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Gumbo Weather

Written by Hard Core on . Posted in Hunting, Waterfowl Hunting

By John Bienvenu

IMG_4698Some people call it autumn, others call it fall, but where I come from, people refer to it as “Gumbo Weather”. When the first cold snap hits South Louisiana, people do strange things. Turtlenecks, scarves, leather gloves, and three-layer goose-down camouflage jackets appear out of nowhere as soon as the temperature dips into the forties.  I think it’s mostly due to the fact that winter, in its true sense, hardly ever shows her face down here. Our sub-tropical climate has left me sweating in shorts the last three out of four Christmases.  What I’m getting at is that people take advantage of cool weather in the South. For me, a cool front in November means the birds will be stirring and I will be hunting.   IMG_3935

Jennings is a small community 45 minutes west of my home in Lafayette. The city is known mostly for it’s successful rice farming industry, which in turn makes the Jennings area recognized statewide for it’s waterfowl hunting.  Some very good family friends of mine have a lease right outside of the city limits. I have known Dr. Carl Breaux and his son David my entire life. My dad grew up down the street from “Uncle Carl”, and David has been like another brother to me since childhood. Over the years, David has become one of my most reliable hunting companions and a valued entertainer. He’s truly his father’s son. He’s always quoting movies, performing an impression, or doing just about anything to get a laugh out of me. Needless to say, when the Breaux’s invited me on a Saturday morning duck hunt, I knew it would be exciting and memorable. After closing down the restaurant Friday afternoon, David and I packed our things and made the short drive west to Jennings. Once there, we hit the sack early, anxious to see what the next morning would have in store.   IMG_3912

We woke up early to a mild Louisiana morning; so much for that cold front. Regardless of the weather change, we loaded up the decoys and met up with Gus, the farm’s property manager, and his black lab Mace. Gus is a helicopter mechanic by trade but his true passion is being out in the field. Mace, on the other hand, is a retriever by trade who’s true passion is just being with Gus. One thing I truly enjoy about hunting is witnessing the companionship between a man and his dog. So much time, effort, and love go into forming such a relationship and when a dog is trained correctly, it’s sincerely something remarkable to see.  I’d hunted once before with the pair and I knew these two are on the same wavelength. Gus explained that the four of us would be hunting the Airstrip, a long stretch of levee in the rice fields with about six inches of water on each side; prime waterfowl habitat. We hopped in the ATV and headed out to the field. We went down a straight gravel road then turned left across a canal when all hell broke loose. The light on the front of the ATV spooked about ten Mexican Squealer ducks that immediately flew directly into my face and David’s chest. To you non-Louisiana natives, the proper name for a squealer is a Fulvous whistling duck.  People down here tend to have a different name for just about everything. Anyway, David managed to pin one duck behind his back for a few seconds before it wiggled out and took off followed by Mace in hot pursuit. When the chaos was over, all I had to show for it was a beard full of feathers and a blind bag full of duck crap. The morning started out as eventful as I had expected. IMG_5031

We composed ourselves and made it far enough to where we could park the vehicles and start our short trek to the blind. Mace led the way, dipping in and out of the taller grasses and crossing the levee numerous times. We reached a small pond about three hundred yards down the levee. Gus started throwing out decoys and we went to get set up in the sunken blind… or so we thought. As I peered down into the hole with my headlamp I realized there would have to be a change of plans. The blind was filled with water almost chest deep. I hesitantly informed Gus, whom I knew wouldn’t take the news too well, and told him it would be no problem for us to cover up in the tall grass a little further down. He grumbled a bit but knew it was too late to find another spot to hunt. The decoy spread was flawlessly set up for the north wind, and we impatiently waited for daylight. Ten minutes before shooting time, our eyes began to adjust and we started to make out the first few flights of birds. It started out slow, but within minutes, the pond was filled with ducks. Birds were funneling in from every direction; straight above our heads, landing in the decoys, lighting on the robo-duck. It really was an extraordinary sight. All we could do was chuckle and wait for shooting time with anticipation. If this flight kept up, we would be done shooting within the hour. The clock hit 6:05 and it was “on pecan”. A group of five teal swung straight into the decoy spread and Gus called the shot. We dropped three and Mace went to work. Before he could pick up  the third bird we dropped three more, then another, and another! The birds couldn’t get enough of the spread laid out and we made short work of the morning.  When the smoke cleared our group had successfully bagged our twenty-four bird limit, and were picking up decoys before 7 o’clock! We headed back to the camp where we took a few pictures, cleaned the birds, and divvied up the catch.  

