Bayou de i u G r o o d t u O 3 1 0 2 l Fal
HOUMA, LA ~ OCTOBER 2013
On Our Cover Bayou Outdoor Guide fall 2013
2013-14 Small game forecast
Amanda Rhodes, a schoolteacher at Raintree Elementary School in Baldwin, hunts every chance she can get when school isn’t in session. This year the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries decided to increase the possession limit on ducks from a twoday bag limit to three. Cover Photo by John Flores
Waterfowl forecast preview
Deer Season outlook forecast
Hooking specks this fall
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Small game forecast
JOHN FLORES PHOTO
By John Flores wo years ago, during the Christmas Holiday I made a long trek from the coastal marshes where I usually spend time and headed to the upland hardwoods of Winnfield Parish. Invited by a friend to spend a couple days floating Dugdemona Bayou for wood ducks and squirrels, he assured me there would be ample opportunity to harvest both. Waterfowl has always been kind of a first love when it comes to hunting, but growing up it was small game that I cut my teeth on. Sadly, in spite of the fact that small game populations in most areas around the state are stable Bayou Catholic • Houma, LA • October 2013
to flourishing, few hunters spend a great deal of time chasing squirrels and rabbits. And those that do who are serious about it tend to be hunters who own rabbit and squirrel dogs. On our float trip on the Dugdemona we passed through part of Kisatchie National Forest. The trees there rise above your head and seemingly touch the clouds. One of the first things I noticed was that squirrels were almost clueless of our presence from the waterside. And whenever we spotted one, there was usually two, three and in one case several digging in the leaves beneath the giant trees.
The fact that we snuck up on and saw so many squirrels didn’t make the hunt easier, big forest squirrels know how to use those tall trees to hide. But, the numbers seem to indicate they pretty much go unscathed by hunters in that region each year. And, it’s no different elsewhere in the Sportsman’s Paradise. There is also an abundance of squirrels in the coastal parish marshes. Deer hunters who hunt along canal banks notice squirrels scampering in the midstory canopy of willow, myrtle and hackberry trees. Like the upland and bottomland hardwood regions of the state, food isn’t a problem
for squirrels in the marsh. Myrtle seeds, hackberry seeds, live and water oaks acorns provide plenty of forage for squirrels along the coast. Rabbits are also an under utilized resource by and large each small game season. With all the attention going to deer hunting, rabbits play second fiddle to big game on most hunting clubs and public Wildlife Management Areas across the state as well. The WMAs typically only allow hunting small game with dogs after the deer seasons close. Coastal hunters don’t get serious about rabbit hunting until after deer seasons close as well. And then it’s usually an event for friends to get together for a shootfest behind a large pack of beagles. It’s not uncommon to hear reports of a group of hunters shooting 50 or more rabbits in the marsh each winter. One of the things reported the past two seasons was how there has been an abundance of hardwood mast. When there is a good supply of acorns it usually gets
deer hunters excited, but it also enhances squirrel populations, too. Louisiana has had a wet summer and most regions have had plenty of precipitation, where hard mast production should be good again this fall. Small game hunting doesn’t
From beginning to end Louisiana hunters will have 146 days to hunt small game again this year.
require a lot of extra gear. One of the best pieces of equipment to have for squirrel hunting is a five gallon shell bucket with a seat cushion top to sit on next to a tree. Normally, if you find a good tree full of acorns or wild pecans in October, your chances of scoring a limit of bushy tails is well above
average anywhere in Louisiana. You might as well be comfortable while doing it. Using the right hunting load in your shotgun is important too. During October the trees are still full of leaves, where getting a clear shot at squirrels scurrying along a branch is difficult. Quite often it’s a high brass load of number six shot that does the job under these conditions. When hunting post deer season in the winter in the northern upland hardwoods, where shots at squirrels can be as much as 100 feet up in a tree, it’s a good idea to stick with the high brass sixes there as well. For coastal tree rats, just about anything you put in your pocket is good in the mid-story canopy along canal banks. But, like the uplands, during the fall leaves are a problem. From beginning to end Louisiana hunters will have 146 days to hunt small game again this year. And though much of it will go under utilized by hunters, small game season opens Oct. 5 and closes Feb. 28, 2014, just the same. 69
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Getting a feel for marsh bass this October
By John Flores ctober has a special feel to it in coastal Louisiana. Everyone in their respective work places seem to have a smile and more pep to their step when the first couple of cool fronts pass, taking the edge off the latent heat of summer. There is a relief that also seems to come knowing the possibility of a hurricane making landfall at this time of year diminishes with each passing day. Seemingly lost as they call to one another in the starlit sky of night, you hear fall flights of speckle bellies coming in with northerly winds. And though some would complain about the smoke and leafy-like flying ash coming off rural fields where farmers burn sugar cane, others have grown up with it. For centuries the smell has wafted through the air of the coastal parishes. The condition is just part of fall and the way it should feel at this time of year. With fall the water temperature begins to cool where bass gather up like wolf packs in the marsh. Beneath 70 your boat you see the flashes of these predators breaking up schools of baitfish. This too feels good. It’s fun to be fishing when you don’t have to work so hard at it, as you carefully remove a chunky little 1-1/2 pound bass off the treble hook on your crank bait. October is the time to be in the marsh. Everything is flying. Everything is biting. And everything seems to be moving along the coast in the Sportsman’s Paradise. It’s also the time to put the finishing touches on your deer stands. Such was the case my oldest son Jason and I found ourselves in last fall. We always did a little bass fishing before the work began. Therefore, the question he asked was a valid one and didn’t take a lot of contemplating. “So uhhh … Dad, why do we have to leave again,” he said, while setting his crank bait with a solid jerk into another marsh bass. What’s more, his third or fourth catch in a row. There was what seemed like a long pause on my part, while I thought about how to answer his question – something I was normally used to doing as a father who raised three intelligent boys. But, I knew he was just kidding with me, because there wasn’t a good answer no matter how I put it to leave bass that were biting like this. “Well if we do stay,” I replied, “we’re not going to get any work done.” “So – and?” He said, while I watched him admire the bass he’d just caught before tossing it in the ice chest. The point was, who wanted to think about the upcoming deer season when the bass were biting? It’s times like those that are few and far between.
