YANTIS —The set-up was more reminiscent of an afternoon tank hunt for dove, but with the morning sky still dark the first ducks, all divers, dropped on to the water.
“We can take some of the divers or wait for the big ducks. But if you don’t take a few divers then the mallards won’t come in,” he said somewhat jokingly, thinking of all the times he has seen hunters pass up sure-shots while waiting for others that never arrived. It is the waterfowl version of a bird in the hand being worth two in the bush.
Unfortunately, it was still eight minutes before legal shooting time and all we could do was sit and watch as the first six birds eventually flew off unscathed.
The pond, one the guide first found while driving back and forth to high school years ago, was plan B. It was called into play when weather conditions switched from soupy skies and a stiff breeze, to high blue skies and zero wind. It was, however, cold — lower 20s and with the frost sticking to the waist-high goatweed and trees in the pasture; it looked and felt cold.
“It is a good thing we came here,” Cerretani said. “The other pasture would have been frozen. It had been empty and caught some water last week, but it is only skinny water and grass. It would have been frozen and the ducks look at frozen water funny.”
With 27 ponds in Hopkins, Wood and Rains counties, not to mention Lake Fork, Cooper and Tawakoni in a pinch, Cerretani has options for this first year of business. The ponds range in size from little more than runoff pits to 20 acres-plus, and in a year that has been as inconsistent as this the variety has come in handy. While not every hunt has resulted in limits, the vast majority have produced good mixed-bag shoots.
“I probably have five ponds on any day that are holding a lot of ducks. Some may have a few ducks, but there are always about five that are really good,” he said, adding that he has racked up the miles scouting this season to find the right ones.
And the hunting should only get better in the coming weeks. Ducks are starting to pair up, and are leaving the big waters for more solitude on smaller ponds and backwater sloughs.
While not being called disappointing yet, this has been an unusual season for duck hunters. Record counts in the summer combined with drought conditions in Central Flyway states to the north, Texas hunters were anticipating a huge year. Some haven’t been disappointed, but they are more the exception.
“It has been a tough year more so than I have ever heard before,” said Kevin Kraai, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s waterfowl program leader. “This flies in the face of what we were expecting in light of the drought and hatch. I am hearing good things in one place and terrible in another.”
Kraai said not only are the hunters confused by the lack of birds, but so are the biologists. Talking to his peers in Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, he said all are reporting down years.
“Arkansas said they had the lowest (mid-winter flight) surveys they have ever had,” Kraai noted.
He said Texas biologists are in the midst of their winter surveys, and while calculations are going to be weeks away he said what he expects they will find will be a few ducks on every pond, but no real concentrations anywhere.
The biologist agreed that healthy pairs are separating from the flock and looking for more isolated areas until it is time to return north.
Kraai said without rain the season could end like it has been going. With cold weather and rain hunters could have a big finish.
Despite Cerretani’s warning about letting the divers escape, the small tank hunt turned out good producing a three-man total of 15 mallards, widgeons, bluebills and scaup in just about an hour. A diver-only shoot might have produced a trio of limits before official sunrise.
For more information on duck hunts through Hidden Lakes call (888) 486-8897 or online at www.hiddenlakeshuntingresort.com.
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