A Smorgasbord of Duck
You just never know how a weekend hunt will turn out and I certainly didn’t know it would be my last duck hunt ever but it was. The one thing we did know was that every weatherman in New Orleans was calling for a 100% chance of rain on Saturday. With this in mind, Joe made arrangements for us to stay at the trailer in Venice. Knowing how miserable it is at the camp site when it rains, I was happy at the prospect of not having to sleep in a wet sleeping bag and staying wet all weekend.
I had been excited all week about this trip. The last weekend of the season had not been the best for duck hunting the past couple of years, but just a chance to get back into the marsh had me looking forward to being there.
So on Friday, January 16, 2004, Joe and I met at Gary’s at 10:00 AM CST. Dick had decided not to come this final weekend of the season, so Joe decided to take only the mud boat. The weather was mild and the temperature was near 60F as we headed down Hwy. 23 toward Venice. After a quick stop for gas and air in Port Sulphur, then another quick stop for bait in Empire, were pulled up to the trailer in Venice at 11:30.
There was no one at the trailer and Joe informed me we would be the only ones there for the weekend. We unloaded the truck and set out for the launch. It was a gorgeous day. We knew this would be our only chance to fish. Before going fishing, Joe decided to look for a new place to hunt. As we headed the mud boat toward the Gulf of Mexico, we scared up several hundred ducks in one particular area. There we found a nice location where we could pull the boat into the canes for cover. We set out the decoys and went to find the fish.
For as nice of a day as it was, the fish just didn’t want to cooperate. Joe caught two redfish, but the only thing I caught was a mild buzz from the toddies were drinking. Around 3 in the afternoon, we gave up fishing and drove back to the canes. Joe pulled the boat through the canes and we hunted from the mud boat. We didn’t see a lot flying, but we did bag a pair of Mallards and a pair of Widgeon along with some teal. Anytime you can shoot Mallards and Widgeon, it’s always a quality hunt. As it got dark we headed back to Venice. Joe fixed filet mignon and a baked potato for dinner. We ate and were asleep by 8 p.m.
We got up at 4 a.m. and headed back to the launch. We were early, but it was nice to get there before anyone else did. The tide was very low that morning and we couldn’t maneuver the mud boat into the canes as we had the previous day, so we came in a different way and moved canes in front of us for cover. It didn’t take long for it to start raining. It was mainly a light rain with some harder rain but no big downpours. I shot the first duck of the morning – a solo teal over the decoys. Joe followed up with yet another greenhead and a couple of huge mottled ducks. When I saw the mottled ducks low over the decoys I didn’t shoot because I thought they were too big to be ducks. Big mistake!
Joe was on target again on Saturday. The only thing he missed was a gaggle of geese that happened to come in over us. They were pretty high but Joe was hoping to bring one down. They were just a little too far out of range.
We had spoonbills flying all morning but we didn’t shoot them. We let them fly and land in the decoys. They were fun to watch and they attracted other ducks.
On the way back to the launch that morning, it started raining hard. The tide came up fast and the warm front that was expected to bring all the rain was quite evident. Back at the trailer, Joe fixed hamburgers for lunch and we took a nap.
Saturday Afternoon – Incredible Duck Hunting
We woke up from our nap feeling energized. We had conked out pretty good and we were glad we had set the alarm clock. We headed back to the launch and back into the marsh. It wasn’t raining right then but the wind was blowing hard out of the southwest. The warm front was passing through. The water in the marsh was rushing in and it was as high as we had ever seen it. When we got to the decoys, there were swells coming in from the Gulf and crashing over the bow of the boat. We knew we couldn’t hunt there so we picked up all the decoys.
As we left the area in search of another place to hunt we realized there were no more canals. The marsh was completely covered in water with only the tops of the marsh grass exposed along with patches of cane here and there. We could run the boat anywhere we wanted. It was very weird. We just rode the boat straight to what is normally our pond to check our wooden blind. The entire marsh was one big pond. When we got to the blind, we were amazed to see only the tops of the 4×4’s out of the water. If we had sit on the bench seat in the blind, the water would have been to our necks or higher. Neither of us had ever seen the water this high.
Joe knew what we had to do. He knew we had to go to where we call “Don’s Teal Spot”. There are patches of cane there to hide the boat. We set out the decoys among the grass tops and drove the boat directly into a patch of canes. We then had one of the best hunts of our lives.
We were in the canes no more than a couple of minutes when the first ducks arrived. I had taken out the camera to take these pictures and as we were fiddling around with the camera, ducks came overhead and we didn’t get a shot. I quickly put the camera away. A big band of spoonbill came in and we let them land. They were followed by teal. We shot the teal. The spoonbills got up, flew around and landed again. Then more teal came. Next we had gray ducks flying overhead. There were ducks everywhere. This lasted about 30 minutes when a line a thunderstorms passed through. Protected by the canes on our backs, we hunkered down as the wind blew up to 50 mph and rain came down very hard. The sky turned an ominous-looking black and the wind was blowing so hard the decoys were laying on their sides.
Big clumps of marsh debris were flowing all over the place. It was like a storm surge. The water was at least 3 feet above normal and rushing in. It was very strange indeed.
Eventually the hard rain and wind slowed a bit and even stopped. As we looked up spoonbill, teal and gray ducks (gadwalls) were everywhere. The grays were flying with the spoonbill. Some would light out away from the decoys, some came in over the decoys. We would shoot and still more ducks would come. Occasionally we would run the boat out of the canes to chase the cripples but there weren’t too many cripples. We were deadly accurate and what cripples we did have had no cover to hide in. We had duck after duck after duck come in over the decoys. In no time we filled out the limit we had started that morning. And ducks kept coming but we didn’t shoot anymore. Instead we picked up the decoys. Even as we picked up the decoys, ducks continued to fly over us. It was one of these most unbelievable hunts I’d ever been a part of.
It was dark when we got back to the launch. At the trailer we ate, watched TV and went to bed early. We must have been pretty tired. We slept through 30 minutes of the alarm going off the next morning. When we got to the launch, it was crowded. It took some time for others to launch ahead of us and eventually we made it into the water.
It was a warm calm morning with no clouds. We had seen these conditions too many times before and we knew it would be a slow morning hunt – and it was. We hunted our regular blind for the first time all weekend. The water level in the marsh had fallen with low tide that morning, but it was still higher than than normal for a low tide. Joe shot a high flying gray duck and I got a teal low on the water. At 7:30 we picked up the decoys. On the way back to the launch, the engine in the boat overheated. After stopping to let it cool down, we limped it into the main canal and dropped anchor. Eventually a young man and his son stopped and towed us back to the launch. It was the first time in over 20 years of fishing and hunting that Joe and I had broken down together and needed a tow. That’s a pretty incredible statistic and breaking down only put a small damper on what turned out to be one of the best weekend hunting trips of all time. We bagged 10 ducks Friday, 12 Saturday and 2 on Sunday. We ended up with 3 Mallards, 2 Widgeon, 2 Mottled ducks, 5 Gadwalls and 12 teal – a smorgasbord of duck!
We learned a few new things this weekend. We learned that duck hunting a warm front can be very productive. We learned a new way of using the mud boat by running it into the canes for cover. Who said you can’t teach old dogs new tricks?
It was nice ending to a somewhat slow season and a great ending to my duck hunting career. Joe would eventually sell the mud boat and concentrate on fishing instead. Thanks to Joe for bringing me duck hunting all these years. Without him, I would have never had the opportunity to enjoy something that was completely new to me when I moved here in 1979. So that ends it. I’m sad it ended, yet happy I was able to experience duck hunting in the beautiful marshes of southern Louisiana.