By Bink Grimes, WF360 Texas Migration Editor
Will Texas ever dry out?
With the South Zone closed for the split and the North Zone nearing its end, December is fast approaching. Three months of precipitation has provided ideal habitat across much of Texas, but it has also taken its toll on waterfowlers.
“I’m just tired of all the mud,” says guide Matt Sbrusch of Prairie Waterfowl in East Bernard/Eagle Lake. “Some of this prairie ground has become rotten from being so wet for so long, and it makes it hard to get around.”
Sbrusch reports that ducks haven’t been a problem; getting to the ducks has been the real challenge.
“It took two 6x6 Rangers to get to one of our ponds loaded with ducks,” Sbrusch says. “We took two buggies to pull each other out when we got stuck, because we knew we would get stuck somewhere.”
Blue-winged teal were the main species on straps for the first two weeks. Then the first cold front arrived and brought with it freezing temperatures, snow, and sleet, an anomaly for November on the Texas coast. The arctic air pushed out most of the bluewings and replaced them with green-winged teal, gadwalls, wigeon, pintails, shovelers, and the first wave of snow geese.
“We made a living on teal for the first two weeks,” says guide Andrew Armour of Karankawa Plains Outfitters on the Pierce Ranch. “Lately, the teal have thinned out and we have been shooting more pintails, gadwalls, and spoonies.”
Armour explains that he has been happy with the number of snow geese, but many second-crop rice fields remain uncut due to all the rain, making it difficult to get big harvest equipment into the field. In addition, the abysmal numbers of juvenile snow geese have made for difficult decoying.
“You better go in on a really hot feeding field and have some wind and weather if you want to shoot snow geese this year,” Armour says.
The colder-than-normal November weather has encouraged diving ducks like scaup, redheads, and buffleheads to find the bayfront sooner. During the first split, bays from Matagorda to Rockport enjoyed large rafts of divers that had been tardy in past years. Pintails and wigeon have also made for profitable bags in the back lakes of Port O’Connor, Seadrift, and Port Aransas.
Marsh hunters on the east side of Houston have seen influxes of green-winged teal, gadwall, and pintails. A wet estuary has balanced brine ponds and encouraged robust growth of aquatic plant species such as widgeon grass. Consistent hunts have been posted near Anahuac, Winnie, Smith Point, High Island, and Sabine Pass.
North Texas hunters have dealt with swollen rivers and flooded bottoms, which is great habitat for ducks but treacherous terrain for hunters. Many shotgunners have resorted to hunting from boats or have moved their blinds to higher ground to avoid deep water. With so much moisture, mallards, gadwalls, and wood ducks are scattered across pastures and sloughs, making scouting of the utmost importance.
“We will go find a good group of mallards, and the next day they will be gone,” says Buddy Hughes of H&W Marine in Marshall. “The birds are moving around with all the water.”
Hughes says that the excess water has allowed shallow-driven and surface-drive boats access to far-reaching haunts. “A lot of the ground that’s holding ducks this year is normally dry,” he explains. “If you want to find ducks you better put the work in scouting.”
The North and South Zones will reopen December 8 and remain open through January 27.
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Bink Grimes is a freelance writer, waterfowler, and licensed captain. A waterfowl guide in his 28th season, Grimes resides in Bay City, Texas. He will provide detailed migration and hunting reports for Waterfowl360 throughout the 2018-2019 Texas waterfowl season.