Southern Flight

Published on Thursday, 28 August 2014 01:24 - Written by Steve Knight, Outdoor Writer

With temperatures still spiking in the mid- to upper-90s this week, it is a little hard to think about being bundled in camouflage, sitting in a blind over a near-frozen pond waiting for the first flight of ducks to glide in.

But with last week’s announcement of duck season dates and limits, it is time.

Thanks to another record-setting population estimate, hunters in Texas and nationwide will be hunting under the most liberal regulations including a 74-day season and six-duck limit.

Waterfowl season actually starts with the Sept. 13 to 28 teal and Canada goose-only season statewide.

The regular duck season in Northeast Texas won’t open until the first split, Nov. 1 to Dec. 7. The second season, usually the better of the two for local hunters, will run Dec. 20 to Jan. 25.

This year’s North American duck breeding count was estimated at 49 million, an increase of 8 percent over last year’s 45.6 million.

Texas hunters may not notice that increase because the ducks most common in their bags stayed pretty much the same. Gadwall, mallards and green-winged teal counts all stayed steady. Only widgeons, which increased about 18 percent above 2013 to 3.1 million, showed a sizeable increase.

The good news is that all those species remain well above the long-term average, the benchmark used for season lengths and bag limits. Gadwalls, the most common duck in Texas hunters’ bags, are up 102 percent. Mallards are up 42 percent and greenwings are 69 percent ahead of long-time numbers.

The only major change for this season is that hunters will be allowed one canvasback daily. Although its numbers are down 13 percent from 2013, the estimated 685,000 birds in this year’s breeding count is still 18 percent above the long-term average.

Despite all the good news, there is no guarantee that those birds will be stopping in Northeast Texas. In spite of all of the water, the region can be hit and miss for migrating waterfowl.

“Our ducks don’t have the luxury of flying out to a corn or rice field to feed on abundant waist grain like many parts of the Central and Mississippi Flyways,” said Kevin Kraai, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s waterfowl program leader. “Our birds have to make a living in the waters in which they swim. So, we are truly benefited by good wetland management to grow important foods along with a few timely rain events throughout the winter to not only fill ponds, lakes and wetlands, but flood our bottomlands.”

That is why Kraai’s top three requirements for a good season in Northeast Texas are rain, rain and rain.

“Over bank flood events in our hardwood bottoms instantly exposes tons of foods not otherwise available to the ducks and thus attracts birds from often hundreds of miles away to take advantage of the new resource,” he said. “I often hear folks cursing the rain or a flood event claiming it only spreads out the birds, but the reality is those are the events that bring the birds to the area and by far is the most important factor of a good overall duck season for North and East Texas.”

Evidence of the need for water is that between 2007 and 2013, biologists estimated a 63 percent decline in the number of mallards coming into the state. That drop is directly related to drought conditions.

Kraai said three other things that would help increase duck numbers and improve hunting begins with more cold fronts in November and December.

Additionally, he said it would be helpful if wintry cold and snow would come earlier across the middle portion of the country to push more ducks south.

Finally, he said it would not hurt if Arkansas and Missouri were drier than normal. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be the case with the exception of parts of southern Missouri.

Here is a list of the 2014-15 regular waterfowl seasons.

Ducks

High Plains Mallard Management Unit: Youth: Oct. 18-19; Regular: Oct. 25-26 and Oct. 31-Jan. 25; Dusky duck: Nov. 3-Jan. 25.

South Zone: Youth: Oct. 25-26; Regular: Nov. 1-30 and Dec. 13-Jan. 25; Dusky duck: Nov. 6-30 and Dec. 13-Jan. 25.

North Zone: Youth: Oct. 25-26; Regular: Nov. 1-Dec. 7 and Dec. 20-Jan. 25; Dusky duck: Nov. 6-Dec. 7 and Dec. 20-Jan. 25.

Bag Limit: 6 per day in the aggregate to include no more than 3 wood ducks, 3 scaup, 5 mallards, of which only 2 may be hens, 2 redheads, 2 pintail, 1 canvasback, 1 Dusky duck (mottled, black or Mexican-like) after the first 5 days. Mergansers: 5 per day with no more than 2 hooded merganser.

Geese

East Zone: Light geese Nov. 1-Jan. 25, Canada geese Nov. 1-Jan. 25; White-fronted geese Nov. 1-Jan. 11; Light Geese Conservation Order Jan. 26-March 22. Bag Limit: 3 Canada geese, 2 white-fronted geese, 20 light geese (no possession limit).

West Zone: Light geese Nov. 1-Feb. 1; Dark geese Nov. 1-Feb. 1; Light Geese Conservation Order Feb. 2-March 22.

Bag Limit: 5 dark geese with no more than one white-fronted goose, 20 light geese (no possession limit)

Sandhill Crane

Zone A: Nov. 1-Feb. 1. Bag limit: 3. Zone B: Nov. 21-Feb. 1. Bag limit: 3. Zone C: Dec. 20-Jan. 25. Bag limit: 2.

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