LUCKY DUCK DAY
LDWF Youth Lottery Hunts Provide An Exciting Opportunity For Young And Old Alike
story and photos by JOHN FLORES, Special Contributor to the Conservationist
In the moments before legal shooting light during the opener of the second split of the 2018-19 duck season, there was no question my grandson Gabriel Flores and his blind mate Garrett Rhinehart from Baton Rouge were experiencing something special.
The sky literally was full of ducks - not hundreds. Thousands.
The sound of blue and green winged teal wings could be heard slicing the air with a rushing sound. Pintails whistled, mallards called and speckle belly geese yodeled all around us, some coming so close to the blind in the dim light it gave the sense that you could get struck in the head by one of them.
Both boys had drawn out for the Sherburne Wildlife Management Area (WMA) public youth lottery hunt that takes place on the refuge’s North Farm. The North Farm is a 480-acre wetland made up of a series of impoundments forming a waterfowl refuge. Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) biologists manage the complex each year by controlling invasive grasses and plants, allowing natural vegetation that ducks prefer to grow.
In the fall, water is pumped into the impoundments, creating a winter habitat for ducks, geese and numerous wading birds and gallinules.
In order to maintain the habitat as a refuge, hunting pressure is limited to only three youth hunts, all taking place during the second split of the duck season. With just six hunters per hunt selected, if you happen to be one of these lucky youth, you’re in for a real treat.
An adult parent or chaperone must accompany the youth during the hunt, making it pretty special not only for fathers and sons, but fathers and daughters. Yes, one father’s daughter drew out for the lottery that weekend, too.
For a grandparent like myself, getting to share a blind with a grandson is pretty special as well. There is a unique bond between seniors and their grandchildren, different from the parent-child relationships is all I can say.
Gabriel and I shared the North Farm blind with Garrett and his father Kirk Rhinehart. Additionally, LDWF Biologist Supervisor Steven David accompanied us as a guide, handling much of the calling duties, plus retrieving downed birds.
With the sky so full of ducks in those anxious twilight moments, no one spoke a word. Instead, we just took it all in. That’s when Garrett broke the silence, saying, “I’m usually
a talker, and this has got me quiet.”
In getting to know the younger Rhinehart, come to find out, he started going to the marsh with his father when he was old enough to walk and started hunting when he was 10 or 11. My grandson’s journey happened to be similar in most respects. In making a pre-hunt plan, we decided with the Rhineharts not to shoot teal and shovelers (spoonies) early and be patient for “big ducks” to show up later. In doing so, we watched 100s, if not 1,000s, of ducks in the sky. Finally, after about 45 minutes, my grandson decided he’d waited long enough and under David’s direction, started picking out teal, shovelers and gadwalls. I honestly don’t know how he waited that long.
Sometimes poor shooting is a result of too many targets, and my grandson went through some 12-gauge shells getting his limit. But, limit he did.
By contrast, Garrett, like his father, was a well-seasoned waterfowl hunter. Two years prior, he hunted the North Farm youth lottery hunt during a cold and icy January. In 30 minutes, he harvested three greenhead mallards, a drake pintail and two gadwall. That Saturday, he wanted to hold off shooting the smaller ducks to perhaps get a chance to do something similar.
In explaining the logic behind his strategy for that day’s youth hunt, Garrett said, “I guess there was just so many ducks, I had the feeling that they were gonna keep flying all morning. At any point I could decide, ‘okay, it’s time to shoot teal’ and not worry about them not flying because there was just so many of them. And, that’s exactly what happened.”
After waiting over an hour and closer to one and a half hours, Garrett shot his limit of six ducks - five green winged teal and a shoveler.
Annually, I put my grandson in for every public youth lottery waterfowl hunt LDWF and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offer. Some of these include Sherburne WMA, White Lake Conservation Area, Bayou Pierre WMA and Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge.
The department also offers several deer hunts for youth annually on Buckhorn, Dewey W. Wills, Floy Ward McElroy, Richard K. Yancey and Sherburne WMAs. LDWF goes out of its way to make all youth hunts special.
David said, “We - the department - look forward to these youth hunts, and we try to make (the) experience something they’ll never forget. And maybe if we do, hunting is something they’ll stick with and want to do when they get older.”
Each year, during August and September, LDWF starts taking applications for all of their public youth lottery hunts. All of them, like the Sherburne North Farm waterfowl hunt, can be pretty special.
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