Skip to main content

Waterfowl Facing Warm, Dry Welcome to Texas

Waterfowl Facing Warm, Dry Welcome to Texas

AUSTIN – This year's exceptional drought could have significant impacts on waterfowl this fall as habitats these migrants rely upon continue to degrade under a hot, dry Texas sun. The upshot for hunters: it won't be a banner waterfowl season in Texas, but those who are mobile and do their homework have a shot at decent and even potentially great waterfowl hunting in some places.

Between 5-to-6 million waterfowl on average call Texas home over the winter and this year's migration is expected to be huge due to excellent habitat conditions throughout the breeding grounds in the Dakotas and southern Canada. Unfortunately, these birds will likely get a warm, dry Texas welcome when they begin arriving in September.

"The same weather pattern that has left us high and dry has continued to bless the entire waterfowl breeding grounds up north with tremendous amounts of moisture," says Kevin Kraai, waterfowl program leader with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. "We're projecting duck numbers as good as we have ever seen."

According to this year's duck breeding population survey, which is conducted annually, most duck species are enjoying substantial gains. Shovelers, redheads and bluewinged teal reached record highs and pintail surpassed 4 million for the first time since 1980.


Weather projection models indicate very little relief from the drought in Texas heading into September's early teal season and dry conditions will have a severe impact on migration for months to come. And while the Aug. 4 NOAA U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/expert_assessment/seasonal_drought.html shows intense drought continuing in most of Texas through October, the forecast also shows a possibility of some improvement along the Texas coast.


"The drought has impacted the wetlands, marshes, reservoirs, ponds, creeks and bottomlands across the state," Kraai notes. "Natural food production will most certainly be limiting in many areas."

The playa wetlands associated with the High Plains are another story all together. This drought has left these shallow water bodies high and dry now for months. What little vegetation that remained or attempted to grow in these wetlands has mostly been utilized by cattle grazing simply because it is the last green succulent vegetation available on the landscape

"It's a bit too late for plant growth and seed development, so if and when it starts raining, the most important factor in successful hunting for ducks and geese in the High Plains will be water in close proximity to available irrigated waste grain," Kraai predicts. "If things stay the way we see it now, those areas should be largely associated with more reliable water sources near urban areas and feed lots."

The impacts of the drought on Texas' primary waterfowl wintering area along the Gulf Coast Prairies and Marshes have been severe. Marshes are dry and those areas still holding water have become extremely salty. The high salinities are crippling fresh and brackish marsh vegetation, and adversely impacting even some of the more salt tolerant vegetation.


"The whole system is just not going to yield the food resources that we would like to see," says Kraai. "But, the dry conditions are aiding in control of some of the less desirable plants, like deep-rooted sedge, cattail and phragmites, and drought has even allowed land managers the opportunity to open up some densely vegetated wetlands by disking and mowing areas previously impossible to access by mechanical means."

If conditions do not improve, duck hunters could see birds "flaring" before they even cross the border into Texas. Waterfowl have an uncanny sense of assessing habitat conditions during migration and could bypass the Lone Star State entirely.

"They don't just fly blindly in a traditional direction hoping that they will find favorable conditions just because that is where they were last year," says Kraai. "They will set their migration sights to where there is ample food and water."


A good example of waterfowl responding to habitat conditions was illustrated with recent telemetry data that showed a hen pintail on the coast of Louisiana that reverse migrated more than 500 miles in the dead of winter to Missouri in response to a flood event that created tons of very productive new habitat.

"Waterfowl have a tendency to know where the best habitat on the landscape can be found to carry out their annual life cycles, often from hundreds of miles away," says Kraai.

Absent suitable habitat in Texas, waterfowl have plenty of options -- head east to the Mississippi Flyway, stay further north or even south to Mexico.

