First duck season split was much better than expected

First duck season split was much better than expected

I don’t know if it’s possible to have a better duck season than what we have experienced so far. The first split came to a close on Nov. 27, and based on what I’ve seen and heard, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was dead on when they advised duck hunters to get set for a better than average season. The second half will run from Dec. 10 through Jan. 29 in both the north and south zones.

Beaumont hunter Jerry Allen said his flooded field near China has produced good numbers of ducks, along with the occasional specklebelly goose.

“We didn’t slam them every day, but we managed to get full or near limits on most hunts,” said Allen. “We had a mix of birds with lots of pintails, gadwall, teal, wigeon and spoonies.”

I made a couple of hunts with Allen and can say for sure that the fresh water he’s hunting on is a magnet for ducks. That’s pretty much the case for all duck hunters in Southeast Texas. If you’ve got fresh water, the ducks will eventually find it.

Hunts on the wildlife management areas have been good. Beaumont’s Steve Stanley reports that he and a couple of buddies had a great hunt on the J.D. Murphree WMA in Port Arthur. A lot of the birds being shot there are gadwall, pintails and teal.

Beaumont’s Kirby Richard says he made a hunt on the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge on the last day of the split and got limits that included mallards, gadwall, teal, pintails and one drake canvasback that was eaten by a keen-eyed hawk before they could make the retrieve.

Jimmy Trahan, who’s guiding out of Gene Campbell’s Oyster Bayou Hunting Club near Anahuac, says the first split was just about as good as it gets.

“We shot a big variety of ducks, but the bread-and-butter birds were teal, gadwall and pintails,” said Trahan. “We hunted one to eight blinds every day and had good shoots straight through.”

Trahan says the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge is holding lots of geese.

Rocky Chase reports that he and a couple of friends put down easy limits at the Elm Bayou Hunting Club near the Anahuac NWR. They hunted the last Friday of the split on about a 40-acre lake and shot pintails, gadwall, mallards and teal.

A couple of weeks into the first split, I made a run up to Central Texas and hunted on some of the public lakes and rivers. Three days going we had excellent hunts with easy limits of gadwall, mallards, pintails and teal.

On the last weekend of the first split, I hunted at Port O’Connor with Stanley and Lewis Hiltpold, and we collected easy limits of pintails, wigeon and redheads.

When the second half of the season opens we will probably be in for some excellent hunts through January. But we’ll also be dealing with some educated ducks, as well.In most situations, you can’t have too many decoys. But there are exceptions to the rule. While hunting with Allen near China, I noticed his decoy spread was small, as in about three-dozen decoys. But the kicker was his Mojo Mallard that has brought in more ducks than you can shake a stick at over the past few seasons. Quite often you don’t need that many decoys if you are hunting where the birds want to land. That’s been the case with flooded fields west of Beaumont. But as we move into the second half, that might change as ducks become a little more wary.

On my recent Central Texas hunts we didn’t put out any more than three-dozen decoys and had no problem getting the attention of ducks. Conversely, while hunting on the flats of Port O’Connor, we set out nine-dozen decoys, which is typical for that type of duck hunting. Most of the birds we shot were right over the decoys.

Heading into this season, the USFWS found that numbers of pintails were up. The northern pintail estimate of 4.4 million was 26 percent above the 2010 estimate of 3.5 million, and similar to the long-term average. So far this season, I’ve seen big time numbers of pintails from Central Texas to the coastal bays.

The feds also determined that wigeon numbers were down. They found that the estimated abundance of American wigeon was 14 percent below the 2010 estimate and 20 percent below the long-term average. They were right on the money with that study. During 12 hunts in the first split, I saw very few wigeon.

Something else I noticed during the first split is that most of the ducks were not call shy. In fact they worked real well to our calling. That usually changes during the second half when ducks have heard enough calling to know what’s real and what’s fake.

It’ll be interesting to see how the second half plays out. If it’s anything like the first split, we’re in for some excellent hunts with lots of pintails filling out limits.