AUSTIN – Waterfowlers will be looking to the north for help as duck and goose hunting seasons kick off this week under less than ideal conditions. A lack of cold weather has delayed the winter migration once again this year, according to field observations by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) biologists.
“Weather patterns, especially significant cold fronts, can have great impact on migration timing,” said Kevin Kraai, TPWD waterfowl program coordinator. “Unfortunately, this is the one factor we can’t predict, but we keep our fingers crossed for lots of frozen water north of the Red River throughout most of the winter.”
The general duck hunting season gets under way today in the Texas Panhandle (High Plains Mallard Management Unit) and on Saturday in the South Zone. Duck hunting in the North Zone opens Saturday, Nov. 12. Goose hunting also kicks off Saturday statewide.
The good news again this year is that much of the remaining waterfowl habitat across the state appears to be in prime condition thanks to an abundance of rainfall over the last two years.
“As waterfowl hunters and biologists, we are always looking to the sky to send us water for birds to forage in and for us to hunt,” Kraai noted. “Rarely do we ever say that there is too much water, but we came close last year and wet conditions seemed to have persisted into the summer months in many parts of Texas. “Overall duck and goose populations are at or near records and we expect an excellent migration assuming we get timely cold fronts throughout the fall and winter.”
One significant example of how an excess of water is benefitting the birds and the hunting prospects this year, restrictions for irrigation water along the coastal prairies were lifted, resulting in an additional 40,000 to 50,000 acres of rice production on the Texas coastal prairies.
“This will greatly increase carrying capacity of our Gulf Coast region and the birds are expected to respond favorably,” predicted Kraai. “We have already seen early migrants taking advantage of these new resources in surprising numbers.
While habitat conditions across the coastal region are much-improved, biologists are still hoping for more rain to replenish freshwater ponds and wetlands.
“Habitat conditions were as good as we have seen in years going into early teal seasons this September, but prolonged periods of little to no rainfall since September have really dried out our coastal habitats,” said Kraai. “Our marshes and estuaries received significant freshwater inflows this summer, which has resulted in excellent growth of important waterfowl foods up and down the Gulf Coast. We hope the rain will return soon to flood up the foods that were produced this summer.”
A similar scenario is occurring in the northern region of the state where playa lakes in the Texas Panhandle have rapidly evaporated over the last few months, leaving waterfowl and hunters high and dry heading into the season.
“Decent rainfall filled a few playa basins in August, but many have already greatly receded or dried up completely now leaving very few playa basins holding water,” Kraai said. “We are keeping our fingers crossed for a wet fall so ducks and geese have a place to swim while enjoying the region’s ample supply of agricultural foods.”
Likewise, East Texas also received extensive rainfall last year and the lakes, reservoir and river bottoms experienced prolonged high water that biologists say will have impacted production of moist-soil plants this summer, but submerged aquatic plant production should be excellent and will attract all types of dabbling and diving ducks in this part of the state. Warm and dry conditions this fall have set in and the region is in need of a change in weather pattern soon for the Pineywoods to hold migrating birds.
Hunters are encouraged to review hunting rules and requirements in the 2016-17 Waterfowl Hunting Digest before heading afield. Printed copies of the digest are available wherever hunting licenses are sold and online at http://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_bk_k0700_1014.pdf.