The 1999-2000 duck season was as good a year as any hunter on the Texas Gulf Coast could remember. While breakfast tables full of naysayers denied that the 2000-2001 season could possibly live up to the past year’s billing, everyone secretly hoped that the ducks would give coastal hunters a repeat performance. The weather in mid-October was unusually cooperative, bringing a powerful cold front straight from the arctic, with thousands of ducks riding its winds south. The week before opening day gave hunters all the promise of the best year in the last 20, with unusually cool temps and ducks on every tidal pond and marsh.
The problem that plagued the coastal bend area the past several years, hot weather and no ducks at the start of the season, seemed to be a thing of the past. Pintails, redheads, blue wing teal, and widgeon arrived a month earlier than usual, and the hunters were looking forward to a fantastic opening day. But as in any good story, the villain had to make a showing. This year it was in the form of rain. From the last week of October to the middle of November, the Coastal Bend received over nine inches of rain, leaving standing puddles and ponds in every rye field and inland marsh from Rockport to Dallas. The ducks were here, all right, but they flocked to inland water and grain fields. Even road ditches had gadwalls and shovelers enjoying succulent green vegetation and thumbing their noses at hunters driving past. The salt marshes and flats still proved good for the diving ducks, and redheads and bluebills did not disappoint, but the puddlers were noticeably absent from the saltwater hunter’s game strap.
The split in the season saw the rain stop and the puddles start to dry up, and great numbers of ducks came south with each cold front. By the start of the second season, the ducks were back in the salt marshes. Each passing cold front moved new birds in, and the hunting took a swing from so-so to fantastic. Large flocks of pintails, widgeon, and redheads provided some classic “big duck” hunting but the surprise of the year was the gadwalls. Lodge hunters went from one or two a day in past seasons to seven, ten, or more on any given day! This large, decoy friendly, and good to eat duck was a welcome newcomer to our flats.
As the weather got colder yet and the tides began to drop, large flocks of green wing teal made for most of the shooting during a typical day. Flocks of a hundred or more would dip and dive their way to a light speed buzz of the decoys, or would set up and land so fast that not a shot was fired. Their speed and agility tested the aim of all the hunters that had been used to shooting big, hovering pintails and gadwalls. The tides stayed low for the remainder of the season, making strategy the key to a successful hunt. Abandoning the blinds and picking the right puddles was critical, as the ducks had become as smart as the hunters who sought them.
While the first half of the season proved to be little better than fair, the second half more than made up for it in weather, ducks, and successful hunts. Although the season just ended, all the serious waterfowlers are already preparing their strategies and planning their trips for next year. Although there is no way it could be as good as it was this year …