By Bink Grimes, WF360 Texas Migration Editor
Many waterfowlers hoping for rain got more than they bargained for on the first weekend in December in parts of Texas. As much as six inches of precipitation caused flooding that scattered ducks across the Gulf Coast and coastal prairies.
"We had just topped all our ponds off to get through the last six weeks of the season. Then we got all the rain, and now every pond is over its banks," says guide Andrew Armour of Karankawa Plains Outfitters in Pierce.
The rainfall certainly distributed birds over a larger area, making conditions more difficult for hunters on the December 10 opener of the second segment of duck season in the South Zone. The new water should, however, pay dividends later in the season. "We needed the rain," says Mike Grigar, owner of Johnny's Sport Shop in Eagle Lake. "It could be a lot worse; we could still be in a drought."
While runoff from rains is beginning to subside in fields and shallow flats, ducks are finding favorable conditions on freshwater ponds and marshes on the coastal prairies. Waterfowlers reported good hunting for the opener, but said conditions soon changed. A full moon combined with a cold front and brisk northerly winds seemed to push the birds all the way to the coast.
"We shot limits over the weekend, but something changed," says Harlan Boettcher of Prairie Waterfowl in Eagle Lake/East Bernard. "Sometimes all that north wind blows the birds to the coast, then they show right back up on the next south wind."
Indeed, south winds returned midweek and birds began to trickle back to the prairie. Hunters reported taking mixed bags of gadwalls, pintails, green-winged teal, and shovelers.
Bay hunters also enjoyed steady hunting around Port O'Connor and Rockport and seemed to see an influx of birds. Flights of redheads and other diving ducks finally showed up on shoalgrass flats and helped fill bags together with an assortment of puddle ducks.
Hunters in the North Zone have faced more challenging conditions, with abnormally mild temperatures in November and most of December. Last week's rain did fill sloughs and float acorns, giving mallards, gadwalls, wood ducks, and other species more available habitat, but for the most part the hunting has been average at best.
"Many reservoirs are holding decent numbers of birds," says Jared Laing, a biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. "More water has certainly helped the landscape and encouraged more birds to stay."
While many hunters reported fewer ducks along the coast, the north wind and moon seemed to bring an influx of geese. "We are holding more geese than we have in the last two to three years," Armour says. "Specks have been easy over decoys and snows are on and off."
Sandhill crane season opens December 17 along the coast in Zone C, and prospects are very good near Wharton, Eagle Lake, and Lissie. Many of these birds are feeding in flooded rice and other farm fields. The bag limit is 2.
Duck season in both the North and South zones runs through January 29.
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 2016–2017 Texas waterfowl season.