Steady shoots for ducks this season despite drought
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Another waterfowl season ends Sunday, and despite drought conditions across most of the state, outfitters and seasoned hunters agree the season was better than expected.
Traditionally, coastal hunters enjoy the fastest shooting, and this year was no different. With the water shortage, those hunters with access to wet ponds found steady hunting.
It was so dry this year I have had three dozen redheads and gadwalls using the freshwater in my pond in front of my house in Bay City. Never before have I had wild ducks use it. Many other homeowners with ponds have said the same.
"All I can say is, what a year," said Bill Sherrill, an outfitter for over 35 years. "We have had a lot of great years and great hunting, but I can't remember it being this good."
Pintails, gadwalls, teal and shovelers were the mainstay on prairie ponds, and an influx of green-winged teal showed up the two weeks of the season. Pintails were solid the first two months of the season, but since have scattered throughout, probably due to the much needed rain the coast received this month.
This is the first year I can remember regularly decoying pintails over white goose spreads in dry fields. Shooting pintails over goose decoys in wet fields is nothing new, but never have I seen so many pintails work bone-dry rice fields in Texas - could be another effect of the drought.
Bay hunters reported excellent decoying action around Matagorda, Port O'Connor and Rockport for redheads, pintails, wigeons and a few teal, while hunting around Baffin Bay and the Lower Laguna Madre was solid for redheads and pintails.
The drought's affect was positive for bay hunters, just like prairie hunters, most saying they saw more concentrations of birds than normal.
Hunting was fair at best in the North Zone, probably due to the drought. Many reservoirs and lakes that are normally hubs for mallards, gadwalls and diving ducks were tough to access because water levels were at record lows. Hunter participation was minimal with the mild winters and poor duck numbers.
"Strange weather seems to have moved birds," said biologist Jared Laing of Tyler. "Previously productive areas like tanks and ponds lost birds despite limited pressure."
Wood ducks were fair on sloughs and timber ponds that caught some of the late-December runoff from rains. Mallards were fair on the Sulphur River, and shallow coves on reservoirs and lakes have held limited gadwalls and teal.
Hunters on the south side of the North Zone saw the best results. Much like the coastal prairies on the west side of Houston, most east side prairie ponds and freshwater impoundments reside just north of IH-10, the dividing line of the North and South zones. Teal, pintails, gadwalls and shovelers regularly use those ponds near China, Devers, Hamshire, Winnie and Nome.
Goose hunters are a dying breed, but so are goose numbers along the coast. The drought's impact on available watering sources put a strain on geese and hunting suffered somewhat.
Those with water held birds religiously and enjoyed superb decoying action from a large percentage of juvenile snow geese. However, those without roost ponds nearby were unable to pattern goose movement, a key ingredient for steady shooting.
Eagle Lake, once holding the moniker "Goose Hunting Capital of the World," saw sporadic goose concentration due to lack of water from the drought and the LCRA not allowing the purchase of recreational water for hunting.
Here's hoping for a wet 2012.
Bink Grimes is a freelance writer, photographer, author and licensed hunting and fishing outfitter (firstname.lastname@example.org).