Bayou Catholic • Houma, LA • October 2013
JOHN FLORES PHOTO
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The added fact it was October simply made it feel out of the ordinary – and it was one of those special moments time should stand still for. Moreover, no work should ever be done. It’s hard to leave fish all schooled up and biting like that. And, it was one of those hard decisions for a dad to make watching his son, grown or not, having a blast. Mike Woods, director of Inland Fisheries for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, speculated that the schooling and aggressive behavior of marsh bass could be attributed to a constantly growing population. Woods reasoned saying, “I can correlate schooling behavior in general with an expanding population, In many cases you are going to have new impoundments, or in some cases new populations within the marsh that are rebounding from an event such as a hurricane, where you’ve got a tremendous year class there. They’re very competitive, they’re evenly aged, and they tend to school and forage like crazy in that
wolf pack type of arrangement. So, in many cases, what you see in that schooling behavior is just a symptom of a very young and expanding population.” Essentially marsh bass have adapted to their environment. They are short, stocky, live fast and die young. The chances of marsh bass growing large, is possibly not in their genetic favor in their adaptation to the harsh environment and habitat of coastal marshes. Woods further speculated saying, “There probably is some adaptations to their habitat that might separate them from some of those others that live further north by virtue of the fact they are exposed to different stressors. Those other fish don’t have to deal with salinity and tremendous shifts and the dynamic nature of marsh that these little bass have to. Their forage is heavy on invertebrates. And invertebrates don’t have a lot of protein and so, bass might get fat on them – they’re a lot like candy – but, there’s not a lot of growth food there.”
Marsh bass compete with other species of fish for food resources. However, marsh bass along the coast aren’t at the top of the food chain. Alligators, redfish and catfish to name a few, are all competitors for those same food resources. But for a marsh bass, these other predators also have to be reckoned with. “There’s tremendous competition out there for food,” Woods said. “If you think of these little bass, they’re not just competing with crappie and red-eared sunfish. With these guys, everything out there has got teeth. So, they’ve got to be very voracious just to live. It’s all in where you live, you know. If those Atchafalaya Basin bass had to be that competitive, they’d bite like that too, just to get it before the other guy did.” Needless to say, my son and I didn’t get all of the work we had planned accomplished, but did manage to put a good dent in it. No worries though, we brought home a decent mess of marsh bass for supper. And that’s just part of what makes October feel so special. 71
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By John Flores uring the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association’s annual conference held in Lafayette on Aug. 10, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Waterfowl Study Leader, Larry Reynolds, presented a discussion titled “Pre-Season in Louisiana: Standing Solid … Mostly.” His presentation dealt mainly with the question, “Why are things the way they are?” What many hunters don’t realize is this is the 17th straight 60-day – six-duck liberal harvest waterfowl season. Only the older hunters can remember when there were 30day and three-duck seasons. And, why things are the way they are is simply moisture improvement in the upper Midwest and Canada this past spring. When comparing this year’s pond count to the spring of 2012, there was a 24 percent increase totaling 6.9 million ponds, which also
Bayou Catholic • Houma, LA • October 2013
equated to 35 percent above the long-term average. Reynolds also pointed out in his presentation that spring surveys showed 45.6 million ducks; down six percent from 2012. But, in spite of being slightly lower, duck numbers still remained 33 percent above the long-term average dating back to 1955 when the United States Fish and Wildlife Service began conducting surveys. Reynolds said, “Last year we had a record number of ducks, but hunters were dissatisfied with the hunting. An increase in pond numbers correlates to improved reproductive success over last season. What we found last season after looking at wings turned in by hunters was lower reproductive success. We should have expected that right away. Last year we lost 35 percent of our ponds, but we got 24 percent of them back this year.” Perhaps the biggest news was the increase in daily bag limit from four to six teal during the
recent September special teal season. During the spring survey, 7.7 million blue winged teal were counted; down six percent from 2012. But, blue winged teal still remained a whopping 60 percent above the long-term average and provided waterfowl hunters with another 16-day liberal season again this year. The bottom line from the department is when blue winged teal numbers go below 3.3 million the season will be closed. When blue winged teal numbers are between 3.3 and 4.7 million the season will be set at nine days. And, when numbers are above 4.7 million the season will be 16 days. There’s nothing like good news. And this year the LDWF decided to increase the possession limit on ducks from a two-day bag limit to three. Reynolds said, “We have been fighting over possession limits for three years at the flyway meetings. We cannot find any evidence
2013-2014 Season Dates Ducks & Ducks Coots& Coots First Split Ducks & First Split Coots Second Split First Split Second Split
2013-2014 Duck Season Dates Duck Season 2013-2014 Duck Season Dates