"The ones that do venture to less the productive habitats we are expecting in Texas this fall are expected be sensitive to disturbance and hunting pressure," Kraai predicts. "They will certainly have the potential to leave in quick order for greener pastures. Assuming no significant changes in weather, our wintering waterfowl in Texas are up for grabs by our neighbors this winter.

On the positive side many of the Texas wetland ecosystems need periods of dryness for some annual seed producing wetland plants to germinate. So, receding reservoirs and ponds across the Rolling Plains and Blackland Prairies may be a potential bright spot, assuming the rain finally comes this fall and winter. The record populations of redheads and much improved pintail populations point to potential great waterfowling opportunity among seagrass beds in bays and estuaries along the middle and lower Texas coast.

"Dryness tends to concentrate waterfowl in the more favorable places and I feel very confident that there will certainly be some hunters in parts of the state that will have excellent waterfowl hunting for no other reasons than the lack of water concentrating birds in some places and the sheer magnitude of the fall waterfowl flight," says Kraai.

"There is always water somewhere in the state of Texas and some of it will be near good food resources like peanuts, rice and corn. I am confident some fortunate landowners and hunters that receive rainfall or have access to water either from wells or irrigation canals are potentially going to experience a season they will soon not forget. Scouting and mobility during the season will be key this to successful waterfowling this coming year."

PROPOSED WATERFOWL SEASON DATES

PENDING APPROVAL OF THE

TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION

2011-2012 WATERFOWL HUNTING SEASON DATES

(Shooting Hours: one half hour before sunrise to sunset)

DUCKS
ZoneHunt TypeDates
High Plains Mallard Management Unit (HPMMU) Youth Gun Oct. 22-23
Regular Gun Oct. 29-30 and Nov 4 -Jan 29
North Youth Gun Oct. 29-30
Regular Gun Nov. 5 -Nov. 27 and Dec. 10 -Jan. 29
South Youth Gun Oct. 29-30
Regular Gun Nov 5 – Nov. 27 and Dec. 10 -Jan. 29

DUCK DAILY BAG LIMIT: The daily bag limit for ducks is 6 and can include no more than 5 mallards only 2 of which may be hens; 3 wood ducks; 2 scaup (lesser scaup and greater scaup in the aggregate); 2 redheads; 2 pintail; 1 canvasback and 1 dusky duck (mottled duck, Mexican like duck, black duck and their hybrids) after the first 5 days (See below for "dusky" duck season dates).

Dusky Duck Season (mottled, black and Mexican like duck)-

HPMMU: Nov. 7-Jan. 29

North Zone: Nov. 10- Nov. 27 and Dec.10 - Jan. 29

South Zone: Nov. 10-Dec.4 and Dec. 17- Jan. 29

Youth Waterfowl Season-Dusky Ducks and geese may be taken during the youth only seasons for waterfowl.

Merganser Daily Bag Limit: 5 in the aggregate, to include no more than 2 hooded mergansers.

Coot Daily Bag Limit: 15

POSSESSION LIMIT: Twice the daily bag.

GEESE
ZoneSpeciesDates
West Light and Dark Geese Nov. 5 – Feb. 5
Light Geese (Conservation Order) Feb. 6 -Mar. 25
East Light Geese Nov. 5 -Jan. 29
White-fronted Goose Nov. 5 -Jan. 15
Canada Goose Sept. 10 – 25 and Nov. 5 -Jan. 29
Light Geese (Conservation Order) Jan. 30 - Mar.25

Western Zone Daily Bag Limit:Light geese – 20 in the aggregate; Dark geese – 5 Dark geese to include no more than 1 white-fronted goose. Eastern Zone Daily Bag Limit: Light geese – 20 in the aggregate; Canada geese-3 and White-fronted geese-2. POSSESSION LIMIT: Twice the daily bag limit for dark geese, no possession limit for light geese.

