Migration Alert: Hit-or-Miss Waterfowl Hunting Across South Texas

Jan. 6, 2023 – Central Flyway – Texas

© Michael Furtman

With fewer than 30 days left in the 2022-23 Texas duck season, hunters hope the upcoming full moon will be more encouraging to migrating Lone Star ducks than the most recent full moon was.

The 74-day season is always a roller coaster ride filled with weather swings and duck population swings. The prior full moon coincided with the second split opener, leaving many hunters scratching their heads before the first shotgun shell was shucked.

“We gained a world of birds during the split,” said Ray Sexton, a waterfowling guide in the Palacios area. “Our marshes looked better than they had during the entire month of November. Then the birds just left before we had a chance to hunt them.”

Indeed, that has been the report across the prairies and marshes for most of December and into the New Year. What had been a stellar first split along the coastal prairies turned to a lackluster affair for the past month. “Maybe during this full moon we’ll gain ducks instead of losing ducks,” Sexton said.

Except for some frigid temperatures around the holidays, a mild winter hasn’t helped the situation. Many waterfowlers have said they can’t remember using so much insect repellent during duck season. Texas hunters hoped for a significant influx of birds as the state thawed out from the Christmas freeze. Some saw an increase in numbers, but most did not. “We lost everything we had,” said guide Gary Gray of Port O’Connor. “It has been tough to find a good concentration of ducks on our bays.”

Bay hunters from Rockport to Baffin Bay to Port Mansfield have enjoyed the best results for pintails, wigeon, redheads, and scaup. The larger redhead rafts have been concentrated from Corpus Christi south to the Lower Laguna Madre since November. “There are clouds of ducks in Baffin,” said Mike Bricker, a Port O’Connor native who maintains bay blinds and navigates by airboat. “For some reason Port O’Connor has not had many birds this year, but you can head south and find them all.”

Marsh hunters have endured hit-or-miss shooting for much of the season. Many were cautiously optimistic when the season began, knowing a year’s worth of drought and a hypersaline environment could affect what normally is a vibrant marsh. Aquatic plants like wigeon grass, which need a balance of brine and freshwater to thrive, did not prosper this summer. When Texas finally received copious amounts of rain in November, it was too late to grow the coveted duck food. “We have been having good hunts but just having to work harder to do it,” said Sexton. “Our marsh was burned up from the drought, so we have been gentler with the hunting pressure and allowed for more rest days.”

Recent southerly winds and mild temperatures have produced foggy days along the rice prairies, where goose hunters have capitalized. The past decade has seen snow goose hunting opportunities shrink due to water issues and a reduction in rice production. However, a few huntable concentrations of geese remain in Wharton and Colorado counties, and those hunters who go out on “weather days” have had some good shoots.