Jul
27

Duck Hunting

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Have you ever hunted Choke Canyon Reservoir?

No.  It’s 187 miles from my house, so I’d have to leave around 12:30 AM to get there in time to set up decoys.  It has a good reputation, but it also has a lot of gators, including big ones.  Therefore, it’s best not to hunt alone or bring our dog for November or early December hunts.

What decoys do I need for duck hunting?

The majority of the ducks that you’ll see and shoot on the Central Texas lakes are green-winged teal, gadwalls, wigeons, and redheads.  Pintails are a distant fifth place (but they’re good decoys to have as they’re highly visible).

Teal decoys really aren’t necessary, as teal will decoy to bigger decoys quite readily.  And redheads will decoy to pink decoys with purple polka dots – I’ve had them land close to me on afternoon hunts when I’m setting out decoys and on morning hunts when I’m picking decoys up.  So, I recommend starting out buying gadwalls and wigeons.

Scaups, shovelers (spoonbills), canvasbacks, buffleheads, mallards, and wood ducks are rarer.  It’s probably not worth buying decoys for them (except you often get 12 mallards per box, compared to six for the others).

As to brands, my Flambeau decoys have held up for more than 30 years and my Academy Game Winner Carvers Series decoys are holding up well.  My Greenhead Gear decoys aren’t holding up as well as my Flambeau’s.  I haven’t tried anything more expensive than Flambeau or Greenhead Gear.

I’ve done a lot of walk-in duck hunting up at Granger and the coast and have had a lot of trouble with hunters setting up on top of me.  Obviously, that’s public hunting at its finest.  Do you have any recommended walk-in areas where you’ve done well?

Granger – that’s a tough one, as the entire lake (except the parks) can be walked into, as it’s surrounded by Wildlife Management Areas (WMA’s).  However, the San Gabriel WMA gets less traffic than the Sore Finger and Willis Creek WMAs.  The problem there is if you go up the river you’ll be setting out your dekes where guys drive their boats.  I’d park at the end of CR 378 (Number 5 on https://www.swf-wc.usace.army.mil/granger/Brochures/Granger%20Lake%20Map.pdf). Also see https://www.google.com/maps/@30.6860252,-97.4030205,14z?hl=en.  Granger gets a lot of traffic from Austin hunters.

The Coast – walking in at the coast is a whole lot tougher as the bottom can be really sticky.  I’ve seen walk-in hunters at Wilson’s Cut on Hwy 361 between Corpus Christi and Port A (about five miles north of Corpus Christi).

Here are other lakes that I’ve done walk-in hunts at:

Belton – tougher as there are only three WMA’s where you can walk in – Owl Creek WMA (very tough walking with lots of trees and vines to trip over if you come in from Grove Road – so come in from Owl Creek Park – https://www.google.com/maps/@31.2234113,-97.5270029,15z?hl=en), White Flint WMA (https://www.google.com/maps/@31.2337599,-97.4790235,15z?hl=en – the problem with this area is the water by shore can be too deep for your dekes; there’s a pond in that WMA that sometimes has water in it, but it’s surrounded by trees, which makes shooting challenging), and Iron Bridge WMA (https://www.google.com/maps/@31.304313,-97.4931195,15z?hl=en but you’ll have the same problem there as you will going up the San Gabriel on Granger – the river will be too skinny to set out decoys).  Also, Belton has some of the stickiest mud that I’ve ever encountered.  Belton gets a lot of traffic from Fort Hood hunters.  See https://www.swf-wc.usace.army.mil/belton/images/BELTON_LAKE_OVERALL_RECREATION_MAP.pdf for more details.

Stillhouse Hollow – Even tougher as there are only two WMA’s to walk in to – at the end of Union Grove Road in the Union Grove WMA – https://www.google.com/maps/@31.0117237,-97.5982209,16z?hl=en and south and west of Cedar Gap Park (https://www.google.com/maps/@31.016002,-97.6527159,15z?hl=en – it’s a long walk to get to huntable areas and if you go up the river in a boat you’ll run into the same problem that you’ll find going up the San Gabriel on Granger or in the Iron Bridge WMA on Belton – you’ll be putting your dekes out where guys will come through with their boats).  The point to the north in the Union Grove WMA is a good spot, but if you want to get away from the other hunters, head east.  Stillhouse gets a lot of traffic from Fort Hood hunters.  See https://www.swf-wc.usace.army.mil/stillhouse/images/STILLHOUSE_HOLLOW_OVERALL_RECREATION_MAP.pdf for more details.

