Wary ducks make for harder hunting
What began as a solid first split of duck season in the South Zone has turned into a lackluster second half of the season.
It has been perplexing for many veteran waterfowlers and outfitters since the coastal prairies and marshes are full of ducks.
"It has just been a weird year," said guide Matt Sbrusch. "The days you really think you are going to have a good shoot, the birds don't move, then the marginal ponds have good shoots."
Sbrusch said roost ponds are holding impressive numbers of pintails, green-winged teal, gadwalls, shovelers and wigeons, but getting the birds to fly has been a different story.
"The second split opened on the brightest moon I can ever remember," he said. "I mean, I can't remember the sky being so bright at night for so long, and it hurt our hunting."
Sbrusch said bird movement has gotten better daily on the backside of the bright moon, but recent calm, blue-bird days have been a factor lately.
"The tide is going to turn," said Sbrusch. "It could be worse - our ponds could be without ducks, but that's not the case."
Marsh hunters have had to hunt hard and later in the morning for respectable bags. Typically, as the season progresses into late December, marsh shoots slow because of aquatics being gobbled up by puddle ducks.
"We need the weather to have solid shoots," said guide Brian Davenport. "It has been clear, cold and calm, and that is a recipe for slow shoots in the marsh. However, we should get some new ducks with the coming cold front."
Hunters along the bays and coastal flats have seen an influx of redheads, pintails and scaup, but overall, the season has been fair at best. The good news for bay hunters around Matagorda, Rockport and Port O'Connor is those coastal prairie ponds brimming full of water in November are now barely holding water because of lack of winter rains. This transcends to better hunting on the bays as birds relocate to brackish marshes and salt flats.
Snow goose hunting has changed gears for the better. What had been a fickle flock of wary, noncommittal birds drifting from field to field without a feeding pattern has now found its classic late-season field of green. Rye grass, wheat and plowed ground with green winter sprouts are holding geese and ganders all over the prairie, and hunters are happy about it.
"The birds have been decoying well," said guide Harlan Boettcher. "We have been having good hunts in pastures with green growth and those over-seeded with rye grass for cattle."
Sbrusch echoed those sentiments, saying geese had not "acted right" for most of December.
"We have been waiting for the geese to finally flip a switch and hit the green," said Sbrusch. "When they do that, the hunting gets real good as long as you have some wind to make them work. The birds kind of lose a little of their wariness."
Here's hoping the ducks lose a little of their late-season wariness, too.
Bink Grimes is a freelance writer, photographer, author and licensed captain (email@example.com).