It was by this year’s standard a cold morning.
This has been another odd year for duck hunting. An Indian summer that stretched almost to the beginning of winter throughout the central portion of the country has kept ducks from migrating. A report by Ducks Unlimited last week indicated at least 750,000 mallards were still in South Dakota. But while a significant number, that is only about 4 percent of the population, and they were put on the move by a cold front dumping up to 20 inches of snow in the state.
As much as warm weather has kept the ducks north, a drought in northeast Texas may be having a bigger impact on this ranch that has hundreds of acres of waterfowl habitat just waiting for water. It hasn’t come. The pastures are eerily brown, the wetlands are dry.
We drove by the marsh late afternoon and no one had to say anything as one wave of mallards after another flew up from under the millet. No doubt that would be the hole to hunt the next morning. And let’s face it, even though greenheads rank fourth in Texas hunter’s bag, they are the trophy when it comes to duck hunting. Experienced hunters will forgo early shooting to make sure they can pick the greenheads out of the flock, leaving the hens to nest another day.
A good mallard hole on private property is kept as a guarded secret. Pictures of a morning’s limit of mallards might include the county location, but little more.
My son, Thomas, and I made it to the marsh well before sunlight. The frost covering the ground was in stark contrast to the way it had looked just hours earlier. The crack of ice, even thin ice, was a big surprise.
After tossing out three dozen decoys we hunkered down next to a tree that was close to where the ducks had been the day before.
At sunrise bigger ducks started flying in. There were some mallards, but also gadwalls. Thomas did his best calling, and brought a number of them down and within range, but it was like we were shooting blanks. The 3-inch, No. 4 steel shot should have been enough at the distances we were shooting, but as my father would say, the feathers flew and the birds went with them. It was frustrating.
Thomas dropped a greenhead and off Sadie, my 8-month-old Lab, and I went. She grabbed the bird once, but not accustomed to anything that big and alive, she let go just long enough for it to escape, dive and grab a root. The puppy bobbed for the duck like someone going for apples at a fall festival, but couldn’t come up with it.
With more birds coming in, I called her off and we returned to the hunt. By this time the icy water and sub-freezing temperature transformed her black coat to a white one, but she didn’t mind.
It was soon clear that the birds that were in the bottom the night before weren’t coming back that morning. We ended up with a trio of mallards, a few gadwalls and a teal.
It was the same story the next morning, an even colder morning with thicker ice to break, when we shifted to the second unit. There had been birds in the unit feeding during the night, a sign of ducks that had recently arrived and were just stopping for a bite before flying on.
But at least the mallards are showing up, which on a cold morning is something positive to consider.
Have a comment or opinion on this story? Contact outdoor writer Steve Knight by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Steve Knight on Facebook at TylerPaper Outdoors and on Twitter @tyleroutdoor.