West Zone East2013-2014 Zone Coastal Zone Daily Bag Duck Season Dates West Zone East Zone Coastal Zone Daily Bag Limit Limit Nov. Zone 16 – Nov. Zone 23 – Nov. 9 –Zone Dec. 6*Bag West East Coastal Daily Nov. Nov. Nov. 91– Dec. 6* Dec.16 15– Dec.238 – Limit Dec. 15 Dec. 8 1 Dec. 21 Dec. 14 Dec. – 6* Nov. 16 –– Nov. 23 –– Nov. 9 14 – Dec. 6* Dec. 21 – Dec. 14 – Dec. 14 – 6* Jan. 19 Jan. 26 Jan. 19 Dec. 15 Dec. 8 1 Jan. 19 Jan. 26 Jan. 19 Second Split Dec. 21 – Dec. 14 – Dec. 14 – 6* * See Specific LDWF Regulations for Details Jan. 19 Jan. 26 Jan. 19 * See Specific LDWF Regulations for Details
Possession Limit Possession Limit 3 Times The Possession Limit 3 Times Daily Bag The Limit Daily Bag Limit 3 3 Times Times The The 3 Times The Daily Daily Bag Bag Limit Limit Daily Bag Limit 3 Times The Daily Bag Limit
* See Specific LDWF Regulations for Details 2013-2014 Small Game Season Dates 2013-2014 Small Game Season Dates Species Season Dates Bag Limit Dates Possession Limit 2013-2014 SmallDaily Game Season Species Season Dates Daily Bag Possession Rabbit Oct. 5 – Feb. 28 8 Limit 16 Limit Rabbit Oct. 5 – Feb. 28 8 16 Squirrel Oct. 5 – Feb. 28 8 Limit 16 Limit Species Season Dates Daily Bag Possession Squirrel Oct. 5 – Feb. 28 8 16 Rabbit Oct. 5 – Feb. 28 8 16 Squirrel Oct. 5 – Feb. 28 8 16 2013-2014 Deer Season Dates 2013-2014 Deer Season Dates Area Archery Primitive Deer Season Still Hunt Only With Or Without 2013-2014 Dates Area Archery Primitive Still Hunt Only With Or Without Firearms Dogs Firearms Dogs 7 Oct. 1-15 Either Sex Either Bucks Only Area Archery Primitive Still HuntSex Only With Or Without 7 Oct. 1-15 Either Sex Either Sex Bucks Only5 Oct. 12 – 18 Oct. 19-20 Dec.Dogs 7-Jan. Firearms Oct. 12 – 18 Oct. 19-20 Dec. 7-Jan. Bucks Nov. 16-17 EitherOnly Sex5 7 Oct. 1-15 EitherOnly Sex Either Sex Bucks Bucks Nov. 16-17 Either Sex Nov.122Only 8 Nov. Dec.7-Jan. 28-29 Oct. –– 18 Oct.29-Dec. 19-20 1 Dec. 5 Nov. 2 – 8 Nov. 29-Dec. 1 Dec. 28-29 Bucks Only Bucks Only Nov. 16-17 Either Sex Bucks Only Oct. 21-Nov. Nov. 2 – 8 Nov. 29-Dec. 11 Dec. 28-29 Oct. 21-Nov. 1 Nov. 9-15 Bucks Only Nov.18-28 9-15 Nov. Oct. 21-Nov. 1 Nov. 18-28 9 Bucks Only Bucks Only Bucks Only Bucks Only Nov. 9-15 9 Bucks Only Bucks Only Bucks Only Bucks Only Oct. 1 – 15 Nov. 9 – 15 Nov. Dec. 7-Jan. 19 Nov.16-Dec.6 18-28 Oct. 1 –Sex 15 Nov. 9 –Sex 15 Nov. 16-Dec.6 Dec. 7-Jan. 19 Either Either Either Sex Either Sex 9 Bucks Only Bucks Only Bucks Only Bucks Only Either Sex Either Sex Either Sex Either Sex Oct. Jan. 26 Nov. Dec. 14-1519 Oct.161 –– Feb. 15 Nov. 20 9 –- 15 Nov. 29-Dec. 16-Dec.61 Dec. 7-Jan. Oct. 16 – Feb. Jan. 20 - 26 Nov. 29-Dec. 1 Dec. 14-15 15 Dec. 28-29 Either Sex Either Sex Either Sex Either Sex 15 Dec. 28-29 Jan. 11-12 Oct. 16 – Feb. Jan. 20 - 26 Nov. 29-Dec. 1 Dec. 14-15 Jan. 11-12 15 Dec. 28-29 Note: Deer Hunters Should Become Familiar With Specific Doe Days In Their Area.Jan. 11-12 Note: Deer Hunters Should Become Familiar With Specific Doe Days In Their Area.
Small Game Season
Note: Deer Hunters Should Become Familiar With Specific Doe Days In Their Area. www.bayoucatholic.com
Outdoor Guide it comes to mailing in important surveys. “My colleagues in Missouri have a nine page survey and ours is only a two page,” Reynolds said. They send out nine pages and get a 62 percent response rate. My colleagues in Minnesota have a 72 percent response rate. Illinois has a 67 percent rate. And Louisiana has only a 26 percent rate. We have really poor response rates.” Mail in surveys have pointed out that the majority of ducks harvested annually in Louisiana typically occurs during the first three weeks of the first split in November. In as much, the department takes into consideration harvest numbers to set season dates in all three hunting zones. A lot more goes into setting migratory waterfowl season dates and regulations than surveys, obviously. But, surveys are one of the things that allow hunter’s voices to be heard. With a 17th straight 60-day – sixduck limit season fast approaching we are here because duck and pond numbers largely remain solid … mostly.
that possession limits mean anything to the conservation of waterfowl. And they are not even enforcing them at final destinations unless there is something else they’re looking for. Canada increased the possession limit to three times the daily bag limit three years ago and are now talking about eliminating them.” Reynolds went on to say that the possession limits for food banks in the state was eliminated entirely by the LDWF this year. Though pintails were down slightly from 2012, hunters will be allowed to harvest two birds as part of their daily bag limit. Reynolds pointed out that as long as pintail numbers are above 1.57 million, there would be an open season with a one pintail limit. Moreover, when the population is above 2.5 million there will be an open season with a two pintail limit. In 2013 pintail numbers were 3.3 million.
Other notables from Reynolds’ presentation was canvasback numbers increased enough to allow a two bird daily limit, where scaup numbers were down 20 percent from the previous year. As a result the daily bag limit was reduced from four to three in the upcoming season. Reynolds also discussed that the North American Waterfowl Management Plan was reviewed in 2012. Previously, according to the biologist, there were two fundamental objectives – ducks and habitats. Now the plan has three – ducks, habitat and hunters. What’s more, all are now inextricably linked. In such, Reynolds pointed out the importance of hunter’s surveys as part of the decision-making processes of setting season dates and other regulations each year. However, Louisiana hunters pale in comparison to other states when
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Bayou Catholic • Houma, LA • October 2013
BILL LAKE PHOTO/BAYOU GUIDE SERVICE
By CHRIS BERZAS n Nov. 9, the day before duck season opened last year (2012), Captain Bill Lake of Houma had what he called a great day of inland fishing for speckled trout. “We hit Lake Mechant first, and birds were working everywhere with shrimp jumping at the mouth of Bayou Raccourci and Trapper’s Bayou,” he said. “Out of every 10 fish taken, only one to two were keepers, so we moved off these fish and motored over to Lost Lake,” said the angler. Lake then explained that there were falling waters in this location, and he arrived with his crew at a point at Coup Platte Pass where three to four birds were working.
