Birds on the Bayou: Duck Hunting Louisiana

Somewhere southwest of Lafayette, Louisiana, in The Heart of Acadiana, is the little town of Gueydan, the "Duck Capital of America." And somewhere southwest of Gueydan, not far from the coastal marsh, is Tule Hunting Club, built upon an old 1,500-acre rice farm. For the most part, the rice industry left this region a long time ago, but a number of intrepid waterfowl hunters have converted the old farms here into some of the best waterfowl wintering grounds in the world. Among those hunters is Roland Louque who, along with two partners, started the Tule club 15 years ago.
Louque is a geologist who works in the energy industry, but his passion is in managing his lease to serve as excellent habitat for migrating waterfowl. In turn, his land stewardship efforts translate into fantastic hunting for his friends and family all season long, year after year.
The property is divided into dozens of flooded fields, or cuts. The cuts are separated by narrow levees, and there are nine different pit blinds dug into these levees around the farm. About a third of the acreage is treated as a refuge for the birds and never hunted. An elaborate pumping and drainage system is constantly pushing water into a cut or drawing it out of another in order to create the ideal hunting scenario given a number of weather-related variables. For instance, if the temperature is going to drop 20 degrees overnight, and the wind is going to be coming out of the north at 15 miles per hour at sunrise, and all this is the result of an approaching low-pressure system, then Louque draws on his decade and a half of experience with this property to determine which of his nine blinds will be the best to hunt out of the next day, and he makes sure that the water level in the cuts on either side of that blind will be appealing to the birds. Ducks like about a foot of water. Specklebellies tend to like a lot of visible mud. So one cut might need to be drawn down to appeal to the geese and the adjacent one might need to be pumped up to entice the ducks. Sometimes the educated gamble pays off in spades. Other days the weather doesn't do what it was supposed to do or the birds decide that they don't want to cooperate. But each day becomes a new page in Louque's mental land management plan.
I got to experience the hunting at Tule last December at the invitation of Eric Mathes. Mathes, a Wisconsinite, met Louque during a hunt in Canada a few years ago, and the two immediately hit it off. Louque told Mathes about his property in Louisiana and his intensive management practices there. Mathes told Louque that, if possible, he'd love to help out there any way he could, and for the past few winters Mathes has spent the waterfowl season at Tule, helping to oversee the operation.
In addition to Louque, Mathes, and myself, our crew during my hunt at Tule included Paul Guidry, a welder by trade, a consummate outdoorsman, a tremendous creole accordion player, one helluva cook, and a snazzy dresser to boot.
Danny Lejeune was also on hand. Lejeune grew up on the farm, and both he and his father farmed it when it was still in commercial operation. In fact, decades ago Danny's father dug the blind we hunted out of on my first morning at Tule.
And then there were the dogs: Mathes' young female black Lab, Wynne…
…And Louque's older male, Pacer. (Photo courtesy Eric Mathes)
After a cup of coffee, we'd load the sleds with decoys, attach them to the ATVs, and head out to the chosen blind where we'd spend the better part of an hour meticulously laying out our spread of fakes. As with his land management techniques and the way he chooses which blind to hunt from, the logic behind Louque's decoy spreads are also a product of experience.
About 15 speck dekes, backed up by a group of about 100 snows (with pintails interspersed), and a spinning-wind decoy in the upwind cut…
…And five-dozen duck decoys, including a jerk-string of ten, plus another spinner in the downwind cut.
Hip waders are key to this type of hunting, and I was wearing Rocky's new MudSox. The boots have a whopping 1,000 grams of insulation, the knees are reinforced with rubber, and the outsoles provided excellent traction in the thick, slick mud.
By Louque's and Mathes' standards, neither day that I hunted at Tule was epic, but we got our limit of ducks on the first day, including this beautiful drake wigeon.
Among the other duck species that filled our bag were pintails, mallards, greenwing and bluewing teal, and spoonbills. Floating in the water in front of me are the new GHG Pro-Grade January Mallards. The name refers to the vibrant late-season breeding plumage paint job on the birds. There are three different six-packs--Active, Surface Feeder, and Sleeper-Rester--and each costs $65. (Photo courtesy Eric Mathes)
On Day 2, we knocked down 9 or 10 specklebelly geese, which was a treat for me. Outside of the odd one or two I've shot on an early-season hunt in Canada, I've never targeted these birds before. As cool as they look, they taste even better! These birds committed to these ultra-realistic, fully flocked GHG FFD Full Body Specklebellies, which will run you about $200 for a half dozen. (Photo courtesy Eric Mathes)
No trip to Gueydan is complete without a stop at Missy's Duck Cleaning. Even if you prefer to clean your own birds, you really owe it to yourself to experience Missy's, which someday will surely end up on the National Register of Historic Places.
As you might imagine, Missy is quite the charming gal.
As much fun as I had hunting with the guys and gorging myself on Guidry's cooking every night, my favorite part of the days I spent at Tule were at sundown, when wave after wave of birds would take to the air on their way to roost. And as I lay in bed at night, listening to the constant din of tens of thousands of content, chuckling birds, I'd think about how all of the hard work that has gone into managing this property has paid off for Louque and his friends.

John Taranto headed to Louisiana to hunt some of the best waterfowl waters in the world.