Last year I passed up my annual Louisiana waterfowl hunt to join Beretta and Sako on an epic journey to Finland and Russia. While that trip has trumped all other birthday events, I have fond memories of cutting birds from the Southern skies on the date of my birth celebration.
For multiple years I headed south to the warmer, humid temperatures to take aim at the mini-F14-like Blue Winged Teal. If you haven’t partaken in the hunt, I must warn you that it’s an addicting one. While I’m not a fantastic shot at the zinging orange clay targets at the range, I’ve become quite proficient at blasting the little speed demons from the sky.Also see: Five Mistakes Rookies Make During Early Teal Season
Three years in a row, I cherished those marsh memories. One September, the northern cold snaps hadn’t hit, and the birds with the blue striped wings were sparse. My daughter and I shared blinds with our guides for two mornings and saw no speedy teal. We love the beauty of the marsh, so we considered the trip a success. We realize hunting sometimes leaves one with an empty bag.
Our guides weren’t as pleased with our position. After we headed in from the lazy morning, we learned they’d arranged an afternoon hunt. It would be a first for us. Our young guide arranged a hunt in his family’s recently harvested rice fields. The freshly harvested crop, they said, could still be skeptical to the birds - they may stay clear. However, the guides really wanted to get their Colorado friends another chance to bag some birds.
After a Southern lunch of boudin, etouffee, jambalaya, and other deliciousness we prepared for our first trip to the rice fields. On the way, we asked a ton of questions. Why hadn’t we hunted there before? Would we be in a box blind or a pit? Would the water spill over the tops of our Irish Setter mud boots? The answers led to more questions and answers, followed by one of the best hunting days ever.
Why you need to hunt a rice field
Little equipment needed
Our guide brought three five gallon buckets and his calls. We brought our enthusiastic attitudes, our waterfowl shotguns, ammo, and safety equipment. When we arrived, there indeed were plenty of birds in the flooded fields. While our guide said he could’ve brought a few decoys, they weren’t necessary as the other birds proved to be perfect decoys.
There’s no need for a boat. We quickly made our trek out to a tall stand of grass between fields. We could’ve traversed more easily with an ATV, but we’re in good shape and found the walk on the flat land a breeze.
The farmers who lease their land to waterfowl hunters may have areas large enough for multiple hunting groups, but you won’t have the competition between other hunters as that found on public land. Our young guide negotiated a spot where we would be the only hunters, and it proved to be a sensational afternoon.
Rice fields are surrounded by natural habitat and have become a prime spot for waterfowl to feed in the early morning and early evening.
Variety of shooting stands
I mentioned that our guide carried a few five-gallon buckets. These proved to be our stools for a few hours before dusk. While they're not the cushiest seating arrangements I’ve ever seen, they were ideal to place in the tall natural grass between the rice fields.
When a guide leases a farmer’s fields for a hunting season, they may put in submerged pit blinds. These can be large enough for a single hunter or as many as twenty. In other instances, they build brush blinds, and these can vary in size as well, depending on the demographic of the field.
Easy on dogs
Hunting the rice fields makes for retrieves that are safer than those in the marsh or flooded timber. Our guide told us there are risks of cuts from debris and bites from snakes in marsh and flooded timber areas, but he rarely has to worry about this in the fields. Actually, on our hunt, we didn’t even use a dog.
Little loss of ducks
As flocks of teal swarmed us, and trios and quads fell from the sky, we learned that there is little loss of ducks in the rice fields. There were no gators to snatch them, and with no marsh or timber to hide in, we saw directly where our ducks plopped. Between flights, our guide quickly recovered all the birds and made his way back to cover as we waited for more.
While our quest is usually for the Blue Winged Teal in the warm month of September, December cold snaps drive waterfowl to the rice fields. We’ve added it to our list and hope to have a break from Colorado guiding to pursue the vast variety of birds. A winter in the rice field may yield mallards, teal, canvas backs, shovelers, and more. Each waterfowl setting proves to be a magnificent one, but the rice field certainly has a list of plusses.