Texas coastal duck hunting is as good as it gets here in my backyard. Over thirty five years of duck hunting the coastal flats of the Laguna Madre and Baffin Bay have been a blessing.
Coastal duck hunting is much different than fresh water hunts and demands some different strategies. The advantage and joy of hunting the salt flats is that here we have a melting pot of varied species all sharing the prime wintering grounds for the entire season. Most fresh water hunts are catching waterfowl that are in migration passing south, or moving to and from food, water, and roost. Most inland duck hunts are on small ponds and marshes. Limited mobility, and privet land are all obstacles in finding the birds, and staying with them. Deep water sets make retrieving downed birds difficult and many fresh water ponds are only good for a few hours at first and last light. Our strategies revolve around the same three important daily actions of the ducks, but hunters can see the movements of birds for miles across the open water. Having the knowledge of what the birds are doing is the key to consistent successful hunts and full limits.
Our area stretches for over 60 miles and encompasses miles of ultra-shallow expanses of sea grass. This is the wintering grounds for hundreds of thousands of ducks from the entire Central Flyway. The diverse sea grasses combine with small shellfish, mud worms, and even small fish to attract waterfowl from the entire continent. Ducks don’t necessarily eat the tops of the grass, they mostly pull up the grass and eat the roots. Some types of sea grasses are eaten and are the “sweet” grasses that grow in the real honey holes. Late season flocks will stay after much of the shallow grass is eaten and turn their diet towards the small clams and mollusks in the mud out in deeper water. I often see hunters putting out decoys over sandy bottom areas with little success, ducks are going to be where there is something to eat. Locate daytime areas of mass gatherings, these are your primary feeding areas. Many times they are open areas far away from any duck blinds and hard to hunt. Look for flights of ducks to lift off and head towards water sources mid-day. Follow and track them with the use of aerial maps looking for fresh water sources. Watch for the last flights of birds especially on windy ugly afternoons to settle in roosting areas at last light. When you have found all three of their needs in life, hunters can position themselves in their flight path and second guess their movements.
Puddle ducks are designed to feed in shallow water by tipping over and dipping their heads underwater feeding on or near the bottom. They will eat in less than two feet of water, and feed exclusively on plants. Their wings are longer and so are their bodies, and most have long necks. Our most common puddle ducks are pintails, widgeon, gadwalls, shovelers, black ducks and molted mallards, ruddy ducks, and a few teal. Divers are designed to dive deep and hold their breath for minutes at a time while they pull up deep grasses and dig for small clams and mollusks. Some divers can and will dive up to 20 ft. deep. Their bodies are more round and they have shorter necks. Divers group in large rafts and can move in flocks that number in the thousands. Our most common diving ducks are the redheads, blue bills, scaup, beautiful buffleheads, golden eyes, canvas backs, common mergansers, hooded mergansers, red breasted mergansers, and some lost species from the eastern flyway at times. The enormous variety of species of ducks here is a big draw for both experienced and novice duck hunters alike. Many hunters may come here to get that elusive trophy duck that they don’t get to see very often. Beginners love to see and hold the many different ducks, admiring the bright and brilliant plumage. Ducks make great wall and office mounts in that they are small and appeal to many. Mom will let you hang ducks up where the big game shoulder mounts are out of the question. Most quality duck mounts are between $200 and $300. Some of the best mounts I have seen are big logs with different species in lifelike positions along the top, or wings cupped coming in for the landing. The lure of waterfowling is strong in that there is the variety in opportunity and the challenge to bring in birds of different types to the spread.
Making it all happen can be easy. Duck decoys are pretty cheap and to get started you can use as few as six decoys and go hide out somewhere. On the flip side I use a very diverse decoy spread with ten different species of decoys, and at times up to 400 decoys. Within large flights of birds there may be only a few specific birds of one kind, if they see some of their buddies down in your spread they will light up and come on down. We also set out the spread with species of ducks grouped together with their own kind. The puddle ducks in the shallows, and the divers out deep. Many small details make a big difference, pay close attention to the way ducks sit naturally on their own. Mimic their patterns and habits. And always remember that ducks will land into the wind.
Calling ducks is a lot of fun and something that young hunters love. The chance to talk in the blind and teach kids the art of duck hunting is different than most big game hunts, when motionless silence is crucial. Duck calls are cheap and easy to learn how to become good at. In coastal duck hunting loud “high ball mallard calls” are not what brings in the ducks. Soft quacks and feeding calls are natural sounds of the ducks we have here. Most all female ducks quack, while many of the males have whistles, purrs, and tweets that are parts of their vocalization. Again, pay attention to the wild ducks around you. Many times we lay out and let them land learning their ways without shooting.
The chance to introduce young hunters to hunting is the easiest in a duck blind. Not all shots need to be flyby wing shots. Many a veteran waterfowler slid a shotgun over the edge of a duck blind and drew a bead down on his or her first trophy. There is a lack of blood and guts, ducks are a much better first hunt to kids than big game. Have some fun with your kids and come on down this year and soak up some coastal waterfowl action. Duck season starts on Nov. 2nd and lasts through Dec. 1st, then opens up again on Dec. 15th and runs till Jan. 26th. The entire season rides side by side with some of the best fishing of the year. We like to fish in the morning then break for lunch and switch boats before the evening hunt till sunset. Our all day CAST-N-BLASTS are the same price as a summertime fishing trip, but gives you an IRON MAN DAY. GREAT BLINDS, AWESOME FISHING, and THOUSANDS OF DUCKS make a Coastal Duck Hunt a must on your list this winter. We even have gift cards for Christmas!
Hook Them Hard and Keep Calling!
Joey Farah, Licensed Saltwater Fishing Guide
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