Unlike a year ago, when duck season opens Saturday in the North and South zones, hunters on big lakes should be able to maneuver to their favorite holes. Hunters in the wetlands and backwaters should have water to attract birds as well.
The only question remaining: Will the birds show up?
“The ducks did their part and produced the largest breeding population we have recorded, so there will be plenty of birds to go around this fall,” said Kevin Kraai, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s waterfowl program leader.
Mother Nature has also cooperated, bringing timely rains that have resulted in some of the best habitat conditions in years leading into the season across much of the state.
“Central and eastern Texas are much improved and have the foods needed to support good concentrations of wintering ducks, but good timely rains, to insure those water levels reach or stay in the plant growth that occurred this summer, are still necessary,” Kraai noted.
The biologist also noted conditions are much improved along the Texas Gulf Coast, but added there is also a hole in the habitat caused by the loss of about 50,000 acres of rice farming.
“Our conservation planning efforts, through the Gulf Coast Joint Venture, tells us prior to the drought and subsequent water restrictions we were already short of our habitat and rice acre goals to support our slice of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan’s goals. It is possible that the improved conditions could simply offset the rice acres lost and we will see no significant population changes from what we observed during last year’s drought,” Kraai said.
Many of the geese have shifted their winter grounds in recent years, primarily into Louisiana and Arkansas. Arkansas reportedly wintered an estimated 1.5 million snow geese last winter.
East Texas has also benefited from the habitat loss on the coast, wintering about 30,000 geese on wheat primarily north of I-30 last year.
Where East Texas duck hunters could benefit this winter is from dry conditions in western Texas and extreme drought throughout the Midwest.
“The one interesting thing we are keeping our eye on is the drought in the Midwest,” Kraai said. “If this drought persists we could see an increase of birds over flying that region and heading straight to Texas. There was some strong evidence of this observed during this past teal season. I just hope we have enough resources to keep them here this winter.”
In good years, about 75 percent of all ducks coming down the Central Flyway end up in Texas. The question is always where and for how long?
While most hunters are on the lookout for greenhead mallards, the reality is that they kill 2 ½ times more gadwalls. Texas hunters also take more green-winged and blue-winged teal, and nearly as many shovelers and wigeons as they do mallards.
The season in the North and South zones is open through Nov. 25 and again from Dec. 8-Jan. 27.