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South Zone, High Plains Hunters Get Early Crack at Ducks
AUSTIN, Texas — Ardent Texas waterfowlers who gladly shrug off the bugs, the heat and the humidity that come with September teal hunting, particularly in the South Zone, have more reason to get excited this year with an early opening split of the regular duck season.
This year’s teal season is set for Sept. 18–26 statewide with a four-bird daily bag limit. Immediately following the close of teal season, the first split of the regular duck season in the South Zone and the High Plains Mallard Management Unit will run Sept. 27–Oct. 3 (Oct 4 in the HPMMU). The regular season in the North Zone opens Nov. 6.
The daily bag limit for teal during the teal-only season is four. During the regular duck season, the daily bag limit for all ducks, including teal, is six and may include no more than five mallards (two hens), two redheads, three scaup, two wood ducks, and one mottled duck. One pintail and one canvasback daily are allowed only during the last 39 days of the season in each zone.
The South Zone will reopen Nov. 13 and close Jan. 18, 2005. Pintail and canvasback may be taken in the South Zone only from Dec. 11–Jan. 18. In the High Plains Mallard Management Unit, pintail and canvasback may be taken on from Dec. 18–Jan. 25.
While other species can be found, for many hunters the early opening split means added opportunity primarily for blue-winged teal; among the first of the early migrants to reach Texas in abundant numbers and the impetus for a September duck season.
"They’ll be shooting four bluewings one day and six the next," noted Dave Morrison, waterfowl program director for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. "Hunters need to keep the dates straight and be certain of what they’re shooting. Some pintails will be out there and the mottled ducks will still be in groups."
Some of the better hunting in the South Zone can be had on TPWD wildlife management areas and on the national wildlife refuges. According to TPWD biologist Todd Merendino, who manages several of the state WMAs, habitat conditions are looking good for the most part. "The table is set," he noted. "We’ve got a lot of water. Peach Point WMA is looking real good."
Merendino noted that the department has banded about 1,300 mottled ducks this summer, so hunters should have an excellent opportunity to harvest a banded bird. He asks that hunters who do take a banded mottled duck follow the reporting instructions on the band.
Hunters in some parts of the South Zone will also have an opportunity for whistling ducks, another early migrant that usually sails through Texas for breeding and then departs for points south well before the opening of the regular duck season. These birds present a new challenge for rice prairie waterfowlers, according to Morrison.
"Whistling ducks are not going to respond to decoys, so if they pass within range don’t wait for them to make another pass or you might miss out," he said. "They like rice fields, so folks in the fringe areas of agricultural lands should have an opportunity."
Hunters in the South Zone may also pick up an early gadwall or shoveler, and an occasional green-winged teal, which also start showing up in Texas in late September.
In the Panhandle, hunters should have a wider variety of birds to select from, according to TPWD biologist Bill Johnson. Finding the right place to set up shop will be the kicker, he noted. "Hunters who go out and scout will see plenty of ducks, but not all the playas are holding birds. From what I’ve seen, it’s pretty spotty and a lot of that has to do with the habitat the birds prefer. On these rangeland playas, they tend to hang on the edges and prefer marshy conditions as opposed to open water areas."
Hunters are reminded that HIP certification is mandatory for anyone hunting migratory game birds, including ducks. HIP program coordinator Kevin Kraai with TPWD is urging hunters to check their licenses to make sure "HIP Certified" is printed; some license buyers this year were inadvertently left out of the system and others were never included at the time of purchase. If your license does not include "HIP Certified" you will need to go to a TPWD law enforcement office.
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