Coastal prairies holding lots of ducks
Wednesday afternoon, I rode the Pierce Ranch looking for spots to hunt for the coming days.
What I saw was a jaw-dropping number of ducks - more waterfowl than I can remember ever seeing in a 25-year span of hunting.
I am not talking hundreds of ducks. I am talking thousands of pintails, gadwalls, green-winged teal, blue-winged teal, northern shovelers, wigeons and a handful of divers like scaup and redheads.
The tough decision was choosing which pond to hunt.
How do you decide when the 10 spots you scouted are 100 percent, without a doubt, burn-down, limit shoots?
I never made it to the other end of the ranch, where another dozen ponds were brimming with water and brewing with birds.
Indeed, it is a good time to be a duck hunter on the coastal prairie.
"Most people will never see that in their lifetime," said outfitter Bill Sherrill. "We sometimes take it for granted we have lots of ducks, but it's not like this in many, if any, other places in the country."
It's a testament to sound management and the power of water. Recent rains have allowed hunters across the rice prairies of Matagorda, Wharton and Colorado counties to hold more water than the previous three autumns, providing vital habitat for wintering ducks, geese and sandhill cranes.
"We are seeing more geese every day," Sherrill said. "The sandhill cranes are really strong, but the ducks will burn your eyes out looking at them."
More snow geese showed over the weekend, but the brunt of the population has not shown yet. Lots of white-fronted geese (specklebellies) are hitting limited rice acreage on the prairie.
"There's not much rice out there, so corn fields and wheat fields should carry the best goose hunting," Sherrill said.
Opening weekend on the coastal prairies and marshes was one of the best many hunters can remember. Many holdover blue-winged teal made for a fast-shooting opening day; then, as large wads were split to small flocks, big ducks like pintails and gadwalls had the opportunity to work decoys later in the morning.
"Everyone around here is smiling," said Mike Grigar, owner of Johnny's Sport Shop in Eagle Lake, a long-established waterfowling hub. "Man, it was quick for most around Garwood, Altair, Eagle Lake and El Campo."
Likewise, the marshes and high-ground ponds on the east side enjoyed consistent shoots near Anahuac, Winnie and High Island.
"The hunting is good, and our marshes are in good shape," said Brian Davenport of Fin and Fowl Outfitters.
The prime conditions created by recent rains on the prairies have actually hurt bay hunters.
I hunted a beautiful, secluded backcountry flat in Port O'Connor this week, known for its propensity to produce pintails and wigeons, and never pulled the trigger. As we fired up the airboat to head back to the dock, I never saw a duck during the 30-minute ride.
That doesn't mean Port O'Connor is no longer a duck haven. Reports from the north indicate lots of ducks "hung up" in the Midwest, and prairie hunters reported seeing lots of redheads and scaup on their ponds.
By the time you read this, swarms of ducks could have found the shoalgrass shorelines of Port O, Rockport and the Laguna Madre.
It's not a matter of "if" but "when."
Bink Grimes is a freelance writer, photographer, author and licensed captain (firstname.lastname@example.org).