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Waterfowl Season Getting Off to Wet Start
AUSTIN, Texas — Wetland habitat conditions across much of Texas have gone from one extreme to another entering the Oct. 31 waterfowl season opener in the North and South Duck Zones, creating what some waterfowl biologists see as a mixed bag for migrant birds.
"Considering how dry we’ve been, we’re pretty pleased with what water we’ve gotten," said Matt Nelson, central coast wetland eco-system project leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. "Unfortunately, we don’t have the groceries for the ducks because we just got the water and the vegetation hasn’t had a chance to respond."
Biologists feared the extended drought that had gripped the Texas coast during the first half of 2009, combined with the aftermath effects on marshes from Hurricane Ike, could be devastating for wintering waterfowl.
Instead, much of East Texas and the coastal prairies and marshes have been inundated with heavy rainfall in recent weeks, leaving some prime public duck hunting areas inaccessible for opening weekend due to flooding.
The Guadalupe Delta Wildlife Management Area, for example, will be closed to public hunting opening weekend and possibly longer, said Nelson.
"The Delta is shut down until further notice," he announced. "We have high hopes there when the water recedes because the marsh was in pretty good shape and they had quite a bit of aquatic vegetation, so they might see a pretty good season once the water goes down."
Other WMAs along the central coast will be accessible for opening weekend, but hunters should temper expectations despite the abundance of water.
"Mad Island water conditions are in good shape, but because the water just arrived, there are very little groceries in the marsh," Nelson offered. "It should be okay for the opener. We’re still not seeing many birds, but what is here includes primarily gadwalls, teal and mottled ducks."
The Justin Hurst WMA is also in good shape and most areas are huntable, except for a few compartments that still lack water.
Hunters are reminded that mottled ducks are off-limits during the first five days of the season.
In East Texas, waterfowl biologist Jared Laing is also reporting seeing fewer ducks than usual heading into the season and because of the abundant water throughout the region birds are scattered.
"We’ve been checking up and down; the birds just aren’t here yet," he noted.
After three years under the Hunter’s Choice experimental bag, Texas is back to a conventional six-duck limit per day in the aggregate, with the following species and sex restrictions: five mallards (of which only two may be hens), three wood ducks, two scaup, two redheads, one pintail, one canvasback, and one "dusky duck" (mottled duck, Mexican-like duck, black duck and their hybrids).
"The real plus is adding a third wood duck to the bag for 3 woodies per day for the first time in anyone’s memory," said Vernon Bevill, TPWD small game and habitat assessment director. "That will be a special plus to East Texas hunters, at least until the main push of ducks begin arriving. That push may be starting today with the heavy snow now hammering the Dakotas and other states to our north and west."
Bevill also reminds North and South Zone hunters not to start taking any mottled ducks opening weekend or for the first five days due to a reduced season length on this species to soften the harvest impact.
Thursday, Nov. 5, is the first day hunters in the North and South Zones can take a dusky duck, however it opens Nov. 2 in the High Plains Mallard Management Unit.
The bag limit on mergansers is 5 daily, of which only 2 may be hooded mergansers and the daily bag on coots is 15.
The first split for the North and South Duck Zones runs through Nov. 29, and then reopens Dec. 12 through Jan. 24.
New this year, purchase of the Federal Duck Stamp will cost $15-$17 depending on where you buy. If purchased through the TPWD license system there is a $2 administrative fee. Your license will indicate Federal Duck Stamp purchase and the physical stamp will be mailed. Purchasers will be given a 45-day grace period to allow for delivery of the actual stamp, which must be signed and affixed to their hunting license. There are other options for purchasing the stamp, either at some major post offices or online.
Waterfowl hunters are reminded they will need to request HIP (Harvest Information Program) certification from the license clerk when purchasing their hunting license this year. HIP certification is required in order to hunt migratory game birds in Texas.
Also new this year, sandhill crane permits may be obtained in person at no cost only through TPWD Law Enforcement offices and TPWD headquarters in Austin. Permits are also available anytime online through TPWD’s online license sales and by calling 800-792-1112 (option 5, menu 2) or 512-389-4820 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. For online and phone orders, a confirmation number will be issued in lieu of a permit and a $5 transaction fee will be charged.
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