Dec
11

Self-guided Duck/Teal Hunts

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Randy Rowley hosts several self-guided duck/teal hunts on central Texas lakes, within 103 miles of Austin.

Do not expect limits on these hunts, as Randy has a full-time job, isn’t a guide, hunts on weekends or state of Texas holidays (usually), and hunts on highly pressured lakes in an area of Texas near where he lives (Leander) that isn’t known for great duck hunting.  Results have usually been far from great on the lakes, especially since the 2016/2017 season.  Here is our scorecard to date:

Season Number of Ducks Bagged Number of Hunts Number of Hunters Average Number of Ducks Per Hunt Average Number of Ducks Per Hunter
2023/2024 44 (23 on lakes and 21 on ponds) 14 49 3.14 0.90
2022/2023 6 (3 on lakes and 3 on ponds) 6 16 1.00 0.38
2021/2022 1 (on a lake) 5 20 0.20 0.05
2020/2021 50 (6 on lakes and 44 on a pond) 11 39 4.55 1.28
2019/2020 5 (on a pond) 6 24 0.83 0.21
2018/2019 8 (on lakes) 6 18 1.33 0.44
2017/2018 0 4 24 0.00 0.00
2016/2017 9 (on lakes) 5 15 1.80 0.60
2015/2016 10 (4 on lakes and 6 on a pond) 7 28 1.43 0.36
2014/2015 11 (9 on lakes and 2 on a pond) 6 18 1.83 0.61
2013/2014 16 (on lakes) 6 18 2.67 0.89
2012/2013 16 (on lakes) 5 17 3.20 0.94
Total 176 (95 on lakes and 81 on ponds) 81 (average of 6.75 hunts/ season) 286 (average of 23.83 hunters/ season) 2.17 0.62

Some of our successes include:

Randy can take up to three adult hunters (four including him) on Cam (his 2019 bay boat – a 20-foot 3-inch camo Excel Bay Pro 203 with a 115 HP Yamaha motor), which has a camo Beavertail blind that sits on top (see below).

Here is Randy’s first motor boat, Bob, all brushed out (below the hunter’s head).  However, as hunters usually don’t want to leave an hour earlier than they normally do (2:00 – 3:00 AM), they rarely brush out Cam.

Note that these hunts usually require wading in water at night, with only a cap light or head lamp for illumination, while carrying a shotgun, ammo, drinks, etc.  They also require putting out and picking up decoys and retrieving dead ducks.  Hunters sometimes get stuck in muddy lake/river/pond bottoms and trip over stumps and logs.  Being able to get yourself unstuck if stuck in the mud and back on your feet if you’ve fallen is essential.  Consequently, these hunts are not recommended for hunters who have difficulty freeing themselves from the mud or getting back up if they’ve fallen.

Also note that a law was enacted in 2022 that requires hunters to either on-sight register or electronic on-sight register (if available) upon arrival and departure from a TPWD public hunting area.  The signage at least on Lake Granger is inadequate to explain to hunters what they must do.  It simply states, “E and the unit number” (such as E285).  Game wardens are ticketing hunters who don’t on-sight register or electronic on-sight register upon arrival and departure at Lake Granger.

Hunters will hunt either Lakes GrangerStillhouse Hollow (aka Stillhouse), Somerville, or Waco in their Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs).  Lake Belton is Randy’s last choice as they’ve hunted it seven times (three times in the Owl Creek WMA, twice in the Iron Bridge WMA, once in the White Flint WMA, and once from the shores of Fort Hood) and only fired shots on the Fort Hood hunt.  They also didn’t see hardly any ducks in the WMAs.  In order to hunt the Iron Bridge WMA successfully, hunters need a flat bottom or airboat to get up the usually shallow Leon River, which Randy doesn’t have.

All five lakes are administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).  Hunters will hunt until 8:30 – 10:30 AM, depending on how the ducks are flying and the weather conditions (ducks often fly longer when it is overcast).

Hunters will not hunt Lake Georgetown.  The USACE requires a Small Game Permit to hunt waterfowl and the Lake Georgetown Project Office will only issue 50 small game permits each season.  Small game permits will be administered through an application and a random drawing process and there is a $25 application fee.

Our best hunts have been on Lakes Granger and Stillhouse Hollow (aka Lake Stillhouse), so they’re tied for Randy’s first choice.  Lake Somerville is his third choice.

