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2017-11-09

Woods, Waters and Wildlife

By John Jefferson

Photo by John Jefferson
A duck hunter and stoic retriever await the first flight of ducks behind a fallen tree on opening morning of the season.


By John Jefferson
Outdoor writer and photographer

Duck Hunting Dangers
A message from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) last week cautioned duck hunters to “Wear your life jacket.” An accompanying illustration showed a man standing up while piloting a boat with another hunter and a retriever seated in the bow. I’ve hunted ducks for years from High Island to Corpus and have never seen a duck hunter wearing a life jacket. That’s good advice for anyone using a boat to get to the stand, though. But the illustration almost encourages standing up in a boat. The chance that boaters might strike debris causing a boat to lurch should be enough to discourage standing.
Thinking back, one morning on the Barrow Ranch near Port Arthur, we had to boat across a narrow slip of water to get to our blinds. One of the other hunters, wearing waders, lost his balance getting in the boat, and took an unplanned dive into cold saltwater. He and his and shotgun went all the way under. Fortunately, the water was shallow, and he stood up and handed us his dripping shotgun. Unfortunately, it was mid-December, and cold, and the man had no extra clothing. Through chattering teeth, and with no small amount of embarrassment, he insisted he was fine, and ready to hunt.
So, I guess TPWD must tell some people to wear life jackets.
A different kind of fall affected another early morning hunter. Four men sat in the dark in a sunken ground blind near the coast. It was close to shooting time (1/2 hour before sunrise to sunset), and one hunter decided to answer Nature’s call. He weighed close to 300 pounds, and stood in front of the blind, facing away. As he stood there in the dark, his companions heard a “splat”, and the large man fell back onto them. He was unconscious, and bleeding from his forehead. They had difficulty understanding what had caused his sudden return to the blind, and trouble moving him. A duck fluttering on the ground, provided a clue. In the dark, it apparently flew directly into the busy hunter’s face. The hunter survived; the duck didn’t.
I’m not sure how TPWD could word a warning about that danger, or what an accompanying illustration might look like. And I wonder if a game warden would call that a legal means and method of taking. Or using a live decoy?
The South Duck Zone opened on Nov. 4, and closes on Nov. 26. It reopens Dec. 9-Jan 28. It is everything south of U.S 90 from Del Rio to San Antonio, and then on I-10 to Orange. The North Zone is open Nov. 11-26 and Dec. 2- Jan. 28. The High Plains Mallard Management Unit is open Nov. 3-Jan. 28, and is everything west of a line from Del Rio to Vernon. Good duck populations and healthy habitat make hunting expectations high.
Regulations are complex, and bag limits vary by bird. The Texas Waterfowl Digest is available free where licenses are sold, and online. It’s required reading.