All in all it was quite a memorable hunt in the rice fields west of Jennings. The company was good, the conversation was great, and the flight was truly one to remember. I’m looking forward to making a few hunts in the near future with this bunch and the many stories that will undoubtedly  

Grassland conservation efforts moving ahead

Written by hardcore on . Posted in Waterfowl Hunting

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced efforts to increase its efforts to work with landowners in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) to conserve grasslands and wetlands. Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie announced today that NRCS is committing up to $35 million over the next three years for prairie conservation in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa.

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Grassland preservation equals more ducks and geese!

“We are pleased to see NRCS renewing its commitment to grassland and wetland conservation in the PPR, which is so critical to waterfowl production,” said Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall. “We’re seeing unprecedented pressures to convert native prairie and drain wetlands. We need to look for new ways to make conservation programs more economically competitive and attractive to landowners.”

Conservation Reserve Program acres have dropped substantially over the last few years and these trends are expected to continue. “This investment by NRCS will keep grasslands and wetlands intact by helping farmers and ranchers conserve working lands for livestock production, hayland and wildlife habitat,” Hall said.

As part of the 2014 Farm Bill, NRCS will offer private landowners a mix of financial and technical assistance opportunities to restore wetlands and grasslands and help mitigate a recent regional trend of conversion to croplands.

The farm bill also includes a “Sodsaver” provision, which reduces

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crop insurance subsidies for farmers and ranchers who convert native grasslands for crop production.

Thanks to a NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant awarded in 2011, DU and several other project partners are also working on a pilot project in North Dakota to create new carbon credit opportunities for landowners who permanently protect grasslands. The project partners are currently validating this program and hope to have it available to producers in late 2014 to early 2015.

Ducks Unlimited press release.

Hoping for More Snow (Geese, that is)

Written by hardcore on . Posted in Waterfowl Hunting

From our friends at Delta Waterfowl

Austin Logan can remember when hunting snow geese in Texas meant hordes of birds and a high chance of success.

Fast-forward almost a few decades, and the 41-year-old outfitter and guide believes he’s seen the high point of goose hunting across the Lone Star State’s coastal region, which has historically held some of the Central Flyway’s largest concentrations of wintering snow geese.

“When I first started hunting snows with my dad at 13 years old, you could kill 40 birds over 50 rags in an hour-and-a-half

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and call it a day,” said Logan, chairman of the Salt Grass Prairie Chapter of Delta Waterfowl in East Bernard, Texas. “Now, we set 1,000 socks and fullbodies, and get lucky to shoot a dozen birds. It’s a whole different world.”

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Are you seeing snow geese where they weren’t before? Photo by Hard Core Decoys

Light geese (which include snow geese and Ross’s geese) once covered coastal Texas like fleas on a coonhound. Since the early 1970s, half of the Central Flyway snow geese counted during U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mid-winter surveys — sometimes more than 1 million geese — wintered in Texas.

With plenty of birds to target, hunters did a bang-up job. In 2001, for instance, Texas hunters killed 280,000 light geese.

But then the coonhound got a flea bath.

Despite a mid-continent population of 4.6 million snow geese, this year’s mid-winter survey counted just 181,000 light geese along the Texas coast, the least amount since the survey began in the 1940s. That number also is 52 percent less than last winter, and a far cry from the 930,000 geese averaged from 1996 to 2000. Hunters are feeling the pinch, too. During the 2012-13 season, just 88,000 light geese fell to 31,000 waterfowlers.

“There’s absolutely no question that we are experiencing a pretty dramatic change. The snow geese just aren’t coming here any more,” said Kevin Kraai, waterfowl program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

The reasons the geese are ditching Texas are frustrating to hunters and waterfowl managers alike.

“It’s a multi, multi-faceted issue with no simple answer,” Kraai said.

