The third season of A&E's "Duck Dynasty" returned Wednesday night to 8.6 million viewers.

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A&E's "Duck Dynasty" returned Wednesday night to record ratings

The season three premiere delivered 8.6 million viewers

it's A&E's most-watched telecast ever and cable's biggest reality show telecast so far this year  — 

Heaven knows, Morrissey is miserable now.

A&E’s breakout pro-hunting hit “Duck Dynasty” returned Wednesday night to record ratings. The season three premiere delivered 8.6 million viewers.

That’s huge. It’s not only the most-watched “Duck Dynasty” episode ever, it’s A&E’s most-watched telecast ever and ranks as cable’s biggest reality show telecast so far this year. The 10 p.m. episode (the first of two back-to-back airings) was up 132 percent vs. the second season premiere. Plus, a full 5 million of the viewers were in the adults 18-49 demo.

The return of “Duck Dynasty” benefited from an unexpected gift-from-the-PR-gods when British singer and animal rights activist Morrissey cancelled his planned Feb. 26 performance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” at the last minute in protest of the “Duck Dynasty” stars appearing the same episode. Morrissey called the show’s stars — who own a family business that makes products for hunters — “animal serial killers.”

Kimmel later hit back during his show’s Tuesday monologue: “While I respect his stance on this, I really do, there’s a very good reason why I didn’t dump the ‘Duck Dynasty’ guys for Morrissey. And that’s because they have guns.” Kimmel also added of the famously downbeat singer, “He keeps finding new ways to depress us.” The host aired a parody video for “a new “Duck Dynasty” product for vegans.”

Joan Rivers called out on Heidi Klum joke

The pop singer then countered that Kimmel “found time to jokingly promote gun-ownership — hugely amusing for the parents at Sandy Hook, no doubt. He also promoted his special guests “Duck Dynasty” – who kill beings for fun. None of the above issues are, of course, as important as Jimmy Kimmel himself, who has finally revealed his show to have an overwhelming loss of meaning. Tune in and relive the intellectual fog of the 1950s.”

Kimmel followed that up by tweeting yestrerday, “Note to Morrissey — if you have more dumb statements to make, I invite you to make them where I do, on my show.” He included in the tweet a link to the cover art for Morrissey’s 2004 album You Are the Quarry, which featured the singer wielding a machine gun.

The Christian-friendly A&E docu-series has been on a ratings tear since catching fire last year. One surprising survey found that “Duck Dynasty” received more mentions on Facebook in 2012 than any other TV series, including social-network-friendly hits like HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory.”

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Ray Rahman contributed to this report.