Bayou Catholic • Houma, LA • October 2013
“When we got close, I observed some jumbo shrimp jumping and the trout were just boiling under them,” he said. “So I dropped my Power Pole in four feet of water and started fishing. “We had VuDu shrimp tied on - root beer and glow/chartreuse colors - and we started catching specks on every cast,” said Lake. “These were good, keeper fish, all ranging 15 to 17 inches.” According to Lake, he and his anglers managed to pull in 100 speckled trout in 35 to 40 minutes. “It was incredible action,” he described. “My clients were swinging them in the boat rapidly. We never got off that point until all limits were taken.” The next morning, Lake’s boat
ventured straight to the same location, and the trout were there. “I had a lady and a gentleman with me on that trip,” he said. “We caught 46 trout there and the bite stopped. We finished out our limits at a second location.” For certain, Captain Lake’s experiences on fall fishing trips for speckled trout are but a sample of what Bayou Catholic anglers can expect. Also, hunting seasons get going well by November, and the lack of fishing pressure and cool weather combine for pleasant inland fishing trips along the coast. What can the anglers in the Bayou Catholic readership expect in terms of fall fishing in the area? “Hopefully with no major storms hitting the coast this year, we
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will have a fine fall of catching good numbers of specks,” said Lake. “When good weather prevails, we really never have a bad fall here in terms of numbers and quality,” he said. Where do anglers find speckled trout in local waters in the fall? “By November, we are seeing trout in Lost Lake and Lake Mechant,” said Lake. “Lake Mechant can really be a killer in delivering great numbers, yet Lost Lake is rarely fished. “I would also recommend the mouth of Bayou Raccourci, actually both ends,” he said. “You’ll find trout on the north end where it goes into the Bay, and fish will be on the south end as well. There will also be fish in Deer Bayou on the northeast corner of Lake Mechant. “The shrimp will be moving out of drains in these areas, and the trout will be stacked up on the mouth of these bayous,” explained Lake. “Look for birds working the area. Regarding lures for these specks, Lake made specific recommendations. “There is absolutely no doubt that
the best baits anglers can throw are VuDu shrimp under a cork,” he said. “We also throw Bayou Chubs under a cork, and the colors that work are LSU, Cajun Pepper and Chicken-on-a-chain.” “As we head into the colder fishing days between Thanksgiving
and Christmas, I’ll be then focusing on deeper waters in the dead end canals in the area,” said the angler. At that time of the year, Lake throws the aforementioned Bayou Chubs on a 1/4 oz. jighead without a cork.
In the dead end canals, he will also cast three inch Tsunami swimbaits in the following colors: blue/back, purple haze, glow, bunker and speckled trout/beige with black dots. Reel the Tsunami swimbaits in slowly on the bottom after casting, recommended the angler. For more fishing information and guide service, Captain Bill Lake’s Bayou Guide Service can be reached at (985) 851-6015 (home) and (985) 637-3712 (cell). He can be messaged by email at b.lakejr@ comcast.net. As for Louisiana regulations, anglers are reminded that they may take and keep 25 fish per person at 12 inches minimum total length – EXCEPT the 15 fish daily take and possession limit, with no more than two spotted seatrout exceeding 25 inches total length, regardless of where taken in a defined area of Cameron and Calcasieu Parishes in southwestern Louisiana. It is always advised to consult the 2013 Louisiana Fishing Regulations pamphlet before heading out to the waters you fish.
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By John Flores s we h e a d into the u p c o m i n g statewide deer season, the biggest change Area 7 and 9 hunters in the coastal parishes will see is the return to doe days. There are several reasons according to Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Deer Study Leader, Scott Durham. Durham says the department has been concerned with a continuous series of natural events such as hurricanes and 80 flooding, as well as an increasing population of hogs, along with increased h u n t i n g pressure on public and some private lands. The result has been a steady decline in deer harvest numbers that once exceeded 200,000 where today 150,000 is the new norm. D u r h a m said, “In the coastal zone it’s vulnerable to repeated hurricanes. Since the beginning of 2000 we’ve had hurricanes in 2002, 2005, 2008 and 2012. Some of those hurricanes have had more
Deer Season Outlook and forecast for 2013-2014
JOHN FLORES PHOTO
impact than others, but we’ve just had a lot of hurricanes. Additionally, hogs seem to be more abundant than ever. So, we kept liberal bucks only opportunity, where everybody can keep hunting and we’re going to protect the females a little more. But, because of hurricanes, hogs and declining deer harvest numbers our department felt that this would be the most acceptable way to do a pull back.” Durham also pointed to repeated high water events that impact deer
Bayou Catholic • Houma, LA • October 2013
populations, stating public lands in the Atchafalaya Basin such as Attakapas W i l d l i f e Management Area, have already gone to doe days last year. “When that basin fills up, not only does it impact the basin, but it circles around and starts putting water back up in Assumption Parish up through Pierre Part and that c o u n t r y , ” Durham said. “Hunters in that area are a little different in that there is a highly subsistencetype hunting culture there. A lot of people hunt for food down there. They’re not w o r r i e d about trophy management. It’s more like, ‘how many deer can I put in the freezer.’ Some areas are low productivity – not all of it – but some. Some guys are doing fine. But, there are definitely areas where there are problems that we’re not managing it on that fine of a scale, where I wish everyone was DMAP.” Hogs seem to be of great concern to the LDWF.
Durham says annual mail in deer harvest surveys pointed out that by all estimates more hogs were killed in Louisiana last year than deer. Durham said, “Our mail survey showed a harvest of over 161,000 hogs last year. And we know that deer don’t like hogs. They are a stressor and they carry diseases like leptospirosis, swine brucellosis and pseudo rabies. And there is a potential for swine diseases to spread to deer. Leptospirosis can cause abortions and it does cause abortions in every species of animals that get it. They’ve never really documented that in deer, but it is a concern for us.” As the LDWF sorts out the deer herd condition and develops objectives for the future, coastal hunters will have plenty opportunity to harvest their deer. Area 7 and 9 hunters will not see any reduction in hunting days and have 16 either-sex days. They also will continue to have the opportunity to harvest four antlerless deer; action taken last year by the Louisiana Wildlife Commission instead of
three as in previous years. Perhaps the biggest problem the department has is a lack of deer harvest reporting annually on the part of hunters. The current deer tagging system is entering its sixth year and LDWF officials point out hunters continue to under report by a large margin. The LDWF relies heavily on the returns from annual deer harvest
mail in surveys, which helps department officials set regulations and manage deer herds. It was determined that approximately 45 percent of hunters reported their deer harvest – a disappointing number considering the age of information we live in. Durham says it’s not all the hunter’s fault and some of it is due to a flawed system that the wildlife and fisheries is working on correcting this season.
