Christmas holidays bring mixed bag of duck success

By Lynn Burkhead
For the Herald Democrat

It used to be that duck hunting seemed simple in Texomaland, back in the days when peanut farming reigned supreme in the region and mallards filled the skies over Lake Texoma and surrounding stock tanks.

Head for the duck blind early in the season as gadwalls, wigeon, teal, and pintails headed for the Texas Gulf Coast prior to Thanksgiving. And then wait for colder weather in December and January to push the bulk of the mallard migration into the area where they would fill their craws with peanuts and make up the bulk of late season bag limits.

But with peanuts long gone from Texomaland, and the weather unpredictable in this time of climate change, local duck hunting is far less consistent. The early season push of ducks is still there, but once you get to Christmas and beyond, hunting success is mixed at best.

For proof of that thought, look no further than a Migration Alert posted to the Ducks Unlimited website (www.ducks.org) last week on Dec. 23.

In that report, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation chief migratory bird biologist James Morel said that the hunting has been pretty solid in some portions of the Sooner State this season, even after two big snowstorms in the northwestern and northern parts of Oklahoma in recent days.

“Starting back about that second week in November, we’ve just seen a steady movement of ducks into the state, with the larger concentrations out west,” Morel told DU Central Flyway Migration Editor John Pollmann in the alert. “But with this latest snowstorm it does not appear that we had any real significant influx or exodus of ducks, though it sounds like we did see a small migration of cacklers.

“Based on the numbers I’ve observed and the reports I’ve received, it appears that we are right at the cusp of seeing our peak duck numbers for the year,” Morel added. “Overall, it has been a pretty good year for hunters, particularly those hunting mallards out west.”

But not every waterfowler in Oklahoma agrees, including some in the central part of the state, a very important source region for Texomaland ducks.

“There were a surprising number of green-winged teal, but the mallard numbers were not nearly what I expected to see,” said wildlife photographer Joseph Edwards in a late December report to Pollmann. “There could be any number of reasons why they aren’t here right now, including the lack of water on other timber areas in the region.”

Down in northeast Texas, the frustration is also being felt as hunters hope for improving late season duck hunting action in the river oxbows, timbered sloughs, and reservoir flats on the southern side of the Red River.

But so far, the reports to the east of Texomaland — an important wintering ground for mallards — are mixed at best.

“The private landowners that I’m talking to have not seen much in terms of new birds arriving in the past week, and overall they are reporting that hunting this season has been a bit slower than normal,” said Tyler-based Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wetlands biologist Clay Shipes in his late December report to Pollman.

Shipes did say that there are pockets of ducks in the areas east of Dallas around the Sulphur River bottoms, with most ducks being reported as gadwalls, green-winged teal, and a few pintails.

“We have yet to see a really good push of mallards,” said Shipes. “Another round of weather, perhaps farther north in the flyway, would probably change that for us.”

As this is being written at midweek, that weather could be brewing to the north of Texomaland as winter weather watches and warnings dot the map.

Hopefully, that snow and cold to the north — and the strong cold front and storm system due into the Red River Valley around New Year’s Eve — will soon deliver the best waterfowl hunting action of the season.

As a Texomaland duck hunter hoping to ring in 2021 with some plump red-legged mallards, I sure hope so.