Thomas Alleman is a no-nonsense kind of guy. He is a man on a mission. That mission is to see that his customers shoot a lot and/or catch a lot.
Grosse Savanne owns more than 50,000 acres of wetlands, prairies and agricultural fields, and it is bordered by one of the finest saltwater lakes in the Cajun State. With an amazing 5-star lodge and staff, it all adds up to heaven on earth for any sportsman.
At the moment, however, the only thing Alleman cared about was a lone speckle-belly goose, better known as a “spec,” circling high over our spread of decoys. Specs, which are technically white-fronted geese, are the prize in the Louisiana marshes. On more than one occasion Alleman had us pass up shots at ducks, the proverbial “bird in the hand,” because specs were approaching. The birds are wary, and only one found its way into gun range. If you must know, we missed.
However, many ducks were not so wary. On day one of a two-day hunt, we were greeted by 70 degree temperatures and a 25 mph wind. The screaming wind encouraged ducks to seek out our semi-protected pothole and enticing decoys. Miss the first shot, however, and your followup shots were at ducks flaring with a tailwind that sent them at 60 mph and out of range in a split second. It didn’t matter because there were enough ducks providing good first shots to fill out our two-man limit by 9:30 in the morning.
That left plenty of time for a Grosse Savanne meal, followed up by a quick afternoon chasing redfish. Alleman was worried about the gale-force winds, but he found us a protected spot, and we filled up a cooler with redfish in just a little more than an hour. I constantly wonder how anyone could ever go hungry in Louisiana.
If you don’t want to cook it yourself, try Steamboat Bill’s (featured in USA Today), the Seafood Palace or Pujo St. Cafe. There is no shortage of crawfish pie, red beans and rice, or gumbo in Lake Charles. However, there is much more than the traditional Cajun fare.
The duck hunting weather on day two was a dramatic turnaround-35 degrees, clear skies and calm winds. The ducks were fewer and wiser. In a Grosse Savanne marsh, with a man who blows a duck call like Alleman, it usually doesn’t matter. However, it did take us all the way until 10 a.m. to take our limits.
We took six species-mallards, pintails, gadwall, wigeon, green-wing teal and mottled ducks. We passed up a dozen spoonbills. Southwest Louisiana is the endpoint for the Central and Mississippi Flyways. The region also supports more than 300 species of birds.
Poke your head out of any Louisiana duck blind, and you will be surrounded by a incredible array of shorebirds unlike anything you have ever seen: plovers, ibis, pelicans, gulls, egrets, herons, cormorants-one bird species after another. I told Alleman that my bird watching friends could wear out a bird identification guidebook and double their “life list” of birds in an hour.
In fact, the route between New Orleans and Houston is aptly named the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road. It is so unique that it was one of the first such routes in the nation to be designated by the Federal Highway Administration.
Karl Zimmerman, one of the managers at Grosse Savanne, said their marshes have changed over the years. Hurricanes, of course, take a toll. But there is also a continual political struggle as Corps of Engineers water control structures can dramatically change the salinity of the marshes, turning a body of water into freshwater or salt with the turn of a valve. As in many places across the country, even in the state called “Sportsman’s Paradise,” it is often a struggle between sportsmen and the needs of the general populace.
However, from what I’ve seen in my many trips there in recent years, the sportsmen usually win out.