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Cold, wet weather a boon for waterfowlers

Dec. 1, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.

The recent cold weather has brought new migrants, including northern mallards.

Soaking rains and unseasonably frigid autumn temperatures have been tough on the extremities, but you won't hear any Texas waterfowlers complaining.

Cold air means fresh ducks on the coast, and the rain means more winter habitat for what has been an impressive first 30 days of duck season.

"I am not going to gripe about the rain," said Mike Grigar of Johnny's Sport Shop in Eagle Lake, a waterfowl hub for decades. "We have a lot of water on the prairie - some say too much - but all I know is our hunting is better than it has been in years."

Ponds and flats near El Campo, Wharton, Eagle Lake, East Bernard, Lissie, Garwood, Altair and Hungerford have held solid flights of pintails, gadwalls, wigeons, green-winged teal, northern shovelers and diver ducks like ringed-necks, scaup, redheads and canvasbacks.

"We normally shoot divers for about 10 days in the middle of November as the birds are passing through en route to the bays," said veteran outfitter Bill Sherrill, of Wharton. "This year, with the late migration and all the water we have on the prairie, we have consistently taken redheads, bluebills and more canvasbacks than I can remember."

Sherrill said all the rains have made ponds deeper, which are conducive to large diver populations. He also said all the sheet water in fallow and row-cropped fields has been a boon for pintails.

You won't hear too many other Texans complaining about the rain since the Lone Star State has been in a severe drought for more than five years. But all that water on high-ground prairie ponds has made it a bit tougher for hunters on the bays.

Port O'Connor, Rockport, Matagorda and Port Aransas hunters have had to hunt hard to find limits of ducks. While the diver population has improved since the last cold front, strap-filling puddle ducks like wigeons, gadwalls and pintails are enjoying better habitat on the prairies.

Marsh hunters on the east side of Houston have been smiling with consistent limits of ducks and scattered specklebellies and snow geese on stiff-wind days. All that "sweet" water that fell in late October and November has freshened the marsh and sparked a growth of all the weeds, grasses and submerged plants that are vital in sustaining a healthy winter duck population.

"It has been so good over here," said guide Brian Davenport of Fin and Fowl Outfitters near Anahuac and High Island. "Our marshes are in great shape."

Davenport said five days of stiff north winds early in the week was advantageous for combo shoots of low-flying snow geese and specklebellies trickling across the marsh. Several hunts yielded limits of ducks and double-digit straps of geese.

Speaking of geese, hunters have seen a noticeable increase in the number of snow geese on the coastal prairies. However, hunting them has been more difficult than many shotgunners care to investigate.

All those flood rains have made for a messy quagmire in blackland fields of corn, milo and plowed ground. These days, it is hard to find a waterfowler willing to lay in 5 inches of water with gale force north winds blowing in their face.

"We have a world of geese," said Sherrill. "But most of them are in fields too tough to walk across and too messy to hunt."

The first split of the South Zone duck season ended at sunset Sunday. The second split runs Dec. 14 to Jan. 26. Goose season remains open through Jan. 26.

Bink Grimes is a freelance writer, photographer, author and licensed captain (binkgrimes@sbcglobal.net).

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