The season is back on for Texas’ North Zone duck hunters Saturday and expectations are high.
The question is, however, will duck season be like the Dallas Cowboys and flop in the second half.
Jared Laing, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department waterfowl biologist, isn’t looking for any letdown to a season that started pretty good for a lot of hunters.
“I am expecting an eight to 10 (with 10 being excellent). They have had a lot of cold weather up north and we have water in places we haven’t had in years. Every week we are adding more rain, and that means there is more food with water on it,” Laing said.
Laing said the early season was as good as an eight for some hunters.
Not surprisingly it was nearly a bust for others. That isn’t unusual because of the warm weather that persists throughout the Central Flyway in November resulting in inconsistent results.
“We had mostly gadwalls and greenwings. We even had some bluewings early, which is really unusual. They are normally on the coast by the time the season opens,” Laing said.
He added there were also a good number of mallards around, but from the reports he has received those numbers have been building during the two week split.
Laing said low water in a lot of locations was also to blame for poor hunts early. Too much water that had ducks scattered may have impacted hunting late, but overall that should become a good thing.
“Water for ducks is a good thing,” he said.
The problem is that the rain doesn’t always fall equitably. This fall Anderson County caught about 10 inches in a day or two. Far Northeast Texas hasn’t had that much altogether, and rain in one place can attract ducks from another.
“Absolutely. They will go east and west and north and south. They have radio-tracked a mallard that was in Louisiana in November and they got 12 inches of rain in Missouri and it went there. We don’t have a clue how it knew (it is raining) and spent the energy to go there. Pressure and food is what usually moves them,” Laing said.
He said within East Texas it isn’t uncommon for ducks to bounce around from the Trinity River to the Sulphur, back to the Trinity then maybe to the Red.
“A guy that sees greenwings on a pond all the time may think they are the same greenwings, but they are not. It is just more greenwings moving in,” Laing said.
The key to the second season is always cold weather in the northern states within the flyway. Laing said all bird species have a certain threshold for cold and then they have to move south where it takes less energy to keep their bodies warm.
Because of a change in conditions from the last two years, Texas hunters need that cold to dip even farther south.
“The problem is that the last two years Kansas and Oklahoma were bone dry. This year they are really wet. We need more cold to come farther south,” Laing said.
And the cold needs to linger because at the slightest warming trend the ducks will shift northward.
Another key for keeping the ducks once they get to Texas is the availability of food.
Laing said there are spots on area lakes that hunters can’t get to because of water levels that are full of the vegetation that ducks eat. Areas flooded by fall and winter rains are producing more feeding areas.
Unfortunately that same scenario can spread ducks out more than usual, impacting hunting for some.
Hunter success is going to require scouting at hunting times and without running through an area and scaring off the birds. It is also going to depend on being prepared for variables.
Laing said he will still carry large numbers of decoys onto big lakes during the late season because that will most likely mean hunting juvenile birds that haven’t started pairing activity.
“We may not hunt fewer decoys, but we may spread them out more,” he explained. However, if the ducks like a spread one day and not the next, he said he may use less decoys or maybe remove all of them to see if that makes a difference.
Hunting off the big waters he said hunters may run into ducks that are already starting to pair and less decoys might be called for since they don’t like company, especially another drake that could steal the hen.
Laing said pairing activity can start anytime in December and will just build as the season progresses.
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