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How do we know snow migrations are shifting? By seeing the flocks, of course, and by tracking bands! Photo by Hard Core Decoys

Texas is one of several southern states gripped by severe drought conditions — now for several years in a row. Logan’s area of South Texas receives its water from Lake Travis, a 19,000-acre reservoir that holds back the Colorado River. When Lake Travis drops to a certain level from a decreased flow out of the Colorado, water becomes scarce for everyone downstream.

Logan, who had 16 ponds last year, is down to four ponds now, which severely limits hunting opportunities for the wary white birds.

“The snow geese we have around here get smart in a hurry,” he said. “They need someplace to sit. You can’t just hunt them in the same spot every day.”

Farming practices have changed, too. Snow geese are gluttons for rice. When Texas boasted roughly 600,000 rice acres in the mid-1980s, the geese gorged themselves. But the state’s rice acres have dropped in the past 30 years — to less than 200,000 today. Farmers have gotten more efficient during harvest, which results in less spilled grain for geese to gobble up.

By contrast, rice crops and winter snow goose populations are booming in other southern states. Arkansas currently has 1.3 million acres of rice, and holds 1.6 million snow geese by the latest counts. Arkansas had averaged 340,000 light geese during a 15-year span ending in 2005, and had as few as 1,300 birds in the early 1970s.

Kansas and Missouri also are holding more light geese than they used to. Milder weather and plenty of spent grain means snow geese don’t have to fly as far south.

A drought with no end in sight and less habitat, rice and birds: It’s an equation that means hard hunting for Texas waterfowlers targeting light geese, and a lot of work ahead for waterfowl managers.

“There’s something not right here and the snow geese are the first signs of an overall landscape with a diminished carrying capacity,” Kraai said. “We’re going to get very aggressive here in the next few years to put habitat and water back on the landscape to help curb the losses.”

“The Gulf Coast always has been and will remain important to migrating waterfowl,” he added. “Having quality habitat for them is imperative.”

By Tyler Shoberg, Associate Editor, Delta Waterfowl

For more information on hunting snow geese, go here.

Gulf Coast suffers majority of coastal wetlands loss

Written by hardcore on . Posted in Waterfowl Hunting

From our friends at Ducks Unlimited

Wetland loss along the Gulf Coast accounts for a staggering 71 percent of the coastal wetland loss in the United States each year, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report.

“Louisiana’s coastal land loss is the greatest environmental, economic and cultural tragedy in North America,” said Phil Turnipseed, director of the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wetlands Research Center.

Ducks Unlimited points to the study as support for their Gulf Coast Initiative and prioritization of Gulf Coast habitat conservation.

“Despite our best efforts at protecting and restoring critical habitat, these losses continue to erode the capacity for coastal Louisiana and Texas to support waterfowl in the single most important wintering area on the continent,” said DU Director of Conservation Programs Jerry Holden.

110114024006-300x300Based on the best available data, coastal wetland loss since the 1970s means today’s available habitat supports an estimated 3 million fewer ducks in Louisiana. Coastal marsh loss in Texas, combined with drought and the disappearance of rice agriculture, is adding to the already-dramatic foraging deficit on critical wintering grounds for waterfowl species such as pintails.

Despite recognition of coastal wetlands as water filters; barriers against flood waters; storm mitigators; and aids to local, regional and national economies, the national loss rate has increased by more than 20,000 acres per year, now at 80,000 acres annually.

“We have to stabilize and ultimately reverse the rate of loss of these critical wetlands,” said Tom Moorman, director of DU’s Southern Region. “Ducks Unlimited works with a variety of state, federal and nongovernmental partners, as well as private landowners, to conserve and improve wetland habitats for waterfowl and other species, and we continue to look for ways to increase the rate of coastal wetland restoration with our partners.”

For example, DU is seeking additional support for conservation projects via funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act.

DU is also involved in an innovative partnership with the rice industry to enhance working wetlands on coastal prairies connected to the marshes and supports the use of freshwater and sediment diversions where appropriate to build marsh and important waterfowl and wildlife habitat.

“We must all work together and make coastal wetland restoration a priority. These wetlands are vital for waterfowl, but also absolutely crucial to the nation’s economy and security,” Moorman said. “In the face of sea-level rise, coastal marsh loss and increasingly costly hurricanes, storm surge absorption is more vital than ever to the nation’s economic security.”

