Migration Alert: Precipitation Improves Habitat and Hunting along Texas Coast

Dec. 13, 2017 – Central Flyway – Texas

Photo © Michael Furtman

By Bink Grimes, WF360 Texas Migration Editor 

It’s beginning to look a lot like winter along the Texas coast. Last week, the region received the first significant snowfall since 2004. The cold front that deposited all that white precipitation also brought new migrants to the coastal prairies, marshes, and bays—just in time for the second split opener. 

“Man, hunting has been good,” says Mike Grigar, owner of Johnny’s Sport Shop in Eagle Lake, a longtime waterfowling hub. “When I sell a lot of shells after morning hunts, I know there are lots of ducks being harvested.” 

The snow, coupled with as much as five inches of rain one week ago, recharged parched ponds, improving habitats that sustain ducks, geese and sandhill cranes through the long coastal winter. 

“Even if it doesn’t rain again, the ducks should be in good shape through the winter,” reports guide Ray Sexton. “We know that we will probably get more rain during the season; that’s just what normally happens in Texas.” 

What has so many hunters and outfitters excited this season is the abundance of green-winged teal along the coast. For almost a decade, greenwings have been noticeably absent during the first two months of duck season only to arrive in January a few weeks before the season closes. 

“It really helps outfitters when the teal are here as thick as they are now,” explains guide Harlan Boettcher of Prairie Waterfowl in Eagle Lake/East Bernard. “We try really hard not to overhunt our properties. Those teal allow us to get in and get out of a pond early so the ducks can come back and get comfortable before the next hunt.” 

In contrast, gadwall numbers have been disappointing so far this season along the coast. 

“We are not going to complain because we have been shooting plenty of ducks, but we are all wondering where the gadwalls are?” says Ross Russell of El Campo. “Normally gray ducks make up about one-third to one-half of our bag this time of year.” 

Light goose hunting continues to be productive, with an abundance of young gray birds decoying well to white spreads. 

“The first 30 days of goose season were as good as I have seen in years,” says guide Scott Clary. “Even on calm, bluebird days we are shooting 20 to 30 birds, and when we get some wind, the geese have really decoyed well.” 

Sandhill crane season in Zone C opens Dec.16, and prospects look excellent as crane numbers are impressive around Wharton, El Campo, Eagle Lake and East Bernard. Most of the cranes have been gathering on harvested rice fields, but with recent rains softening the ground, the birds have begun to use plowed fallow fields in search of forbs and invertebrates.

Bink Grimes is a freelance writer, waterfowler, and licensed captain. A waterfowl guide in his 27th season, Grimes resides in Bay City, Texas. He will provide detailed migration and hunting reports for Waterfowl360 throughout the 2017–2018 Texas waterfowl season.