Story at a Glance
Towns covered in this feature:
- Eagle Lake/Katy, Texas
- Waupun, Wisconsin
- Olive Branch, Illinois
- Chestertown/Easton, Maryland
- The Rest
by Gary Koehler
The skies over these varied outposts have long been flecked with ribbons of Canadas, snows, or specks. Hunters followed the flights, like magnets. Times have changed, and so have migration patterns in some cases, but these and similar scattered venues have become a part of America's waterfowling heritage
Eagle Lake/Katy, Texas
Perhaps because of the prevailing geography, Texans are inclined to think big. Take rag goose decoys, for example. Elsewhere, a bundle of white T-shirts, pillowcases, or diapers may have been deemed sufficient to initiate this popular waterfowling deception. Not so in the Lone Star State.
Nope, when Marvin Tyler, a restaurant owner, plotted strategy with a friend, they decided tablecloths would be a better choice, if only because they were larger, and a ready supply was at hand. Or so the story goes—a tale that has become a part of Texas goose hunting folklore. Enormous spreads of white rag snow goose decoys, in varied forms, remain part of the seasonal landscape. This is goose country, after all.
Check out the tall sign greeting visitors entering Eagle Lake. Large letters spell out "Goose Capital of the World." This may not be an idle boast. During any given year this region will winter more than one million snow geese, in excess of a half-million white-fronted geese, and 300,000 to 400,000 lesser Canada geese. Ducks are conspicuous, too.
The birds come here to feast, rest, and soak up the Texas sun in the rice stubble. Capt. William Dunovant has been credited with first cultivating rice here in 1896 via an irrigation system linked to Eagle Lake, a 1,400-acre body of water adjacent to the town. Convict laborers from a local prison farm were recruited to build levees and harvest the initial crop. More than 60 years later, commercial goose hunting began to take hold, with Jimmy Reel, Tyler, and a handful of others generally recognized as the pioneers.
"There was a whole generation here before we started," says waterfowl hunting guide Kim Martin, who's been in the game for the past 21 years. "I think it's probably a lot bigger now than anyone ever thought it would get."
"Back then," Martin adds, "outfitters didn't have to pay to lease land like they do now. There weren't as many people in the business and, if you knew some farmers, you always had a place to go. That's all changed."
Exactly how big this business is now is conjecture, but about 100,000 hunting licenses are sold in Texas each year. In addition to the natives, let's not forgot the thousands from across the country who travel to Colorado County and surrounding areas—many in search of geese.
It may not seem fair to single out Eagle Lake and Katy as the goose towns. Like most of the municipalities featured in this report, they are but focal points, these two being situated southwest of Houston in the vast rice prairie region. Neighboring Garwood, Altair, Wharton, East Bernard, Hockley, Brookshire, Lissie, and others have all had their share of memorable days, too.
There is, however, something vaguely alluring about Eagle Lake, population 3,500-and-change. One factor is the Prairie Edge Museum on Main Street, but, more so, there is the Farris Hotel at the corner of Post Office Street and McCarty Avenue.