That's where you'll find Texas ducks from D/FW to Houston this month; here are some ideas on how to take advantage of that happy situation. (October 2009)
Robert Mason cut loose with a volley of quacks loud enough to raise the hair on the head of a dead man!
The early bird gets not only the worm, but more ducks, as well. Here, the author's hunting partner, Lynn Granger, takes a bead on incoming mallards at Lake Whitney, one of his favorite hunting hotspots. Photo by Robert Sloan.
But it wasn't hair we were after on this river south of Dallas. It was feathers. The Waco waterfowler's calls got the attention of seven mallards coming over the treetops along the bend in the river where we'd set up a small decoy spread.
Walter Rowe, Robert Mason and I leaned back in the tall grass and brush as the flight of mallards responded.
That's about the time Mason hissed for me to look to my left. Out the corner of my eye I caught sight of a mallard hen and drake landing on the water.
"Don't shoot 'em," he whispered. "I think this bigger group is going to come in."
He made a couple of soft quacks, followed up by a short feeding chuckle. That was enough to get another fly-over. But the icing on the cake was the quacking of the drake that had set down within 25 yards of us and was now standing on a rock.
We hunkered down. As the mallards circled low and into the wind, we came up with 12-gauge shotguns blazing. Feathers went flying.
It was the perfect setup. We had a pretty good north breeze coming right down the river. The decoys were bobbing and turning in the current. And when the pair of mallards set down and started quacking it was game over for incoming ducks.
The great thing about Texas duck hunting is that the sky is the limit. And that's no exaggeration. There are more options than you can shake a stick at between Houston and Dallas. Texas waterfowlers have their choice of hunting on rivers, lakes and ponds on any day during the season.
While growing up in southwest Houston, a few buddies and I discovered a small cooling pond located behind a rice processing plant just outside the city limits. It was about a 10-minute drive from our neighborhood. We could actually make a hunt on this little pond before going to school. Plus, the afternoon hunts were better than you might believe.
For the most part, we shot at lots of bluebills. But when a hard cold front was moving in, there was no telling what would show up at that pond. One day we had a strap that included three mallards, two gadwalls, four bluebills and several teal.
I got to thinking about those high school pond hunts this past season while doing a river hunt with Mason. The unique thing about river hunts is that ducks use the waterways as flyways, as well as for feeding and resting. On one particular hunt last season, we ended up with teal, gadwalls, mallards, pintails and wood ducks. And on that particular hunt we had more teal land in the decoys than the dog could run off. I mean dozens would come in at once. We had the option of limiting early on teal or waiting for late-arriving mallards.
The key to any successful duck hunt in this area of Texas is scouting. You can't do too much of it during a season. If you're on a lease and working the same water every hunt, you may not have to do so much scouting. You set up and hope for the best. But if you're like me and a whole lot of other Texas duck hunters, scouting can mean the difference between getting shots or getting skunked.
Last season, I got a call from Mason. He was on some fresh birds and wanted to know if I was in or out. I thought about that invite for the better part of a nano-second. The next morning, I met him on the river and we set out. Talk about tough. This hunt was rugged. But we had a great shoot for mallards and pintails.
Mason, who spent his college days playing scholarship football at Baylor, backed a small johnboat down to the riverbank. We pulled the boat off the trailer, and slid it down the bank with a long rope. Next, we portaged all of our gear to the boat. The ride downstream took every bit of an hour. Along the way we had to get out and float the boat over ridges of shallow rocks that were about as slippery as slime ice.
We set up in the dark and lay back in the brush waiting for shooting time. We got a few shots early. Then Mason announced that we needed to move downstream to another location where the birds were piling in. The only problem was that it was too shallow for the boat to float. To make a long story short, we carried all or our gear downriver for about 300 yards. That was exhausting, but the shooting was worth the effort. Then we had to reverse, and do it all over again, except with a heavy stringer of ducks. That's hardcore duck hunting. But that's what's required for success on public-water duck hunts.
I grew up hunting on big open-water reservoirs. Most of those hunts were easy. The drill was simple for a while. At first we hunted from the johnboat. The drill was to get into a designated area, set up a decoy spread, tie off the boat, and then drape it with sheets of burlap. We did that for a number of years. Then we began to hunt away from the boat.
There were three options when leaving the comfort of the boat. One was to stand beside a tree in about 3 to 4 feet of water. The other was to get in a fisherman's inner tube. The third was to actually climb up in a tree and hunt from an elevated perch. Each worked out very well.
I don't know of too many waterfowlers that would go through the trouble of hunting from a tree. But I can tell you for sure that it's a different experience. When you're about 20 feet off the water and well concealed, ducks don't have a clue as to your whereabouts. It was rugged hunting, but it was definitely a way to bag unsuspecting ducks.
There are a number of big public lakes between Houston and the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The only problem is figuring out how to hunt on them. One option that Denny Copeland and I used for many seasons was to hunt from an inflatable fisherman's inner tube. It was a little dicey at times. And most of our hunts were on lakes that were infested with alligators. So tube hunting was relegated to the later parts of the duck season as we hoped the water was too cold for gators to be out and about then.
The low profile of a tube hunter is deadly on ducks. We figured out that the best option was to set up in a weedbed, as in hydrilla. It kept the waves from splashing us, and provided a stable shooting situation. Plus, ducks lik
e to feed and rest around mats of aquatic vegetation.
One very good thing about hunting from a tube is that you have a low profile that can be easily covered up with small sheets of burlap and even a few handfuls of vegetation. The drawback is that your legs can get really cold. Also, it's a good idea for one person to stay in the boat to put out and pick up tube hunters, especially if something goes wrong like a leak in the waders or the tube.
Many Texas lakes, regardless of age, still have standing timber, or some sort of brush like willows. More often than not, that type of structure can be found on the far upper ends of the big public reservoirs. The perfect scenario is to be able to stash the boat, and wade around in thigh- to waist-deep water. That's a user-friendly situation for a couple of reasons. One is that you function outside the confines of a boat. Second, you can use available trees and brush for camouflage.
Setting up on the first spot you find on a river or lake is not always the best thing to do. That's why scouting is such a big deal. A good example of that can be found on lakes like Richland-Chambers, Whitney and Texoma. Richland-Chambers covers 41,356 acres; Whitney is about half that size with 23,500 acres and Texoma is scattered out over 74,686 acres. Those are very popular duck-hunting lakes and I've hit them all. But don't think for one minute that you can head out to one of these lakes, set out a few decoys and end up with ducks. Scouting pays off big time. And the closer your scouting trip is to your hunt date, the better off you'll be.
Another truism about duck hunting on public waters is that where you find birds today doesn't mean that's where they'll be tomorrow. If you don't have birds, pick up the spread and go find them. Don't be lazy. That's the great thing about hunting on the big lakes -- you have plenty of water. And if you look in all the right places, you'll more than likely find the birds.