Ducks, deer and quail keeping hunters busy

Duck hunts on upper Texas and Louisiana coast marsh ponds have been very good.

Believe it or not, duck hunting here in Southeast Texas is still hit and miss. For example, the marsh down on the coast is holding big-time numbers of gadwall that are mixed in with a few pintails, teal and shovelers. The downside is that hunters west of Beaumont are finding very few birds. Bobby Vaughan says that his fields out around China are full of water with second growth rice — and he hasn’t seen a duck yet. That’s definitely prime duck hunting real estate, but the birds just aren’t there.

Denny Copeland, who hunts the Central Texas lakes and rivers, reports that up until last Friday, Nov. 20, they had seen very few birds. But just ahead of the weekend cold front, he said quite a few mallards and pintails moved in. Copeland and a buddy hunted a public lake near Waco and got five greenheads, two pintails and three wood ducks Friday.

Guide Buddy Oaks, at Hackberry Rod & Gun Club just east of Sabine Lake, says their duck hunts are as good as they have had in years.

“The front that came through our area on Saturday was rainy and cold, but it brought some new ducks to our blinds here in Southwest Louisiana,” says Oaks. “There are lots of big ducks. Last week the hunting was decent, even with the high water in our area. We have harvested over 2,500 ducks in the first two weeks of our season. One of our guides says that there are more gray ducks (gadwall) in our marshes than he has seen in many years.”

For details on hunts in that area, call (888) 762-3391.

If you’re looking to catch fish and shoot ducks, Oaks says that they are running cast and blast trips. You can hunt in the morning, come in for a bowl of gumbo, then head out on Calcasieu for an afternoon of fishing.

“Our flounder fishing is excellent right now,” says Oaks. “The reds and trout are pretty good under the birds. All said and done, it’s definitely worth the effort.”

Sabine Lake guide Jerry Norris says fishing under the birds has been very good before and after cold fronts. Catches of flounder are good on the lower end of the lake and in the pass.

Prospects bright for quail season

Thanks to timely rainfall and cooler temperatures this year, Texas quail hunters can anticipate bagging more bobwhites this season, which opened Oct. 31.

The forecast for quail hunting in many areas of Texas is good to excellent. Looking forward, climatologists are predicting an El Nino year, which may bring another mild, wet winter and excellent breeding conditions heading into the 2016 season.

“Bobwhite quail could provide the best indicator of how timely rainfall has benefited wildlife in Texas this year,” says Steve Lightfoot. “The combination of spring and summer rainfall and lower-than-average temperatures across most of the summer has resulted in a flush of vegetation and insects and an extended window of opportunity for nesting, a combination for success that quail have not enjoyed for many years.”

Reports from South Texas sound the most dramatic, according to Robert Perez, TPWD’s quail authority, with large broods being observed all summer long with multiple age classes and good survival rates.

“Some are predicting a real boom year in some parts of South Texas,” Perez noted. “The Rolling Plains have been hit hardest over the last several years with periods of extended drought, but the needle is definitely moving in the right direction. Survey results showed some improvement last year, but quail appear to have made a striking recovery in the region this past summer. The quail roadside index recorded an amazing five-fold increase. Lots of large broods have been observed there as well, and we expect to see a good bump in numbers in the region.”

Quail season runs through Feb. 28, 2016. The daily bag limit is 15. Legal shooting hours for all non-migratory game birds are 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset.

Perez notes the Gulf Coast is not as tied to rainfall as the arid rangelands, so production can actually be hampered by excessive rains. Early reports of good production and above average survey results on the prairies of the Gulf Coast are a good indication that numbers will likely remain high, as they have been the past couple of years.

Quail are notorious for trending with weather, going through years of exceptional production when conditions are favorable, followed by down turns when the weather doesn’t align properly. Biologists refer to it as “boom and bust” cycles. Last season marked the end of three consecutive years of drought conditions in both South Texas and the Rolling Plains where quail populations began to show signs of recovery. Good hunts were reported in several areas of South Texas and a few areas of the Rolling Plains. Good to excellent hunts were also reported in the central Gulf Coastal Prairies where an all-time high was recorded by the TPWD 2014 survey.

“Heading into 2015, excellent late winter conditions produced a flush of winter greens providing nutrition for hens prior to the nesting season,” says Perez.

Deer come in to corn feeders

With last weekend’s hard blowing cold front and temperatures in the 30s, lots of deer began showing up at feeders in the Pineywoods and in the Hill Country. This past Monday morning, the lows up in the Pineywoods were in the lower 30s. In Woodville, the heart of the Pineywoods, it was 33 degrees under clear skies. That kind of weather will definitely have plenty of bucks and does on the move.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, hunters should be able to tag lots of deer, especially does. Don’t forget that one big time benefit from harvesting deer is that a lot of the meat can be ground up and placed in one-pound packages. I can’t remember the last time I bought ground beef. Ground venison is much better for you. One deer can provide 20 to 40 one-pound packages that can be converted into quick and healthy chili, tacos, soup and spaghetti sauce.