Duck and deer seasons open this weekend

Robert Sloan

The cold front that moved through Southeast Texas last weekend was a game changer that will set up some excellent deer hunting for the opener Nov. 4. Plus, it definitely moved a lot of ducks down the Central Flyway and into the coastal marshes and backwater lakes for the South Zone opener this weekend. And don’t forget about the fishing. The topwater bite on Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend is going strong, and along the coast, black drum and bull reds are on a big run.

Bessie Heights Marsh is best known for holding lots of slot reds, but you never know what’s going to be biting. That was the case for Faith Vaughan while she was there fishing with her dad, Kenny, last weekend. They were in the marsh so Kenny could teach Faith how to run their airboat. While on the water, they made one stop to fish. Kenny caught a small crab that they used for bait. That one crab got the attention of a huge black drum that was probably a state record but was released. The state record weighed 81 pounds and was just over 51 inches long. Faith is 66 inches tall. Based on the size of the fish and her, it was right on the mark as a state record. It took her 25 minutes to get the huge catch to the boat.

Deer season opens this weekend

The gun season on deer opens Saturday, Nov. 4, and runs through Jan. 7, 2018, in North Texas, and Jan. 21, 2018, in South Texas.

Deer in Texas have fared well in recent years with a stable population of about 4.3 million, according to Alan Cain, TPWD whitetail deer program leader.

“The majority of the state had good habitat conditions going into last winter and early spring, which helped bucks recover from the rigors of the rut, and gave them a good foundation to start the antler growth cycle this year,” he said.

However, unlike the previous two years where widespread consistent rain and good habitat conditions persisted through the summer for much of the state, 2017 saw dry weather patterns take hold in May and continue into late August. These drier conditions late in the season will likely have some impact on final stages of antler development, body weights, and possibly fawn production, Cain explained. But hunters should still expect a good season.

Although rainfall was more consistent in the eastern portion of the state, keeping the habitat in good shape, it was still drier than last year, with the exception of Southeast Texas where a deluge of rain from Hurricane Harvey left many river and creek bottom habitats flooded for a short time in late August.

“Some adult deer and fawn mortalities were possible due to flooding, but with water receding relatively quickly, the vegetation in the bottomland habitat will be able to recover quickly,” said Cain.

Overall, Cain predicts Hurricane Harvey will not have a significant impact on the deer populations in southeast Texas, but hunting conditions may be a little tougher with the vegetation growth.

Duck season is looking to be pretty good

The duck hunting season in the South Zone runs Nov. 4-26 and resumes Dec. 9 through Jan. 20, 2018. Duck hunting in the North Zone runs Nov. 11-26 and resumes Dec. 2 through Jan. 28, 2018.

“Currently we are looking pretty good,” says Kevin Kraai, TPWD waterfowl program coordinator. “Good rainfall late this summer has Eastern Texas in better than average condition.”

Goose hunting also kicks off Nov. 4 statewide and runs through Jan. 28, 2018 in the East Zone and Feb. 4, 2018 in the West Zone.

With the Texas gulf coast serving as a winter home to 25 percent of the Central Flyway waterfowl population, habitat conditions in the wake of Hurricane Harvey were an obvious concern for waterfowl biologists.

“The Texas coast endured some extreme weather recently and we surprisingly saw decent early teal hunting in many places this past month,” Kraai noted. “Habitat conditions are in fair to very good shape across much of the coast just a few weeks after the storm. Recovery of these habitats has been more rapid than many of us envisioned. Waterfowl foods are abundant and improving by the day.”

Wintering waterfowl supplement their diet on second growth rice crops on the coastal prairies and fortunately, much of this year’s rice crop was harvested just before the storm. It, too, is recovering and starting its second growth, which will be very beneficial to wintering ducks and geese.