Somerville – the toughest as there is only one day hunt area to walk in to – the “cup bottom” to the east of the end of Iron Bridge Rd. (https://www.google.com/maps/@30.2901251,-96.6281178,16z?hl=en).  The shortest walk involves parking at the end of Iron Bridge Rd. and heading east.  Be aware that it’s almost as thick there as it is at the Owl Creek WMA, so skirt the shore if you can.  You can also park at the end of Frischer Rd., but it’s a longer walk to get to the “cup bottom” to the west (see https://www.google.com/maps/@30.2898657,-96.619685,16z?hl=en).  Somerville gets a lot of traffic from College Station hunters.  See https://www.swf-wc.usace.army.mil/somerville/Information/Waterfowl%20Hunting%20Lake%20Map.pdf for more details.

As to how I’ve done:

  • Granger – three good walk-in hunts in the San Gabriel WMA.
  • Stillhouse Hollow – one good walk-in hunt in the Union Grove WMA.
  • Belton and Somerville – no good walk-in hunts.  In fact, for Belton, I’ve had no good hunts via boat either and for Somerville, I’ve had one good hunt via boat (it was in the walk-in area before I knew that you had to hunt from shore in that area).

So, I’d focus on Granger and Stillhouse Hollow for walk-in hunts.

You must possess the Annual Public Hunting Permit to hunt Granger.  The other three do not require it (unless you go into the boats-only section of Somerville (with a boat) that is leased by the TPWD).  Here is the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Fort Worth District Hunting Guide.

Where can I go for a walk-in self-guided duck hunt?

All the below walk-in hunts are 1/2 – 1 mile so travel light (gun, a couple of boxes of shells, calls, a stool or bucket, and a strand of decoys).  Hopefully, you’ll be carrying back dead ducks on the way back, so your return trip will be harder.  I once went with a friend on Granger where we each carried the above plus a Mojo each and an extra strand of decoys.  We were worn out when we were done.

For all of these hunts, it’s a good idea to go to the DU migration map to see how hunters have been fairing at a particular lake.  But realize that some hunters are deliberately deceitful.  For example, Granger might be their pet lake and they’ll make a post saying that all that they’re seeing on Granger is cormorants (when they’re really doing well), just to keep other hunters away.  So, it usually takes more than one report to sway me.

Your best bet for a walk-in hunt is probably Lake Stillhouse Hollow, near Salado.  I’ve walked in at the end of Union Grove Rd. in the Union Grove WMA (it’s the only road in the WMA).  When you get to the water either go left (preferably) or right.  Look for other hunter’s headlamps and set up at least 200 yards from them.  Stillhouse’s water level can vary considerably (as with all these lakes).  See http://www.lakelevels.info/USA/Texas/.  So, the cover that is normally at the shore’s edge might be inland or underwater.  A good thing about Stillhouse is it does not require the TPWD Public Hunting Permit, nor does it require a US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) permit.

Lake Somerville, near Somerville, has a USACE Day Hunt Area that does not require a TPWD Public Hunting Permit, nor does it require a USACE permit.   It is the bottom of a cup-shaped area on the opposite side of the lake from Birch Creek Park.  Most guys set up to the left side of the cup.  I recommend that you park at the end of Fisher Rd.  There is a good trail, but there are lots of vines and stuff to trip on.  Don’t park at the end of Iron Bridge Rd. and go to the right.  It’s a very tough walk and I poked about 10 holes in my waders the only time that I did it.

For Lake Granger, near Granger, I’ve walked in at #2 before.  It’s across from the Doppler Radar station.  It’s a fairly easy walk, going slightly downhill until you get close to the water.  Then it gets thick with trees and bushes.  Going back is tougher as it’s slightly uphill.  We’ve gone straight down to the cove below #2.  We’ve also gone to the cove on the right, which is a shorter walk.  We’ve also walked in at #6 straight down to the cove/San Gabriel River.  The bad news is I haven’t seen any good reports this season for Granger on the DU migration map.  Granger does not require a USACE lake hunting permit.  However, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) leases Granger’s WMA’s; consequently, a TPWD Public Hunting Permit is required.  The cost is $48/year.

I’ve walked in before at Owl Creek WMA on Lake Belton, near Temple, and do not recommend it.  It was a very tough walk through a lot of trees, bushes, and vines that love to trip you in the dark.  I’ve also walked in at White Flint WMA.  It was a long walk as well, but not nearly as tough as Owl Creek.  A problem with Belton is the shoreline can have very sticky mud.  I’ve sunk down to my knees before.  Fortunately, I had a young, much lighter, man with me or I would have never made it 30 yards out in the water to put out the decoys.  The good thing about Belton is it does not require the TPWD Public Hunting Permit, nor does it require a USACE permit.

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Today’s Devotionals and Blogs

Kent Crockett’s blog – www.kentcrockett.blogspot.com

Mark Dillow’s blog – http://noclearline.blogspot.com/

Bible Verse of the Day

He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.