Young Duck Numbers Could Spell Hunter Successes During Waterfowl Opening Day

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AUSTIN— As young ducks of all species migrate into the state over the coming weeks, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) biologists suggest that their arrival could indicate a successful waterfowl season for Texas hunters.

While significant data is limited as the May Breeding Waterfowl Survey was canceled this year due to COVID-19, Kevin Kraai, the TPWD Waterfowl Program Leader, says that reports from waterfowl breeding grounds in Canada and the United States prairie states helped TPWD in forecasting conditions for the upcoming season.

“Duck production in North and South Dakota was reported to be exceptional this past summer,” Kraai said. “We always see a nice increase in hunter success when the flock is made up of a lot of young ducks.”

The special youth-only waterfowl season begins in the High Plains Mallard Management Unit on Oct. 24, followed by youth-only waterfowl season in the South Zone on Oct. 31 and the North Zone on Nov. 7. Regular duck season in the High Plains Mallard Management Unit opens Oct. 31, in the South Zone on Nov. 7 and the North Zone on Nov. 14. More information on season dates, including those for “Dusky” duck, and bag limits can be found in the Outdoor Annual.

 “We are already hearing good reports of birds building in many of flooded rice fields and coastal marshes along the Texas coast,” Kraai said. “Texas duck hunters will have the most opportunity for a fruitful season when hunting in east Texas and along the coast. Most successful hunters will be mobile as conditions will vary throughout the state.”

East Texas has seen above average rainfall throughout the summer and late summer rain events from tropical storms have helped to further prepare the landscape for the arrival of migrating ducks. Soil moisture is high and any new rainfall this winter will begin to pond. These conditions, along with river flooding events, are important to duck populations in the region. Reservoirs are higher than normal for this time of year and the shallow shorelines and river mouths will be a big draw to ducks.

Coastal Texas has seen three tropical storm events in 2020 and storm surges have impacted many of Texas’ coastal marshes and estuaries. Salt water has reached further inland impacting the fresh water submergent vegetation that ducks love. Rainfall, however, is still needed to help freshen those systems and save those important food sources. Further inland, landowners are continuing to manage rice prairies and moist-soil wetlands that provide a significant food source for ducks. TPWD biologists suggest that ducks will concentrate on these locations, making for ideal hunting conditions.

Reports from Canada suggest that the Arctic goose hatch was poor this past summer. Juvenile snow geese will be in short supply, compounding issues with an overall old and declining population. Light and dark goose season starts in the East Zone on Nov. 7 and Nov. 14 in the West Zone. The light geese conservation order season begins in the East Zone on Feb. 1, 2021 and on Feb. 15, 2021. More information regarding seasons and bag limits can be found in the Outdoor Annual.

Small Canada geese will likely be abundant in the Panhandle region but, due to the extremely dry conditions, will be reliant on waters in urban areas this winter. Hunters are encouraged to explore grain fields that are closest to towns that have plentiful city lakes.

Good habitat conditions in the Winchester Lakes region in Knox and Haskell counties are forecast as this area has had timely rain events that have fed the natural wetlands. This water, mixed with the abundant grain and peanut fields in the area, will be a draw for tens of thousands of small Canada and white-fronted geese. This area in the northwestern part of the state has become world famous for the enormous concentrations of white-fronted geese. Hunters visiting this region during the winter will be presented with many harvest opportunities.

In addition to a valid Texas hunting license, waterfowl hunters must have their HIP Certification and  migratory bird endorsement and hunters over 16 years old need a Federal Duck Stamp. For county specific regulations regarding migratory birds, along with information on means and methods, consult the 2020-21 all-digital Outdoor Annual. Hunters can download the free Outdoor Annual mobile app for iOS and Android.

Hunters taking advantage of Texas Public Hunting Lands must also have the Annual Public Hunting Permit. It’s also important for public land hunters to consult the Public Hunting Lands Map Booklet to review regulations that may apply to specific areas. The My Texas Hunt Harvest app can be used to complete on-site registration electronically at public hunting areas and keep a personalized harvest log of hunting activities.