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Fish & Game Report: Hunting nutria with a father-daughter duo

Don Dubuc introduces a father and daughter who are helping prevent wetland loss in an unusual way

Most daddy-daughter dates include movies, dinner or dances, but Walter Heathcock and his daughter Irelyn do it a little differently - they hunt nutria.   

"Nutria are these small, about twenty or twenty-five pound, semi aquatic rodents that originally came from South America," explained Catherine Normand, the nutria program manager with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. "They were brought to the United States in the late 1800s with the intention of starting fur farming."

"Nutria found the Louisiana coastline perfect habitat for them.  When nutria harvest declined, the nutria population increased dramatically," she said.

Walter Heathcock, a licensed nutria bounty hunter, explained the extent of damage he has seen out in the Louisiana marsh from nutria. "I've seen your green grass go to a mud flat," he said.

But in recent years, using coastal restoration money, the state put a $5 bounty on nutria tails and opened up a recreational season from September through the end of February and that has made a difference. 

"On a good day you kill over a hundred," Heathcock said. "We've killed 200 in a day. And the best conditions for hunting is right after a cold front when it's still real cold but the sun's shining."

"You're driving and you see a nutria, you're like hurry up and shoot it," said his daughter. "I don't know, it's like a fast action and it's kind of fun. I'd say it's close to like squirrel hunting or duck hunting."

So what happens to all this high protein meat after the hunt's over? Sadly most of it goes to waste. 

They've even changed the name from nutria to rangodin in an effort to put a little bit of a lipstick on a rat but if you can get past the animals' orange teeth and long rat tail, talk to some camp chefs or a gourmet restaurant cook, you may change your mind.