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Duck opener was one for the ages

Nov. 12, 2011 at 5:12 a.m.
Updated Nov. 13, 2011 at 5:13 a.m.

Coastal waterfowlers have enjoyed fast shooting during the first week of the season. Those who have access to water during the drought should continue to see plenty of wings.

Phenomenal. Unbelievable. Stellar. Awesome. Wow, best I have seen!

All reactions from opening weekend of duck season on the coast.

Limits were the norm and not the exception for waterfowlers fortunate enough to find a pond or bay flat with water.

The drought has limited the number of huntable ponds in all of Texas, but, ironically, those few watering holes have made for incredible hunting by concentrating ducks.

"We just experienced the best opening weekend I have ever seen," said veteran guide Gene Campbell by email. "We saw huge numbers of many species we normally don't see until later in the season."

Campbell's Oyster Bayou Hunting Club near Anahuac has long been a barometer of good hunting on the east side of Houston.

On normal openers, Campbell said his hunts see the usual species of coastal marsh ducks, including teal, gadwalls, wigeons, shovelers and pintails.

This year, however, probably due to the absence of water in Northeast Texas, species like scaup, canvasbacks, redheads, ringed-necks, mallards, wood ducks and even a few surf scoters showed up on his straps.

Campbell said he has seen stronger numbers of geese much earlier this year than in seasons past.

"Maybe the lack of stopover water and food in Oklahoma and North Texas and a couple of nice, early frontal systems have caused the need for all of these birds to make an early push all the way to the coast," Campbell said. "In any case, we are enjoying the rare occurrence."

Coastal prairie hunters on the west side of Houston were speechless at the amount of birds seen opening weekend.

"It was good, real good," said Mike Grigar, owner of Johnny's Sport Shop in Eagle Lake, a longtime waterfowling hub. "Everyone I talked to who had water shot limits quick."

Red Bluff Prairie Hunting Club, Garwood Hunting Club and Bill Sherrill Waterfowl all reported full limits. Thunderbird Hunting Club reported 60 of 62 full limits, with green-winged teal comprising the brunt of the bag.

"It was a scald," Bill Sherrill said. "By Sunday, the birds were right back where they were, like we never hunted them, but more big ducks were taken."

Guide Sammy Romano of Butch's Guide Service reported excellent duck shoots as well, and goose hunters witnessed a decoying show by the bumper crop of young specklebellies.

"We weren't even hunting a feeding field," said Romano. "Every bird we shot landed inside the spread. We only took 10-15 yard shots for easy limits in plowed ground."

Sadly, North Zone hunters, with the exception of hunters along the coastal boundary of IH-10, saw dismal results.

Most bayous, sloughs, timber ponds, creeks and tanks which hold huntable numbers of ducks in the Pineywoods and North Texas are dry, and many of those bodies of water still holding water are inaccessible due to dry boat ramps.

"Most of the big lakes had birds on them," said biologist Jared Laing of Tyler. "However, I spoke with several hunters who were skunked."

The same holds true for High Plains hunters in the Panhandle, who rely on playa lakes for habitat.

Few, if any, playa lakes are holding water, so most ducks are using feed lot ponds to water, thereby limited access for hunters.

Participation has been severely limited and will continue until copious water or snow runoff fills playas.

The drought has made for incredible hunting, but I would trade walls of water right now for wads of ducks.

Bink Grimes is a freelance writer, photographer, author and licensed hunting a fishing guide (www.matagordasunriselodge.com).

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