Duck Hunting —Bigger & Better in Texas

Texas is among the greatest and most versatile duck hunting states in the nation. The reason why is simple – we’ve got blue chip waterfowling waters scattered from one corner of state to the other, and many are open to the public free of charge, or for the cost of a $48 annual hunting permit. For example we can hunt gadwall, teal, pintails and mallards in the marsh units of the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area on the Texas/Louisiana border. From there you can head south to East Matagorda Bay, Rockport and the Laguna Madre and shoot redheads, pintails, scaup and widgeon till you get dizzy. From the coast you can head inland to one of our many lakes and rivers that attract a variety of ducks like mallards, wood ducks, pintails, gadwall, canvasbacks, teal and widgeon. We can actually hunt all the way up to the panhandle regions of Texas and shoot big time numbers of mallards and pintails over grain fields and small lakes. Simply put, if you’re looking for a variety of duck hunting options you definitely don’t have to leave the Lone Star state. I spent my first 20 years hunting on freshwater lakes. One of the best was down around Angleton that covered about 500 acres. But the mega-sized lakes also kept us busy shooting ducks throughout the season. Some of those include Lake Conroe, Sam Rayburn, Toledo Bend, Richland-Chambers, Choke Canyon and even Lake Texoma on the Texas/Oklahoma border. There are a number of rivers in Texas that are duck hunting hotspots. Some of those include the Colorado, Guadalupe, Devils, Sabine and Neches. All the lakes, rivers, coastal bays and marshes that I’ve mentioned are open to the public. These days I spend about half the season hunting on inland lakes and rivers. The other half is spent on the coastal bays. East Matagorda Bay is very popular among lots of hunters. It’s easy to access, free to hunt and holds good numbers of redheads, pintails and scaup. What you want to do is put in at Matagorda Harbor, and take the Intracoastal Waterway to one of the cuts that lead into East Matagorda Bay. From there head to the shoreline along Matagorda Peninsula. This is where you’ll find miles of excellent duck hunting flats and backwater estuary lakes. It’s the same water that holds lots of redfish and trout during the spring and summer months. You can hunt and put up blinds just about anywhere somebody else is not hunting. What a lot of hunters don’t know is that you can also hunt along the south shorelines of East Galveston Bay. The best way to hunt there is to use a boat blind, because most of the shoreline is private property.  The best places to hunt are in the marsh just off the south shoreline. At times the hunting can be good. It’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time on this bay. The south shoreline of East Galveston Bay is directly across from the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge that offers hunts on over 34,000 acres of marshland and scattered ponds. In fact, from the Anahuac NWR you can head east to the McFaddin NWR that covers 55,000 acres. Just east of the McFaddin NWR is the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area. It covers almost 25,000 acres. If you’re a duck hunter that’s looking to hunt on public lands the area of Texas from Anahuac over to Sabine Lake is perfect. With two NWR’s and one WMA you’ve got well over 100,000 acres of primo duck hunting habitat. Jerry Norris has been hunting on the J.D. Murphree WMA for years, and with good success. I hunted there with him a few years ago and was not disappointed. We shot a number of ducks. Norris had a perfect limit of mallards and pintails. That’s as good as it gets on just about any duck hunt. “I’ve been duck hunting on public land for over 40 years,” says Norris. “The key is to scout the area, know the rules and have the right transportation to access the best areas to hunt. I do a lot of scouting, and have a mud boat that’s easy to run and will get me to where the birds are holding.” One thing that is certain about hunting public waters is that nothing is going to be handed to you on a silver platter. Things you’re going to have to deal with include long travel times, crowded spots and hunters that are so low they will set up shop in blinds that aren’t even theirs. A man that will claim another hunters blind is lower than whale scum. It’s a fact of life along the coast. Blinds set up on public bays and backwater flats are open for anybody to hunt in. But as a game warden once told me it’s a gentleman’s agreement that you don’t hunt in another man’s blind. But if you’re that low and you get there first it’s your right to hunt that blind. The best thing to do is hunt from makeshift blinds. That’s what so many hunters do on the public hunting areas that don’t allow you to build a permanent blind. Duck stools have been used for decades by bay and marsh hunters along the coast. They are easy to transport and comfortable to sit on. Also, with a duck stool you can move to where the birds are landing. Boat blinds are also good. And if you happen to be hunting in flooded timber or a brushy flat you can simply lean up against a bush or tree. Timber hunting on lakes and sloughs will often set up some outstanding hunts for mallards, woodies and pintails. Some of the best timber hunts I’ve been on were on small back woods ponds. But I’ve also had some primo hunts on flooded rivers where the water will be in the trees. There is nothing quite like calling a group or greenheads into a decoy spread that’s set up in flooded timber. I had a great hunt a couple of years back while shooting quail just west of Midland. A group of us were on a ranch that had several small cattle tanks that were loaded with pintails and mallards. Those tanks were surrounded by mesquite and oak trees. One morning two of us got up early, tossed out a few decoys and had a spectacular hunt. We were leaning up against the trees along the water’s edge while taking easy limits of mallards and pintails. We didn’t even get our feet wet. That duck hunt, combined with an afternoon of quail hunting, made for a classic evening of smoking fine cigars and sipping on some well-aged single malt scotch on the rocks. About 40 years ago I was squirrel hunting with Denny Copeland along the Colorado River bottoms.  That evening we noticed quite a few wood ducks zipping through the woods and landing on a small pond about the size of a three bedroom house. We eased through the woods for a closer look and couldn’t believe our eyes. It’s was jam packed with woodies and teal. It just happened to be duck season and lead shot was legal. We leaned up against a couple of big oak trees and put down easy limits. The only problem was wading into some very cold water to retrieve the birds. I’ve spent a lot of time hunting on the big public lakes, with good success much of the time. One of the best little tricks you can use to tap into some good duck hunts on the lakes is to get there after everybody else is packing up and heading to the house.  Most hunters make it a point to get up early enough to travel and set up well before shooting time. There is nothing wrong with that. But one tactic my hunting buddies and I have perfected is to arrive at the boat ramp when most of the other hunters are taking off their waders and heading to the house to catch a football game. On the big lakes there are lots of ducks that will move in when the shooting pressure is over. This is when you can do some scouting, and find out where big flights of ducks are moving in for some R&R. We’ve had some outstanding hunts on the big lakes from around 11 a.m. up until 2 and 3 p.m. The key is finding the birds, then setting up where they want to be. Having a duck lease is fine, but it can be an expensive option. However, it’s nice to be able to set up in a comfortable blind, within a quick drive from the house, where ducks are plentiful and hunters are scarce. Another option is to hire a guide that’ll take you to the blind, set up the decoys and call in the birds. It all boils down to how much money you want to spend, and how much effort you want to put in on each hunt. For details on duck hunting just about anywhere in Texas send me an email at sloan288@aol.com, or call (409) 782-6796.