“We didn’t realize how many people were going to report by phone,” Durham said. “In the internet era, which has had relatively no problems and is a very good system for reporting only about 30 percent of hunters actually go home and use their computers to report. The rest tried to do it over the phone – often a cell phone – and if they call from a remote area or hunting camp, they’d drop a call or the voice recognition didn’t work.” Durham says starting this season hunters who call in their deer will actually speak to a live person. Additionally the department has developed an “App” that they will be able to down load to their smart phones. And still others will be able to use their computers. This effort is designed to simply help hunters to report, where the LDWF can have accurate deer harvest data at the parish level. Durham said, “I’m optimistic. I think that if people will give it a good faith effort this year and get on their computer, or call and talk to our live person, or use the App, we will have a system that is truly functional.”
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By John Flores have numerous friends that gamble and to hear them tell it, they never lose. Night after night they’ll run over to Cypress Bayou Casino in Charenton or the Amelia Belle River Boat Casino moored along Bayou Beouf where St. Mary and Assumption Parishes meet, throwing away ungodly sums of cash. I often cringe just thinking
Bayou Catholic • Houma, LA • October 2013
about what I could do with so much money. That said, in reality I’m a bit of a gambler myself. When it comes to taking a chance at a Ducks Unlimited banquet or Sportsmen’s Expo, where five-buck raffles galore are the norm for numerous legitimate causes I’m a sucker; especially for any cause that includes getting kids outdoors. In
JOHN FLORES PHOTOS
admitting that I have a problem, I must point out that I have never – ever – won any of these raffles, yet keep taking chances. However, where I really need help – the kind where you jot down the 1-800-I-GAMBLE numbers off of a highway billboard – is the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries White Lake Conservation Area
Waterfowl Lottery Hunts. During the 2012-2013 waterfowl season I rolled the dice and went for the White Lake Trifecta putting in for the Special Teal Hunt, Marsh Duck Hunt, and Rice Field Hunt. Unlike other gaming, I’ve always been lucky when it comes to hunting lotteries winning my first 30 years ago when I put in for a lottery antelope hunt in New Mexico. For three consecutive years I drew an antelope tag. And that luck has spilled over into the Sportsman’s Paradise. Like blackjack is to a Coushatta high roller, I guess waterfowl is my game, because I drew out on two of the three lottery waterfowl hunts on White Lake. With percentages like that, you’re ahead of the game. White Lake Conservation Area is one of the crown jewels of the Mississippi flyway. What’s more, all luck aside, anyone who has ever had the privilege of hunting White Lake will tell you it is pretty special. British Petroleum donated the property to the state in 2002. And prior to BP some of its previous owners dating back to the early 1900s were Amoco, Stanolind Oil & Gas, and Yount Lee Oil Company. The property also has a long line of dignitaries who stayed at the lodge while hunting the property. The 36th President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson is perhaps the most famous. Former Vice President Dick Cheney also hunted White Lake. But perhaps the most infamous was Mohammad Reza Pahlavi; known more as “the Shah of Iran.” The notorious despot was the last monarch to rule Iran, having been exiled after the 1979 Iranian revolution. In short, White Lake’s property is maintained in the condition it was donated. And the LDWF has worked hard to offer hunts to the general public through its lottery program that is on par with what any dignitary past or present would receive if hunting the property. If successful drawing a marsh duck hunt, literally, the lucky hunter could wear his or her tennis shoes and never get mud or dirt on them. Hunters are picked up at White Lake Conservation Area’s private landing in Gueydan and transported to the lodge by pontoon boat. From the lodge boathouse hunters transfer their gear to vintage mud boats that were uniquely designed and exclusively built for the property in the 50s and 70s. These classic vessels have names like Wild Cat, Sting Ray, Road Runner and Gator. They’re maintained in their original mint condition and are part of the total experience provided by the LDWF. Following the mud boat ride from the lodge into the 17,000-acre White Lake hunting area, hunters transfer their gear one more time. Specifically designed boats capable of running in shallow water ponds transport the hunters to their assigned blind that they’ll find already camouflaged, with decoys set out. Sunrises are beautiful in the White Lake marsh and hunters will find themselves spellbound and greeted with the music of white-front geese and whistling wings of fall flights of ducks. By contrast, the rice field lottery hunt is semi-guided, meaning you are assigned a blind that is camouflaged with decoys already put out for you. You are transported to it, but left to do your own calling and retrieving, unlike the marsh hunt that is fully guided.
