By Bink Grimes, WF360 Texas Migration Editor
With less than two weeks left in the 74-day Texas duck season, seasoned waterfowlers should expect one thing – wary waterfowl.
January hunting is, well, January hunting. Ponds are fed out, vegetation is brown and dormant, and ducks, dogs and hunters are tired. Successful hunting requires patience, concealment, discrete calling and laborious scouting.
By this time, the ducks know where they want to be, and you better know where that is or risk staring at blank skies.
“Come January we like to rest our ponds as often as possible during the middle of the week,” says guide Ray Sexton of Matagorda Sunrise Lodge. “We have hunted these birds for three months now and their patterns change late in the season.”
Sexton explains that marsh ducks come and go with changing winds, water and weather, and guides must stay on top of their movements to keep clients on steady shoots.
“It’s a whole lot easier in November, that’s for sure,” Sexton says. “Those large flocks of decoying teal and gadwalls turn in to singles and pairs in January. We know we are not going to shoot large groups this time of year, so we pick high traffic areas and hunker down.”
A welcome surprise for the entire coast this season has been the continued presence of blue-winged teal, despite recent abnormally chilly conditions. Traditionally, there are isolated pockets of bluewings in the freshwater marsh throughout the season, but this year trophy, cobalt-headed drakes are showing up on social media posts daily from prairie ponds throughout Matagorda, Wharton, and Colorado counties.
“Lots of bluewings have been on our prairie ponds and several noticeable cinnamon teal are running with them,” says James Russell of El Campo. “At least three hunts this year we have shot a teal grand slam of greenwing, bluewing and cinnamon teal. That’s pretty cool.”
Another welcome anomaly appeared this week on the heels of 30-knot northwest winds. The Texas coast once wintered a healthy concentration of large Canada geese, but changing agricultural practices and weather patterns over the past three decades have not encouraged big honkers to cross the Red River very often. That changed this week near Egypt when guide Scott Clary reported harvesting five Canada geese in the 10- to 12-pound class.
It seems waterfowl movements have changed drastically since New Year’s Day. Many outfitters reported a significant change in patterns from early flights to late-morning movements.
“The birds are moving better after 9:30 to 10 am,” says guide Brian Davenport of Fin and Fowl Outfitters. “It’s been steady on the weekends, but we have definitely had to stay longer.”
Davenport guides on the east side of Houston in the East Galveston Bay marsh near Anahuac and Smith Point. He said marsh hunts have trumped high ground hunts on freshwater ponds north of I-10 for most of the season. The wet winter probably has factored into those results.
“Lots of green-winged teal, pintails and bluewings have shown up lately,” Davenport says. “It’s been a long year with the storm (Hurricane Harvey), and we are glad it’s winding down.”
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.