Hunters look to duck season for whispering wings and hope

By Lynn Burkhead
For the Herald Democrat
There's been a lot of uncertainty in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded. Nevertheless, a half hour before sunrise Saturday morning, duck hunters in both North Texas and southern Oklahoma will look towards the sky for a waterfowling season they hope will bring plenty of good hunting action and a lot of splashy retrieves from the family duck dog.

A couple of weeks ago, when a late October cold front ushered in the coldest air of the autumn season so far, a quick look skyward brought a reminder that duck season wasn’t too far away.

That’s because as I burrowed a bit deeper into my jacket in the days leading up to Halloween, there was the sighting of several flocks of ducks migrating south on a stiff northerly breeze.

The irony of that report is that tomorrow morning, when the 2020-21 duck season kicks off with the Nov. 14-29 first split in both North Texas and southern Oklahoma, weather conditions are going to be quite a bit balmier. Not to mention the fact that there could be less early season ducks around now as opposed to only a couple of weeks ago.

But that should be changing over the next several weeks as the first split continues, Thanksgiving Day approaches and hopefully chilly air to the north pushes flocks of mallards, pintails, gadwalls, wigeon and green-winged teal down the Central Flyway in their annual journey towards the Texas Gulf Coast.

While it should be a good duck hunting season here in 2020-21 — including the season’s Dec. 5-Jan. 31 second split on both sides of the Red River — that’s not necessarily etched in stone this year.

In fact, in some ways, duck hunters are flying blind this fall as the season readies to begin. For one reason, recent dry weather — along with the Corps of Engineers pulling the plug on Lake Texoma — has water conditions not as favorable as they might have been only a few weeks ago.

Add in the seasonal forecasts of warm and dry winter weather ahead thanks to a growing La Nina pattern out in the Pacific, and Texoma — which can stockpile a good number of migrating ducks each season — could see more sandy areas open up instead of water levels pushing up into shoreline vegetation where ducks can feed on seeds from smartweed and other forms of important vegetation.

But Texoma’s declining water levels — and maybe those of area stock tanks and small lakes if rain doesn’t materialize soon — could be only one problem for Texomaland waterfowling enthusiasts this season. Another could be the lack of winter weather in the Central Flyway, a necessary ingredient every year to spur on late season greenheads and other duck species to push south towards the Red River Valley.

A final reason for concern is the fact that to some degree, there’s much unknown about the upcoming duck season since the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered annual waterfowl breeding population surveys earlier this spring.

While breeding duck numbers were good last year — and appear to be good in the wet Dakotas this spring — they also appear to be down this year in southern Canada, which is drier than normal. In short, there’s just no hard biological data out there this year to predict what’s coming in the 2020 season, with any degree of certainty, that is.

But given seasonal prospects and results in recent years, there is reason to hope for area waterfowlers.

With any luck, moments after the last decoy has splashed down, whispering wings will lock over the spread, mallard chuckles will tumble from a well-worn call, the retriever will whine softly as a familiar shotgun gets brought to the shoulder, and the ancient art of the autumn chase begins again.