Both the marsh hunt and rice field hunts are top shelf hunts. Additionally, if you are a successful applicant, you are allowed to bring one additional guest for the marsh hunt and two guests for the rice field hunt. Last year my three sons accompanied me to White Lake; one on the marsh hunt and two on the rice field. Successful lottery hunters can just about expect to limit on quality ducks on the marsh hunt on White Lake, with the bonus speckle belly opportunity ever present. Successful lottery rice field hunters can expect plenty of opportunities for both speckle bellies and ducks. A little hint if you are a successful rice field hunter is to take advantage of and shoot at every duck possibility early. White fronted geese start to move later in the morning hunt after sunrise. Therefore, it’s best to harvest the birds in hand than be disappointed about those you left in the bush. To play the White Lake lotto, all you have to do is simply fill out an application, select your preferred hunt dates and send in a $5 non-refundable chance – oops – application fee. There is an additional fee that White Lake charges. In 2012-2013 those fees were $300 for the Marsh Hunt and $250 for the rice field hunts. But, hunters are allowed guests. And there is no place comparable in the southwestern region of the coastal zone that is as competitive price-wise. I may have never stepped foot in a casino, but I have stepped foot on White Lake. And for me, it’s well worth taking a chance on these lottery hunts. 83
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By CHRIS BERZAS or certain, fishing inland waters for redfish is extremely exciting. Last fall, I watched a few gulls hovering on the edge of a marsh canal, and I knew what to expect. Waiting patiently, I then observed the set of ripples and wakes as well as the backs of a pod of about six slot reds heading toward the edge of the bank. They were just under the birds, and shrimp were vaulting out of the water. Once the fish reached the vicinity, I cast an Egret Baits’ 3.5 inch purple/chartreuse Wedgetail Mullet just ahead of the leader of the pack. The bait was bumped, and I made a hookset with a sudden sweep of the rod. My drag was screaming, and the braid was metering out in spurts off the reel. The fish made a few good thrusts up and into the waters as I reeled him back to the boat. He was definitely a toad – a slot red fatter than I initially thought and a closer inspection of the fish placed its length at approximately 20 inches. I went on that day to catch a limit of reds in the same size range by staying inside the canal and waiting for the pods to come to me. And I also caught a couple of good flounders at the mouth of the canal as lagniappe! For the Louisiana coastal angler, it’s during the fall of the year when these bronze beauties pod up in marshes, salt canals and the edges 84 of inland salt lakes in Louisiana. Redfish will be chasing baitfish, crabs and shrimp, as these species too begin moving out of the marsh on outgoing tides. “It’s very good here in the fall,” said Captain Bill Lake of Bayou Guide Service. “Unlike the summer where the fish are in the ponds, we’ll stalk them on the edges of the shoreline against the banks. “They’ll be swimming in pods of six to 20 fish, and we’ll mainly be doing sight fishing for them,” he said. “They could be in just a foot of water, tight against the grass, eating everything that comes in their path along the shoreline,” he explained. According to the angler, he’ll focus on two major areas to find these fish – Lost Lake and Lake Mechant. “Fishing for redfish on the north banks here is very good year after year,” he said. “They’ll be foraging on small pogies and shad.” As for size, Lake said that the redfish here usually range from 18 to 25 inches – mostly slot reds. “We’ll see a few over 27 inches every now and then,” he added. “On a calm day with flat waters or just a little ripple, we’ll stay 50 yards off the bank just sitting quietly and looking,” he explained. Once the anglers see activity and take a fish or two, they’ll allow time for the commotion to settle down, and usually another pod will begin surface activity again.
Bayou Catholic • Houma, LA • October 2013
Taking in the fall
s d Re
BILL LAKE PHOTO/BAYOU GUIDE SERVICE
“It’s not uncommon to see 15 different schools of redfish in the mornings out there,” he said. In these situations, Lake’s lure of choice is a 1/2 oz. gold spoon. “When you see the school of reds working toward your boat, don’t move until they arrive,” advised Lake. “Cast about three feet in front of them and let that gold spoon sit. Don’t move it until they get near it. “If you’re throwing plastics, just twitch it when the reds get near it,” he added. “These techniques work better than just throwing the baits in the midst of the school.” The larger specimens, what anglers refer to as bulls (20 to 40 pounds), also prowl in numbers near barrier islands, passes and beaches in the Gulf. The spawn is on from mid-August through October, and sometimes you’ll see them in huge schools breaking the waters to feed. These bulls can also be taken with cracked crabs while drifting or trolling between reefs and near passes. All redfish taken by saltwater anglers in Louisiana must be at least 16 inches minimum total length. There is a five fish per person daily bag with not more than one exceeding 27 inches in length. For more fishing information, you can reach Captain Bill’s Bayou Guide Service at (985) 851-6015 (home) and (985) 637-3712 (cell). He can be messaged by e mail at email@example.com. Have a safe time on the waters, and read carefully regarding limits and sizes in the 2013 Louisiana Fishing Regulations Pamphlet before heading out.
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Can you let ‘em walk....
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JOHN FLORES PHOTO
By John Flores he shot rang out from somewhere close to me and I could only assume it was from my partner, Jake Spangler, who dropped me off on one of his stands 45 minutes earlier. If it was Spangler, I thought to myself, it had to be a pretty decent buck. Otherwise, he’d have let it walk. Meanwhile, from my location, I was having a bit of action of my own. First a doe bleating over and over like a sheep walked out on me, then a button buck. There’s nothing like a hunt where you’re seeing deer. Suddenly, from right of my stand a real buck with an attitude – obviously rut-stricken – busts out of the tall grass and makes its way toward me. It’s hard to tell what his headgear looks like at first. The direction he’s coming from is out of the sun that’s barely above the tree line and right in my eyes. Bayou Catholic • Houma, LA • October 2013
The closer the deer gets, I see where he’s probably a good four, maybe five-point, with a body that reminds me of a middle linebacker’s. Never picking up my rifle, I decide to let the deer walk. Though tempting, I know that given another year this deer could become one worth bragging about. Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Deer Study Leader, Scott Durham said, “The big-deer harvest is just getting better and better. Guys are definitely being more selective. Those participating in our DMAP (Deer Management Assistance Program) have gone from 50 percent of the buck harvest being 1-1/2 year old deer to 50 percent of them now 3-1/2 plus year old bucks. We’ve got some parishes, where the age structure on some of these clubs is just incredible. And, they’re just killing really old deer and those younger deer are getting passed.” Spangler hunts family property
