Enthusiasm high as waterfowl season approaches

Hunters traded tales, tall and otherwise, as they gathered Tuesday night for the annual Vernon Parish Ducks Unlimited Chapter No. 55 banquet and fund-raising activity.

While their minds were on dinner, raffles, auctions and other parts of the annual event, their hearts were outside, where the coolest night of the Fall to that point was under way and a stiff north wind was whipping the fairgrounds.

Hunters could almost hear wings whistling beyond that wind as mallards, pintail, widgeon, gadwall, teal, canvasback and red-heads begin to gather for their migration from potholes and breeding grounds in the Midwest and Canada south to the marshes of Louisiana.

Those hunters will be watching weather forecasts, fidgeting with blinds and gear, and generally not getting much sleep from now until seasons open on either Nov. 11 or Nov. 18, depending on where they hunt (the state is divided into three waterfowl zones).

Ducks Unlimited, of course, is the premier wildlife conservation success story of the 20th Century, now continuing into the 21st.

Since 1937, DU, with money contributed by waterfowl hunters and waterfowl watchers, has conserved more than 14 million acres of waterfowl habitat across the continent.

Those gathered for the Tuesday night function — men, women and youngsters — are excited about the waterfowl population estimate for this Fall’s migration, one that compares to the outstanding numbers of last year.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates total population at 47.3 million breeding ducks, about a third above the annual average of the past 60 years, and the fifth largest estimate on record.

About 15 million waterfowl will spend the winter in the Gulf Coast habitats of Louisiana and Texas.

Even more exciting for waterfowl enthusiasts is the projected mallard flight index of 12.9 million birds, similar to that of last year. Hunters across Louisiana experienced mallard populations last season that had been unseen by all but the most senior among them.

The Vernon DU chapter is among 90 in the state, with a total of more than 21,000 members, including 2,700 volunteers who last year raised about $4.2 million, according to DU.

The Vernon committee this year included Kris Ferguson, chairman/treasurer, and Mike Anderson, Robin Stewart, Mark Smith, Angie Norman, Dean Mitchell, Shawn Granger, Tony Jennings, Patrick Martin, Matt Koury, McKenzie Luke, Will Kay, Peter Smith, J.R. Harrison, Josh Martin and Harlie Martin.