an area during a high tide, only to find yourself sitting on a mud flat after the water moves out, watching, thousands of birds wrapped up, but not coming to your decoys because the decoys are tilting over on their sides. Pay attention to the tide and you'll both kill more ducks and have a safer trip.

Pearl River WMA

Pearl River WMA offers 15,031 acres of some of the most diverse habitat in the state, ranging from bottomland hardwoods to cypress/tupelo swamps; it's a hunter's paradise. Wood ducks and mallards can be found north of U.S. Highway 90, but the areas of marsh south of Highway 90 offer the biggest concentrations of Louisiana's other ducks.

The section south of Highway 90 is more of a marsh zone, and, with its saltwater and intermediate marsh, one very similar to Manchac. There's a lot of widgeon grass and pondweed, which provides the forage for these different species in this are of the WMA.

Pearl River WMA is just a few miles east of Slidell. You can get to it from old Highway 11 and by boat. Boat access is available at several ramps along Highway 90 with concrete ramps at Davis and Crawford landings. A commercial ramp is available at Old Indian Village.

Pearl River is much like Pass-A-Loutre with respect to the effects of tide. Even though you're on a river system, the tide can still move out on you.

LAKE CHARLES AREA

Lacassine NWR

Enough ringnecks, pintails, blue- and green-winged teal, gadwalls, and widgeon call Lacassine NWR home during the winter months to make it one of the hottest waterfowl areas in southwest Louisiana.

Most of the 32,970-acre refuge consists of freshwater marsh, with dense growths of maidencane and bulltongue, and only a few natural ridges and levees. The major feature of the refuge is Lacassine Pool -- a 16,000-acre marsh with a low levee. Large waterfowl concentrations can be found in this pool.

Approximately 1,500 acres are managed for moist-soil plants and agricultural crops to provide desirable waterfowl foods.

More than 6,000 acres south of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway are open to duck hunting. A federal order prohibits waterfowl hunting on the portion of Lacassine Bayou flowing through the refuge.

Hunting is permitted on Wednesday through Sunday of the state duck season (Western Zone). Hunters may not enter the hunting area earlier than 4:00 a.m., and hunting hours end at noon each day.

Motorized boats may be used only in canals and bayous. Horsepower is not restricted. Airboats may not be used on the refuge. Only portable blinds or stands may be used, and they may be set up one week prior to the start of a season. Blinds, stands, and decoys must be removed by the last day of the season, and each segment of a split season. Any hunter on a first-come, first-served basis may use blinds and stands left overnight during a season.

Lacassine NWR lies at the end of Highway 3056. From Interstate 10, take Exit 64 (Jennings) and travel south on Highway 26 to Highway 14 in Lake Arthur. Go west on Highway 14 for seven miles to Highway 3056 and then south four and a half miles.

Sabine NWR

"Duck hunting down here isn't like other places," said Region 5 biologist manager John Robinette. "To us, a gadwall or a widgeon is just as good as a mallard. And there isn't any better place to hunt these ducks down here than Sabine NWR."

Eight miles south of Hackberry in southwest Louisiana, Sabine NWR is home to approximately 34,000 acres of open water and marsh available to hunt.

Hunting is permitted only on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays of the teal and waterfowl seasons. Hunters can enter the refuge and launch after 3:00 am, and must be back at the check station by noon.

All boats on trailers must launch from the West Cove Recreation Area boat launches. Hunters may also access Hunt Unit E by driving on Vastar Road. Road access is for walk-in hunters and hand launching of small boats.

Each hunting party is required to complete and return a waterfowl harvest data form to the check station or to a designated drop box after each hunt. Only blinds made of native vegetation and portable blinds are permitted. Decoys, blinds and personal equipment must be removed after each day's hunt.

"You've got a lot of big canals, and then you get into the marsh," said Robinette. "It all boils down to finding a place to hunt, putting up a makeshift blind, and waiting on the birds. Hunters can expect to get lots of opportunities with teal, gadwalls, widgeon and pintails."

Access Sabine NWR by taking Highway 27, the Creole Natural Trail All American Road, south from Sulphur through Hackberry to the refuge.

Sabine Island WMA

Sabine Island WMA makes up in spunk what it lacks in flair. While not a typical south Louisiana duck hunting marsh, Sabine offers more than 8,000 acres of wood duck and teal hunting opportunity for hunters willing to put up with its quirkiness.

"This area is at the mercy of the Toledo Bend discharge and the Gulf of Mexico tides," said Robinette. "It can go from dry to high in no time. Hunters have to be aware of what the water is doing, or, just like a t

idal marsh, they can get stuck on dry ground if they aren't careful."

Robinette also said that hunters without a map and compass could get lost in a hurry. "It's one of those areas where, once you get into the woods, everything looks the same. It's easy to get turned around."

Despite these cautions, Robinette says that Sabine Island has an excellent wood duck population with several flights of teal moving through.

"It's mainly a low area with hardwood ridges," he said. "There are several bayous and sloughs that crisscross back and forth through the big tupelo swamp area. Most hunters look for wood ducks in the open pipeline crossings, with a few jump-shooting them in the sloughs."

Sabine Island WMA is located in Calcasieu Parish between Vinton and Starks. Hunters can access the area by taking Highway 109 north from Vinton or south from Starks, and then taking the Nibblets Bluff Park road west from Highway 109. The area is completely surrounded by water, and access is only available by boat.

So you can see that there are plenty of opportunities to take ducks this season if you'll stop focusing on greenheads. Granted, duck numbers are down overall, including Louisiana's other ducks. But biologists agree that there are still enough gadwall, widgeon, teal, pintail, wood ducks and divers to make this season quite interesting.

By selecting one of these hunting areas, doing a little homework, and picking your shots, you can enjoy filling your strap with Louisiana's other ducks.

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