‘Tis the season on the Texas shore and we are bringing you the lowdown on duck hunting from Greg Hodsdon of Heads or Tails Guide Service. The 2021 regular hunting season runs from November 6th through to November 28th and then reopens December 11th and ends January 30th. If you are into hunting Teal, early Teal season is September 11th through 26th, so get your decoys ready and your duck call tuned up! Here are the best tips and advice from a seasoned professional duck hunter.
Rockport and the Texas Coastal Bend are one of the best duck hunting areas in the country! Migrating ducks in the Central Flyway follow a route from north to south between the Mississippi and the Colorado Rivers and the Eastern, Western, and Pacific Flyways all merge over our coast a.k.a. The Duck Highway. 80% of Redheads migrate here and the rest pass through and frequently need a freshwater break before their final leg over the Gulf of Mexico. The Aransas Bay area also has the barrier islands and flats, which are feeding and resting grounds for these migratory waterfowl. Greg takes his customers out to hunt on San Jose Island in his Panther Airboat so he can get into the shallows. He builds fresh blinds daily from brush and branches, and the locations change with each shoot, which is preferable to hard standing blinds. Greg takes out 4 people max per trip on a hunting party, and they will set up in water approximately 1 foot deep.
Duck hunting requires a license and Greg recommends getting one at Tackle Town in Rockport because they know what questions to ask so you get the proper Small Game License along with your Duck Stamp and State Migratory Bird Endorsement. As to equipment, you must have a good pair of waders and waterproof clothing, including camouflage wear, and a shotgun, usually a 12 or 20 gauge. (FYI, Greg likes Simms waders, Sitka jackets and Benelli shotguns.) You must use nontoxic shot when shooting ducks whereas other game birds like Dove and Quail you can use lead shot. There is a Federal 3-shell capacity limit because if you can’t hit the duck in 3 shots, it’s only fair to give it a chance to get away while you reload.
Using a professional guide like Greg is important for many reasons, but most importantly, there are daily limits per species of duck and if you overshoot the fines can be exorbitant. Greg can differentiate between at least 15 different duck species by sight or call and identify the ones you can shoot and the ones you cannot while they are still in the air. He recommends having one Mallard Call and one Duck Whistle to use in addition to the 120—140 decoys he puts out ahead of time. He offers two trips per day in season, one 30 minutes before sunrise until about 10 a.m. and in the afternoon from about 2 pm through to sunset.
A good guide knows the water tides and how it affects duck feeding locations. There are 2 types of ducks, Divers and Dabblers. Diving ducks can dive beneath the surface and eat fish, bugs, and crustaceans, whereas Dabblers bend over and can reach about 8 inches beneath the water to eat grains and grasses. So, all the puddle ducks you see in ponds who stick their butts in the air and hide their heads underwater are not being shy like ostriches, they are just having a meal! Dabblers are considered better for eating and include Wigeon, Blue and Green Winged or Cinnamon Teal, Pintail, Gadwalls, and Mallards. Diving ducks include Canvasbacks and Redheads, and since 80% of Redheads migrate through Texas, there is a large population of those around. Another great reason to use a guide when duck hunting is that they clean your birds for you!
Greg has some advice for beginner duck hunters, including be weather-prepared! The worse the weather, the better the duck hunting in general so, make sure you have waterproof footwear and clothing. He also says beginners often have toxic shot with them from dove hunting, which you don’t bring with you on a duck hunt. Make sure you know what species you are shooting and where, because to some people it is considered unethical to shoot ducks on the ground and a major faux pas to shoot them in the water since it is just too easy. The ideal time is when the ducks are cupping or putting down their landing gear. So basically, you shoot them in the air as they land, not on the ground or in the water. Ducks can fly 30 miles per hour, so you shoot ahead of the duck anticipating where it will be before it arrives. This is called the ‘lead’ and the ideal range is between 20 and 40 yards. You never hunt with the wind in your face because then the ducks would be behind you since ducks always land into the wind. Got it? Patience is key says Greg, “So enjoy the experience and don’t get frustrated.” Being still is also vital because the birds notice movement and will fly away if they sense any.
Leave at least one wing fully feathered when transporting them because Game Wardens have to be able to ID the species to check daily limits. If you are after Trophy Ducks to mount, most hunters are looking for a Pintail Drake (limit 1 per day), or a Redhead Drake (limit 2 per day) or a Wigeon Drake (limit is 6 per day). Another trophy type is a banded duck. These ducks have a steel band around a leg, kind of like a FedEx tracking number, and it allows you to find out how old your duck is and where it has been. Duck populations are managed Federally, and limits are enforced to manage species numbers.
It’s time to get quacking and book your Duck Hunting Guide trip! Greg is filling up, but still has some slots available. If you hunt with Greg, you also get to meet his friendly black Lab, Moxie, an expert retriever, who saves you from having to go get your own duck and is awfully darn cute! Get your license, grab your waders, and get hunting.
Duck season is here and we can’t wait.