Migration Alert: Warm Weather, Strong Duck Numbers for South Texas Opener

Nov. 3, 2017 – Central Flyway – Texas

Photo © Chris Jennings

By Bink Grimes, WF360 Texas Migration Editor

It doesn’t feel like duck season.

Afternoon highs in the mid- to upper 80s for the past 10 days has prompted many Texans to break out the flip flops and sunscreen. But don’t tell that to the ducks. They are here in numbers, and have been for most of October. Back-to-back cold fronts pushed through the region in mid-October, bringing impressive numbers of ducks, geese, and sandhill cranes. Weather aside, it should be a solid opener on Nov. 4 in the South Zone.

“Everybody I talk to on the prairie says they are loaded with ducks,” says Mike Grigar, owner of Johnny’s Sport Shop in Eagle Lake. “There are lots of geese here, too, especially with the weather being so warm. Lots and lots of specklebellies and pretty good numbers of snows have showed up.”

While it may be unseasonably warm, the bright moon has sparked a movement of migrating waterfowl throughout Texas.

“We had a big migration last week on the back side of the cold front,” says guide Andrew Armour of Karankawa Prairie Outfitters in the Pierce/Wharton area. “We started with a few hundred sandhill cranes and by the day’s end there were thousands in all of our fields.”

Armour says that his high-ground ponds on the rice prairie are loaded with blue-winged teal, gadwalls, and pintails.

“It might be a teal hunt come opening day,” Armour says. “There are so many teal, we might limit out long before the big ducks get moving.”

Several outfitters on the coastal prairie of Matagorda, Colorado, Wharton and Jackson counties have noted impressive numbers of white-fronted geese (specklebellies) in cut rice fields. Many rice farmers began the second-crop rice harvest last week, and the geese are falling in right behind the combines.

“Specklebellies love fresh-cut rice,” Armour says. “There are going to be some good goose hunts this weekend.”

Harlan Boettcher of Prairie Waterfowl in the East Bernard/Eagle Lake area has also seen fields filled with jaw-dropping numbers of specklebellies and lots of ducks.

“We have about 15,000 specklebellies in one field,” Boettcher says. “We are going to combo hunt the specks and ducks in a wet rice field.”

The majority of the prairie received about two inches of rain this week as a warm front stalled near the coast, pulling moisture up from the Gulf of Mexico.

“We needed the rain to recharge ponds and knock the dust off the roads,” Boettcher says. “The ducks got thick in the rice when we got the rain.”

Though the bulk of the snow goose population has yet to arrive, there are now scattered concentrations of the birds mixed with dark geese on the prairie. The good news is that the ratio of juvenile snow geese to adults appears to be high. 

“I saw the most young snows that I have ever seen when we were in Canada,” says Boettcher, who also guides in Saskatchewan during September and October. “Gray birds decoy much better than white birds.”

Waterfowl numbers in the coastal marshes are also looking strong, according to guide Brian Davenport of Fin and Fowl Outfitters.

“Lots of birds showed up on the last two cold fronts,” Davenport says. “Hurricane Harvey gave the marshes a good flushing and habitat conditions look fantastic.”

Davenport adds that good numbers of blue-winged teal, pintails, gadwalls and specklebellies are using the marshes.

“There are just a lot of ducks and lots of specks,” he says. “Farmers are just now beginning to cut second-crop rice, so it should get even better.”

The South Zone duck season runs Nov. 4−26 and Dec. 9−Jan. 28, 2018. The North Zone runs Nov. 11−26 and Dec. 2−Jan. 28, 2018.

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.