below Franklin that’s been in his family for three generations. The family manages their property by maintaining a 4-point or better rule. As a guest of Spangler’s, he graciously said to take anything I wanted and that the definition of a trophy is different for everyone. According to Durham, deer hunting has evolved into a business, where emphasis is now being placed on managing for big trophy deer. “Deer hunting is a business now,” Durham said. “A lot of guys are really into it. It’s something people can afford to do and it’s not quite as expensive as duck hunting and all that. There’s a lot of emphasis on big deer. There are a lot of magazines and kind of ‘hoopla’ made over big bucks. There are pod casts and all this – it’s just been a steady evolution toward that.” Spangler, 35, grew up hunting deer with his father, killing his first deer when he was 12 years
old. And over the years, as technology has improved, he has harvested a lot bigger deer than his father’s generation did. “One of the things that has helped us is being more selective,” Spangler said. “My dad’s generation wasn’t as selective as we are now. He doesn’t hunt anymore, but he is amazed at what we kill or when I tell him what we’ve seen.” Learning to be selective paid off for Spangler. When he picked me up from my stand, there on the deck of his boat was a wide eight-point – the shots I had heard earlier were indeed his. For several minutes we talked about his hunt and what happened. Now it came down to whether he should add another mount to his wall or not. The big eight had an inside spread of nearly 16 inches and decent tines – definitely worth bragging about. It would have been easy to shoot the buck that circled my stand in search of the doe that came by earlier. But, with the season only days old, I wasn’t about to press the panic button by trying to put some meat in the freezer. In my younger years, coming from the same generation as Spangler’s father, there’s no doubt I probably would have shot the buck where it stood. But, having hunted deer for the past 37 straight seasons I’ve learned to enjoy it more – there’ll be plenty of opportunities and if not, so be it. What’s more, I’ve learned to appreciate some of the lessons of this younger generation of hunters by now letting a few walk …
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E I G OO
By John Flores t might as well have been a serrated steak knife dragged across my wrist the way it felt, as my son and I made our way through a thick patch of briers in search of swamp rabbits this past weekend. The canal bank we were on was teeming with the tangled mess causing me to think that clearly the inventor of consertina wire was a bayou state swamp rabbit hunter at some point in his life. Only someone who did a little bayou boogie mashing grass, briers, and mixtures of ferns and bull tongue along canals banks could be so sadistic. But, that boogie is what it takes if you are going to be successful killing rabbits in the marsh without a good pack of beagles. My son and I are not the lucky ones who own a pack 88 of dogs. Instead, we’re the pack. And it’s how he and I pack using our human legs and feet that determines how successful we are. There are a few tricks to everything. Rabbit hunting has a long-standing tradition in Louisiana. And around these parts right after duck season is the time of year it’s done. Take any weekend during the winter months and you’ll see plumes of smoke rising skyward where the marsh is burning somewhere. In the years gone bye the old marsh-men would burn the marsh to trap muskrats. Tall patches of cane roseaus would pop, crackle and sizzle as the flame would lap over acres upon acres of land leaving the terrain sooty black and flat with nothing but the rat hills showing. During cold nights rats would become more active according to lore, and the next morning a frost would greet the trapper running his trap line. Today the rats are gone, but the practice of burning the marsh still exists and is still allowed by some land companies along the coast. But, in these cases it’s more to condition the ground to hunt rabbits, making it easier for both dogs and hunters. Where it’s not allowed, it means fighting the understory. What’s more, the chances of harvesting a limit of rabbits are drastically diminished and now comes down to your ability to jump them out of their protective cover. One of the things that I’ve taught my three sons and numerous friends is to slow down and don’t be in a hurry when coming to a patch of briers that you know holds a rabbit or two. It’s not about covering lots of ground as much as it is covering what you’re hunting Bayou Catholic • Houma, LA • October 2013
JOHN FLORES PHOTO
more thoroughly. The trick is to get that rabbit to move out of the cover and expose itself where a shot can be made. The best method in hunting rabbits if you’re dog-less is to zigzag, stop often, bay like a beagle or talk loud, and start over if nothing comes out of the patch. All of these techniques assume there is rabbit sign present. If not, all bets are off and you’re just wasting time. This technique has never failed me in scoring a swamp rabbit and I’ve proven it time and again. Quite often I’ve approached a patch of briars so thick you can’t see through them and talking out loud said to my sons or friends, “This patch will have a rabbit
E I G O O
in it – trust me.” Or, “There’s got to be a rabbit in here.” Invariably either them or me using the bayou boogie technique scored a swamp rabbit. My overall harvest numbers pale by comparison to dog hunting. But, who cares. I’ve never been much into limits, particularly the older I get. I challenge anyone to completely clean a limit of eight swamp rabbits. Completely means taking the glands out of their legs, the shot and hair out of the pellet holes, and not just chopping off the hind quarters. Then see if they really care about a limit afterwards. Besides, one big swamp rabbit will go a long way in providing a family meal. Rabbit meat is some of the most delicious meat you can harvest from a game animal. And most people claim they don’t care for the gamey taste. But, what I’ve found quite often is it’s all in the handling. When cleaned and cooked properly rabbit is not strong – especially swamp rabbits. After whining about my wrist and talking my son through the terrain we were hunting; it was in the middle of the object lesson a swamp rabbit burst from
JOHN FLORES PHOTO
cover. My son, with his youthful cat-like reflexes shot as the rabbit reluctantly held to the outside edge of the brier patch, where I was doing the boogie inside. It took a few minutes to dig the rabbit out from the briers that were kind enough to deposit a few more thorns deep into my skin. No matter, it’s just part of the hazard when boogying in the coastal marsh. And no doubt, come late June when some of the few remaining brier thorns fester and are rejected by my skin, I’ll smile in anticipation of next year’s rabbit season, as I pluck them out with the tweezers.
