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BRIAN JOHNSON ON OUTDOORS: Where have all of the ducks gone?

As I drove around the area checking out some of my favorite duck hunting spots, I couldn’t help but notice that there were far more ducks in February than there were during hunting season. This comes as no big surprise because it has always seemed to me that more ducks show up this time of year than any other time.

Even though I see more ducks in February than I do in November, there are usually plenty of ducks during the season. The Texas Gulf Coast has provided world-class duck hunting for decades and I have almost never had a “bad” season.

Some seasons are better than other but none are horrible. This year, that wasn’t the case. In fact we only killed around 20 ducks the entire season.

Last year, the number was close to 300. It is true that I did not spend as much time hunting this season, but the main reason is at my spots, there simply were not many ducks to hunt.

My big question is “where did all of the ducks go?”  As I have studied and researched, I have come across several possibilities:

The first option is that there were simply less ducks period. With a dry spring in the breeding grounds, the overall duck numbers were down from last season.  One of the main ducks that we hunt on the coast, the gadwall, has numbers that were 31 percent lower than last year.  The total number of ducks counted in the survey was down about 13 percent from last year but was still up 17 percent from the long term average.

The pintail population was down 40 percent from the long-term average and the scaup was down 20 percent.  These are three of the most common ducks on the coast so it stands to reason that less ducks would be seen. The teal and spoonbill populations are up considerably over the long-term average so it is not uncommon for these ducks to save the day and help hunters fill their straps.

The next possible reason for the decline in the number of ducks on the coast could be short stopping. This occurs when ducks simply stop short on their migration and don’t make it all of the way down to the Texas Coast during season.

There are several variables that come in to play.  One has to do with the lack of freezing weather. If there is plenty of open water for the ducks up north, there is no reason for them to head south.

This would also help explain why so many ducks are here in February. By February almost everything up north has frozen and forced the ducks south.

Another factor in the short stop theory is feed.  With the popularity of duck hunting on the rise, many farmers up north have decided to capitalize on hunting.

By leaving crops, especially corn, standing in the fields and then flooding, the ducks have an abundance of food available without ever heading south.  Not only is there more food up north, but there is less food on the coast.  In the past there were more rice farms in our area and this abundance of rice was a major draw for wintering ducks and geese.

Finally, there was an excess of water this year. The entire state was covered in record breaking rainfall and from a duck’s view, there was water everywhere.

The ducks that did come south were more dispersed. I heard stories of deer hunters killing ducks on their west and south Texas deer leases. They tell me that they had flooded fields full of ducks.

Many of these fields had never held water before. With all of the flooding these fields had plenty of feed and the bottoms and sloughs of east Texas were all full of water as well. In other words, ducks had more options of where to feed and rest than ever before.

As I form my own opinion about the absence of ducks this year, I think that the problem can not be attributed to any one of these things in particular, but rather a combination of all three. The good news is that ducks are migratory and they can change their patterns from year to year.

This next season could be slim or it could be the best ever. I know this for sure … the more you hunt, the luckier you will get!  May God bless you and let’s pray the ducks come back!

Brian Johnson, originally of Winnie, is pastor of First Baptist Church of Winnie, owner of DuckDogTrainer.com and outdoors writer for The News.