Sandhill Cranes:

Zone A: Nov. 5, 2011 — Feb. 5, 2012

Zone B: Nov. 25, 2011 — Feb. 5, 2012

Zone C: Dec. 24, 2011 — Jan. 29, 2012

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

The Hobie MirageDrive 360 pedal propulsion system is the pinnacle of kayak control with more efficient fin designs, glide technology and allows the boat to be moved in any direction.

Hunting Elk with the Ruger Hawkeye Long Range Hunter in 6.5 PRC

Hunting Elk with the Ruger Hawkeye Long Range Hunter in 6.5 PRC

Michael Cassidy and Paul Pluff talk about their elk hunt in New Mexico using the Ruger Hawkeye Long Range Hunter.

Action and Power Ratings- How to Choose the Right Bass Rod

Action and Power Ratings- How to Choose the Right Bass Rod

Most fishing rods feature both an action and a power rating, but what do those ratings mean and how do you use them to select the right rod for different scenarios? In this video, outdoor writer and tackle specialist Shane Beilue breaks down the difference between a rod blank’s action and power and discusses what the various ratings of each mean.

Understanding Reel Retrieve Ratios and How it Affects Lure Presentations

Understanding Reel Retrieve Ratios and How it Affects Lure Presentations

Increase a lure’s effectiveness by pairing it with the ideal reel speed.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

The best jig fisherman are those that are always aware of what their jig is doing.4 Tips When Jig Fishing For Bass Bass

4 Tips When Jig Fishing For Bass

Chris Schneider - August 25, 2015

The best jig fisherman are those that are always aware of what their jig is doing.

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? You'll need a cartridge that lives up to the expectations demanded at ranges up to and beyond 500, 600 or even 1,000 yards. Try these different loads until you find the one that thumps steel at long ranges consistently.10 Best Long-Range Rifle Cartridges Ever Made Ammo

10 Best Long-Range Rifle Cartridges Ever Made

David Hart - January 14, 2015

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? You'll need a cartridge that lives up to...

With the Hobie MirageDrive 360 pedal propulsion system, anglers have ultimate kayak control with more efficient fin designs, glide technology and the ability to move their boat in any direction desiredAmazing Kayak Power and Control: Hobie's MirageDrive 360 Propulsion System Other Fishing

Amazing Kayak Power and Control: Hobie's MirageDrive 360 Propulsion System

OSG Editorial Staff - November 01, 2020

With the Hobie MirageDrive 360 pedal propulsion system, anglers have ultimate kayak control...

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near anything that fits in their mouths.5 Ways To Catch Catfish on Lures Catfish

5 Ways To Catch Catfish on Lures

Keith Sutton

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near...

See More Trending Articles

More Stories

Last year alone, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act was responsible for $100 million in funding to benefit game, fish and other wildlife in the United States.At Issue: Greenbacks for Greenheads (and Other Game) Conservation & Politics

At Issue: Greenbacks for Greenheads (and Other Game)

Andrew McKean - August 04, 2020

Last year alone, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act was responsible for $100 million...

From a world-record crappie to the best gear of the year, these hunting and fishing articles were most popular with our readers.Game & Fish's Top 10 Stories of 2018 Stories

Game & Fish's Top 10 Stories of 2018

G&F Online Staff - December 24, 2018

From a world-record crappie to the best gear of the year, these hunting and fishing articles...

Could the northern stretches of the Lone Star State one day rival the south for big-buck supremacy?The Next Big Tex' for Trophy Bucks? Whitetail

The Next Big Tex' for Trophy Bucks?

Jordan Michaels - October 18, 2019

Could the northern stretches of the Lone Star State one day rival the south for big-buck...

How a humble Virginia hunter bagged the biggest non-typical whitetail a bowhunter has ever seen.The Story Behind Brewster's World-Record Buck Whitetail

The Story Behind Brewster's World-Record Buck

Lynn Burkhead - October 17, 2019

How a humble Virginia hunter bagged the biggest non-typical whitetail a bowhunter has ever...

See More Stories

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now