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Fall fishing: Diversity without pressure
By Chris Berzas he teal hunt was over, and now it was my turn. It’s not that I don’t like to hunt these whizzing, little blue-winged birds with their afterburners in flight - it’s what’s after the hunt that I really enjoy so much. After limits of teal were taken early during Louisiana’s early season, my buddies and I affixed our Costa Del Mar sunglasses and headed with rods and reels to the nearest, deeper cuts in the marsh with waters running in the area. “I’ve got one on now,” said Terry as he began working a keeper redfish to the boat. I immediately cast my line into the moving waters and experienced a quick pick-up on the bait as well. 92 Keeper redfish (not bulls) were the order of the day as these fish were preying on baitfish coming out of the marsh cuts. As for lagniappe, we also tied on to a couple of flounders. These fish were also working the cooler runoffs in this marsh, and all of us who caught these finnies suddenly had camp cuisine aspirations regarding what to do with these prized specimens. Saddleblankets they weren’t – but good food slabs they were! Once the action with the reds and flounders was over, our bay boat then picked up anchor and moved to a shallow ridge of a ship channel bordering the drainage cuts of the marsh. This ridge was very special as we knew it was an oversized oyster reef that attracted loads of baitfish and even a few fall shrimp. We began casting plastic cocahos in bottom bumping fashion in hopes that a few willing speckled trout were there. And sure enough – more than just a few were! In fact, they were respectable “mulies” as they ranged from 14- to 17- inches in length. We didn’t take a limit for every man in the three bay boats – but we had plenty to fillet once we arrived at the camp. I had to pinch myself to really believe I wasn’t dreaming – and I actually hit the lake and marshes at the right time. And there was no pressure – not even another boat Bayou Catholic • Houma, LA • October 2013
CHRIS BERZAS PHOTO
around. The only boats we saw that morning were the ones using the ship channel to return back to their camps with their limits of teal. “This is incredible, a first for fishing in the fall for me,” said Howard LeBlanc. I winked with my eye and held a finger to my lips. “Look . . .” I chuckled. “Just promise me you won’t advertise what we’re doing until after teal season. Like I told you before . . . some of the best fishing out here can happen after the duck hunt.” Of course, speckled trout are the most sought-after inland saltwater gamefish by Louisiana coastal anglers. Their spawning season is over by August, and the large concentrations of these fish then migrate to the marsh, bays, pipeline canals, and shell reefs along ship channels to fatten up for the cold, winter months. As temperatures drop, specks will move into relatively deeper locations – true “hot spots” for inland coastal anglers to find them.
Redfish will be there, too. The larger ones however may be in huge pods mating in October just a little offshore – but smaller, keeper reds can be taken in the same areas as specks and most often – with the same bottom-bumping plastics. The best time to fish for fall specks is early rather than into the winter – but the lagniappe of flounders and redfish make your trip on cooler waters much more than just a good opportunity. As for flounder, many Louisiana saltwater anglers contend the fall is probably the best time to seek them out. Flounders are actually migrating from the interior marshes to offshore locations to begin spawning rituals. To get to the Gulf, flounders have to pass through cuts, marsh drainages and ship channels as well as other funneling locations. After all, the baitfish pass in these locations as well, and anglers can make many more hookups on predatory flounders when they’re in the funnels. As for baits for all of these fish – they should resemble
the baitfish. Artificial cocahos, LSU Chubs and saltwater Assassins are great baits to pick up midmorning specks, reds and flounder. Topwaters work really well early in the morning on calm days for both specks and reds. Chrome/blue-back Chug Bugs, Speculizers, Top Dogs and Zara Spooks can provide delightful action with blowups from both specks and reds. Flounders however certainly appreciate the plastic bottom-bumpers quite a bit more. You can find great mixed reds/specks/flounder action just about anywhere the coastal waters and the marshes meet in Louisiana from Venice in the east to Sabine Lake in the west. So if you want a fantastic experience in some of the best salt waters in Louisiana available to you without much competition, then go now for fall fishing. Remember – the best saltwater fishing can happen after the hunt!
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Muddy water ducks S
uccessful duck shooting is a study in deception. Everything you do to a duck before you pull the trigger is directed at deceiving him. The blind, the camouflage, the decoys, the calls, the whole of both the primary and secondary equipment, tactics and traditions of duck hunting is all about fooling ducks into thinking your location is a safe place to sit down. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to fly over a waterfowl concentration, you probably saw that the water was muddy. Ducks muddy the water when they feed by rooting around the bottom. Flying ducks expect to see muddy water where other ducks (your decoys) are “feeding.” Once you’ve set your decoys, go out at regular intervals and stomp around. Not only does this make your spread look more natural, it also camouflages your decoy anchor lines. Stirring up the mud works almost as well as a bathroom break when you haven’t seen ducks in a while. As soon as you leave the blind, here come the ducks!
How It Works...
JOHN FLORES PHOTO
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Bayou Catholic • Houma, LA • October 2013
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By DEMPSEY WHITE e all scout for deer and sometimes are able to pattern a particular buck. It shouldn’t surprise you to know that deer learn our normal hunting patterns and adapt to them. For instance, it doesn’t take the deer long to figure out that most hunters are on stand early in the morning and late in the afternoon. They realize that most hunters head for camp to eat lunch, loaf and nap at midday. Their reaction is to move less early and late and more during the middle of the day. If most deer hunting on an area is from permanent stands, the deer soon learn where all these stands are and develop movement patterns to avoid them. The deer also seem to have an uncanny ability to know when a stand is occupied. The deer know you are hunting them but they don’t have to know when and where. Hunt during the midday hours, particularly during the rut, and use portable stands to change locations frequently.
When deer scout you
JOHN FLORES PHOTO
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f you own hunting dogs, early fall should be the “shape-up” season for both you and the pooch. It is unrealistic to expect you or your hard-working canine athlete to leap into hunting season in top form and deliver peak performance after loafing through the “dog days” all summer long. Run a bit of the weight off both of you. Refresh obedience training and handling commands. Because it is still pretty warm in the early fall, schedule these exercise periods early in the morning to avoid overheating either one of you. Because you’ll be taking your dog to new places and possibly hunting with other dogs after opening day, you need to take Fido to the vet for a health check and refresh necessary vaccinations before hunting season. Low-fat diets help pare away ounces during the training. However, later in the season, when the real work and sometimes real cold begins, consider a higher protein diet for hard-working hunting dogs.
Dressing for small game success
those with a base of mesh (which helps deter bugs) with a cut-out camo pattern attached. These are cool and breezy when it’s hot and can be worn over warmer clothes when it’s not. Camouflage is a near necessity for dove shooting and squirrel hunting, but for flushing game, in heavy cover, a touch of fluorescent orange is recommended for safety’s sake. This helps the hunting party keep track of each other when the action gets fast. For the brushbusting bird hunter, “brush” pants, with a thorn and briar-proof facing on the front of the legs, is a real asset in tough cover.
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JOHN FLORES PHOTO
he spectrum of small game hunting is so vast that there is no single set of apparel that is optimum for all types. Early season dove shooters and squirrel hunters need cool camo for the warm temperatures. (Often a spot of insect repellent doesn’t hurt either.) However, the falling temperatures of later fall excursions dictate warmer clothes. Some hunters opt for camo coveralls, particularly
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Outdoor Guide Tide Chart December 2013 Cocodrie Terrebonne Bay, LA
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