The Wading Game
Wet. Cold. Dark. What's not to like about duck hunting?
I asked a friend once if he hunted ducks. His reply was, “No, I don’t like to suffer.”
To some, getting up at four a.m., being cold and wet, coming back exhausted with nothing to show for it except a sore shooting shoulder, is not much fun.
It takes brave people to face the elements and insist the worse the weather, the better. “A good day for ducks” is more than just an inclement weather cliché; it’s actually what duck hunters hope for. The hunting takes specialized skill, too, especially blowing a duck, termed the world’s greatest conservation tool since on the wrong mouth—it can scare away more ducks than it calls into shooting range. Duck identification requires a special discipline as well.
The sport is not for the faint-hearted. A friend slipped getting into a boat one morning, plunging into frigid brackish water, shotgun, shells and all. Another hunter stepped out in front of his blind in the dark before daylight and was hit in the forehead by a flying duck.
Clothing has come a long way—more insulation, more rain and wind-proof clothing, Gore-Tex, hooded sweatshirts and jackets. And, insulated waders that don’t leak. There’s nothing worse than standing in waist-deep ice water at dawn realizing your waders leak and your feet are getting numb.
For those willing to pay the price, however, this season should be rewarding. Ducks are abundant.
“We’re near record levels and in some instances in the glory days for ducks,” according to Kevin Kraai, Waterfowl Program Leader for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). Only scaups and pintails are below desired levels.
For the first time in 50 years, hunting regulations allow two canvasbacks in the bag limit. The “possession limit” has also been increased; it’s now three times the daily bag limit instead of just double the daily allowable. Seasons and bag limits vary, so check the regs at the TPWD website.
Most of the central, eastern and coastal parts of the state have had enough rain to fill ponds and attract ducks. Most northern ponds froze early, so migrating ducks should make it to Texas without being shot at.
“Instead of arriving in a desert, there’s water,” Kraai said. ”That will hold ducks here.” The last few years’ droughts saw waterfowl pass through to Mexico and Central America.
Geese are another story.
“We didn’t think it would be good,” says veteran goose guide, Clifton Tyler, in the historic hunting area around Eagle Lake. “And that’s the way it’s turned out. Low rice production hurt. We’ve had a lot of geese, but without rice, there’s nothing to hold them.”
Further down the coast, though, Captain Sally Black reports that in the Baffin Bay area, the “fields are white with geese!” She also confirms Kraai’s populations assessment.
“The ducks are stacking up,” she says, “and this is the most sandhill cranes I’ve ever seen.”
It promises to be a memorable season—at least for the bravehearts.
Even if the weather hasn’t improved for waterfowl hunting, the equipment certainly has. Neoprene and Gore-Tex waders keep you dry and warm. Redhead waders from Bass Pro come in chest and hip wader styles. Bass Pro even markets the “Duck Commander” waders. Shotshells have gone through changes, too. The Remington Hyper Super Sonic flies through the air at 1,700 feet per second, getting to the bird faster and helps eliminate misses. Screw-in choke tubes by Trulock Chokes in Georgia and Briley Chokes in Houston turn one shotgun into an effective piece for shooting at high-flying geese and closer, faster-flying ducks, as well as upland birds, turkeys, or clay birds—all with the same gun. Mojo Outdoors helped revolutionize the decoy business with their spinning wing decoys. They come in several species styles to suit your shooting preference. If you’re ready to try duck calling, there are hundreds of calls on the market, including the Duck Commander Signature Series, offering an image of your favorite Robertson male.