By Bink Grimes, WF360 Texas Migration Editor
Soaking rains and unseasonably cold autumn temperatures have been tough on the extremities, but you'll hear no complaints from Texas waterfowlers. 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," says Mike Grigar of Johnny's Sport Shop in Eagle Lake. "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 solid numbers of pintails, gadwalls, wigeon, green-winged teal, northern shovelers and diving ducks like ringed-necked ducks, 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," says 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."
You won't hear too many other Texans in general complaining about the rain as the Lone Star State has been in a severe drought for more than five years. But all that water in 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 bag limits of ducks. While the diver population has improved since the last cold front, puddle ducks remain in short supply.
In contrast, marsh hunters on the east side of Houston have reported consistent success on ducks as well as specklebellies and snow geese on windy days. All that "sweet" water that fell in late October and November has freshened the marsh and sparked the growth of moist-soil plants and submerged aquatic vegetation that is vital in sustaining a healthy winter duck population.
"It has been really good over here," says Brian Davenport of Fin and Fowl Outfitters near Anahuac and High Island. "Our marshes are in great shape."
Davenport says stiff north winds early in the week provided ideal conditions for combo shoots on low-flying snow geese and specklebellies trading 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 the birds has been a challenge as heavy rains have made a quagmire of corn and milo fields.
"We have a world of geese," Sherrill says. "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 ends at sunset on December 1. The second split runs December 14-January 26. Goose season remains open through January 26.
Bink Grimes is a freelance writer, author, waterfowler and licensed captain. A waterfowl guide in his 24th campaign, Grimes resides in Bay City, Texas. He will provide detailed migration and hunting reports for waterfowl360.com throughout the 2013-2014 season for Texas waterfowlers.