End of the line


LAKE CHARLES, La. -- Erik Rue was angry. Dirty words spewed from his mouth in a litany of expletives that would make a duck hunter, normally accustomed to words that would make a sailor blush, take note.



It was ironic in a Duck Trek sort of way that the end of this Trek from Canada to south Louisiana would end in much the same way it started. In the Delta Marsh of Canada a similar series of words were exchanged while battling a canoe.

Rue, though, was sitting in a pit just a few miles north of the Louisiana Marsh. His words weren't directed at Duck Trek photographer James Overstreet (despite his being easy to curse). His words were directed at a small flock of white-fronted geese that refused to respond to his calling.

Chasing specklebellied geese, formally known as white-fronted geese but also known as specks or whistling geese, is what Rue lives for during duck and goose season. When they don't cooperate he scolds them. But that doesn't happen very often.

Two things to note on this Duck Trek stop:

First, while there are some similarities between the starting line and the finish line of the migration, one thing that is completely different is the education level of the birds you hunt.

In Canada and parts of the northern edges of the United States ducks and geese are like elementary-aged children. You can sell them on anything. By the time they hit the south, many have earned a doctorate in survival. Calling and concealment skills are critical.

In both of those, Rue is over the top. More on that later.

Secondly, this is the last stop, not just for the season but "THE" last stop of the ESPN Outdoors Duck Trek.

After three years of traveling down both the Mississippi and Central Flyways, the duck trek on ESPN will draw to a close. During the course of those seasons we've hit virtually every state within those two flyways. Seen incredible sights, met equally incredible people and enjoyed some of the best waterfowling on the continent.

We've been a part of mayhem in Canada, watching waves of mallards and Canada geese darken the sky. We've learned the importance and the issues surrounding the little bitty pools of water in the Prairie Pothole Region.

There have been hunts with the young in Nebraska, the old, like Wiley Meachum in Arkansas, and everything in between, including a good-natured Muslim in Colorado who insists he's the only "Middle Eastern Redneck" we would ever find. So far he's right.

The Duck Trek crew has paddled canoes, buried ATVs in mud, raced down rivers in flatbottoms, weaved our way through flooded timber, hunted in massive pits, three-story blinds and laid down in lay-out boats and skimmed across nothing more than moisture in an air boat. We've even had a boat wrecked on the streets of Kansas and posed with a limit of ducks under Vince Lombardi's statue.

It's the kind of trip every duck hunter dreams about. Our labor of love, at least on ESPN, is basically over. And it's truly fitting that at this point it ends in Louisiana.

Louisiana is the last stop on the migration route for many ducks in both the Mississippi and Central flyways.

"We get birds from both," Rue told our Duck Trek crew last season. "A lot of people have it in their minds that the Central Flyway is one highway for ducks and geese and the Mississippi Flyway is another highway, and the birds only use one or the other. But that's not how it is. It's just an imaginary line that humans have made up. The birds move back and forth. It's all connected."

When ducks and geese reach this end of the flyways, they find vast marshes filled with submerged aquatic vegetation along the Louisiana coast. It's a smorgasbord of readily available food, and it is just part of the nutrition equation. There are also vast agricultural lands north of the marshes, and rice farming operations provide more food for waterfowl to fuel their long northward migration at the end of winter.

And it's even better in 2010 than in years past, yet another simple irony in the waterfowling world.

From April to August, the whole world watched millions of gallons of oil spew from the Deepwater Horizon, hoping and praying that the impacts of so much oil wouldn't wipe out these fertile marshes.

To stave off the potential, dollars were thrown at the middle of the country in hopes that extra flooded water to the north would short stop migrating ducks and geese. A drought in that area didn't create the abundance of water and following along with the promises of the same government that you couldn't short stop migrating waterfowl, ducks and geese are piling into the marsh.

They are finding better conditions than in years past because so much worry over their demise created an increase in the amount of open freshwater diversions that spill a life-giving force into the marsh. Ducks take to that like God engineered it in the first place.

More lessons learned on a duck trek full of lessons.

This stop, though, wasn't in the marsh. It was a few miles north of it in the rice fields of south Louisiana, where not only ducks, but also geese transfer around.

Although the marsh is just a few minutes away, the fields are where Rue wants to be.

"I have friends that had marsh, but when the three duck limit came into effect that's when I really got into the field hunting because there were geese involved and I got hooked on that and I've never left,'' Rue said. "I hardly ever make a marsh hunt."

He's carved out a niche for waterfowlers in this part of the country with Calcasieu Charter Service. He's known for his speckle-belly hunting, which is almost always followed by a redfishing trip.

"You go on a lot of these marshes you might be killing grays and wings and teal and that kind of stuff as your main bag, but here you kill mainly mallard and pintails and teal,'' he said.

"A lot of my clients come exclusively for the specks. That's what they want. A lot of the guys I have when the limit specklebellies hits the ground unless the ducks are swarming we're packing up and leaving. And some days you might come out here and not shoot any ducks, you know. You may just shoot geese."

He's developed that clientele over the years because of all the sought-after waterfowl in the country; the average hunter doesn't get a consistent chance to shoot specklebellies.

"They see 'em. We kill 'em,'' he said. We kill 'em in your face type of stuff and you know most people don't ever get to shoot geese like that. Their idea of goose hunting is putting out 500 decoys and lying in the mud. This is a more of a middle-aged guys deal. He doesn't want to lay in the mud and he has got enough money to come out here and visit with his buddies in the blind and they can shoot a few ducks and shoot a few geese and have a good time."

But it's not easy; Rue's set up is your basic pit in a rice levee that is packed so tight with weeds you can hardly see it when you know it's there. It makes seeing out of the blind difficult at times, but it's necessary according to Rue if you are going to entice the ducks and geese of south Louisiana close enough to a shotgun.

"By the time the geese get here they are brain surgeons,'' he said. "You make the wrong note on a call or do anything that will make them notice you and they are gone."

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His attention to those details forced Overstreet to call him a camo-Nazi. But his tactics worked because he pays attention to those details.

"If you can't call good and don't have a good spot and have the right set up and grass your blind well and all of that, you're not going to kill them,'' he said. "It's just like when you go redfishing in Florida, if you're not super quiet, can spot the fish, present the bait perfectly, you're not going to catch them. It's a very similar deal and both of those things are the result of pressure.

"It's like if you go to some place where there is not very much pressure and the fish bite easy or if you go to a place where there's not much duck hunting pressure, the ducks come when you call them," he said.

When it comes to duck and goose hunting that's not south Louisiana. We've learned over three years of the Duck Trek with ESPN that while you might be hunting the same birds, it's never the same hunt.

You have to learn their tendencies and language for each individual area down the flyway.

Rue speaks their language in Louisiana, which at times includes a little cursing.