Coastal wetlands serve as natural protection from storm-related flooding. By some estimates, approximately 3 miles of coastal wetlands shrink storm surges by up to a foot.

The full NOAA report – “Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watersheds of the Conterminous United States 2004 to 2009″ – and past reports can be found here.

Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to conserving North America’s continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 13 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. For more information on our work, visit www.ducks.org.

By Andi Cooper

Hard Core Hunting in the Polar Vortex

Written by hardcore on . Posted in Waterfowl Hunting

Everyone has no doubt heard time and time again that no bird is worth dying for. That is so very true. That said, there are only so many days one can hunt during the season and a lot of birds fly when the weather stinks. Going out to hunt when the weather forecast calls for the end of the world can be rewarding, if you’re ready for it.

The first major winter storms of the year have gone through, pounding much of the country. While much of the country seems fixated on the polar vortex, the only swirling masses waterfowlers really care about are the ones created by birds dumping into spreads. The countless posts of pictures on Facebook and other social media showing icy hunters with stalactites for beards, frostbitten skin and piles of dead birds shows that hunters across the country know what it means to be Hard Core.

379727_10201248779685085_1166472607_n-300x225Staying warm

The first thing to be concerned about is staying warm. Granted, tons of birds dropping in to your spread will get the adrenalin flowing and make you feel warm, and the hot barrel of a shotgun can work as a space heater, but you do need to think about staying warm.

Layering is the best way to stay warm. Start with a good layer of tighter fitting wicking layers, which help pull perspiration away from the skin. Follow this with a good thermal underwear layer and thick socks. Make sure, however that you leave some room for air, especially in your boots. Far too often people think that thicker socks are better and they cram their feet into boots that are now too tight. They then wonder why their feet got cold. I usually have a pair of pac boots that are a size bigger than I normally wear for deep cold and my extreme cold waders are a full size bigger than I normally wear too.

To me, and I’ve said this before, it is vitally important to keep the wind out while hunting in cold temperatures. I also do whatever I can to be waterproof too. Even when field hunting, staying dry and out of the wind will help for an all-day hunt.

1503452_763536280342046_1506433749_n-300x300For those of us hunting from a Layout blind, like a Man Cave, there are a few tricks to keep things toasty. If there is a good snow cover on the ground, use the Man Cave Snow Cover, as the extra layer of fabric helps some. Also don’t be afraid to pile snow around the blind. Not only does it help conceal it better, but also snow is actually a pretty good insulator.

Another good trick is to put a sleeping bag in the blind with you as extra insulation. I’ve done this, but I recommend not using a good bag. I have an older cheaper bag that I don’t use for camping, unless, of course, one of my buddies forgot to bring his or the dog gets cold. I have a couple of California buddies who always boast about how warm it is where they are. If they ever do come through and come up hunting with me in the nasty frozen north, we’re going to camp out and they are getting stuck with the smelly bags form the blinds.

Odds and ends

Other good ideas are to have weather alerts sent to your phone, or have a weather radio handy. Storms can change quickly and are quite unpredictable, despite what weather forecasters think. How often have you heard stories about duck hunters who have gotten into trouble and had to have been rescued, or much worse.

We all know too to have matches and other survival gear with us. You never know when things are going to get bad in a hurry. Use the waterproof pocket in your Blind Bag, if you have one, to store a few essentials.

1560491_841470379921_1253361859_n-300x199For the truck, carry a shovel and extra cloths. It’s also a good idea to have chargers for all of your stuff, like the cell phone and GPS. If you’re like me, and use an ATV a lot even in winter, make sure you have some gear stowed on it too. I carry a shovel and some rope, to help me get out if I get stuck. A winch is such a valuable tool too.

So why do it?

Well this is a no brainer. We do it because we can and because there are birds there! How many times have you seen huge flocks come in during a massive storm? Fronts push birds, and birds push hunters to do things others wouldn’t. It’s not easy, but anything worth doing isn’t.

Want proof? Check our Facebook and Twitter pages for pictures of recent hunting trips regardless of the snow and cold.

By Derrek Sigler

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