Lake Granger doesn’t require a USACE lake hunting permit.  However, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) leases Lake Granger’s WMA’s; consequently, a TPWD annual public hunting permit is required.  The cost is $48/year.  If hunters decide to hunt Lake Granger they will hunt in the San Gabriel, Willis Creek, or Sore Finger WMA’s.  Wilson Fox Park on Granger is 38 miles from Randy’s house.

Lakes Stillhouse and Waco do not require a TPWD annual Public hunting permit nor a USACE lake hunting permit (see http://www.swf-wc.usace.army.mil/stillhouse/Recreation/Hunting.asp).

If Randy decides to hunt Lake Stillhouse they’ll launch at Riversbend Park (50 miles from his house) and hunt in the Union Grove WMA on the island (the side depends on the direction of the wind) or in a small cove.  Or they’ll launch at Cedar Gap Park and hunt in the Gravel Crossing or Twin Creek WMA’s, up the Lampasas River, but that area isn’t very wide so Randy usually doesn’t hunt it.

If Randy decides to hunt Lake Waco they’ll hunt either in the Flat Rock hunting area or in the South Waco hunting area.  Depending on where they hunt, Waco is 56 miles further than Lake Granger (97 miles from Randy’s house), so they’ll have to leave an hour earlier than they would if they were going to hunt Lake Granger.  Note that all hunters who hunt on Lake Waco must sign a Disclaimer and Waiver of Liability and have it in their possession while hunting.  Also, duck hunters on Lake Waco must wear at least 400 square inches of hunter orange material (144 square inches on both chest and back) and some type of orange headwear when leaving their hunting destinations.  In addition, no hunting is permitted around Waco Wetlands.  Randy has yet to hunt Lake Waco, so the jury is still out on it.

Lake Somerville doesn’t require a USACE lake hunting permit.  However, hunters will need a TPWD annual public hunting permit if they hunt in the TPWD day hunt area.  They must hunt from Cam, be far enough from the shoreline that their shot will not fall on dry land, and must not set up so that they’re shooting in the direction of the shoreline.  The USACE day hunt area doesn’t require a TPWD annual public hunting permit, although they can only hunt from the shore in that area (they can’t hunt from Cam), so it’s Randy’s last choice.  Lake Somerville is 62 miles further than Granger (103 miles from Randy’s house), so they’ll have to leave an hour earlier than they would if they were going to hunt Lake Granger.  They’ve only had one good hunt on Lake Somerville, so it’s Randy’s next to last choice.

Where they hunt will depend on lake levels and hunting reports that Randy receives from various sources.

Costs:

  • The participants (excluding Randy, if Cam is being used) will split the vehicle and boat gas (the amount depends on the distance traveled and the number of people sharing the gas), boat launch fees (if applicable; no more than $5 each), and toll road fees (if they take any).  Randy has to replace Cam’s starter batteries, trailer tires and wheel bearings, etc. more quickly due to taking FCS members and guests on duck hunts than he would if he didn’t take FCS members and guests on such trips, and pay boat and trailer insurance; therefore, he’s exempt from the above expenses.  If they’re not using Cam then Randy will join the other participants on splitting the vehicle gas and toll road feeds (if they take any).
  • They’ll stop at Whataburger on the way to the lake and might stop for second breakfast or brunch on the way home.

They typically launch at free ramps so there usually isn’t a boat launch or state or county park fee.

What to Bring:

  • Texas hunting license and migratory bird endorsement and federal duck stamp.  If you bought a super combo license it includes your hunting license and migratory bird endorsement but does not include a federal duck stamp.
  • Shotgun.  A 12 gauge piston-operated semi-automatic is recommended (but keep them clean, as if they get gunked up they’ll stop working).  A recoil (aka inertia)-operated semi-automatic takes second place (as they kick more than piston-operated semi-automatics), followed by a pump (or slide)-action.  A plug is required for semi-automatics and pumps capable of holding more than two shells in the magazine (almost all of them are) while hunting migratory game birds.
  • Camo or dull non-cloth shotgun case.  If hunting from Cam, a floating case is recommended.  If your case is bright you’ll need to hide it well if hunting on land.
  • Non-lead 3″ (if your gun is also chambered for 3″) shotgun shells (HEVI-Steel, Winchester Xpert, or equivalent) in 2, 3, or 4 shot – the 1550 FPS variant for steel shot and the 1500 FPS variant for HEVI-Steel) are recommended.   Don’t use anything smaller than 4 shot.  10 gauges and 3 1/2 inch shells in 3 1/2 inch-chambered 12 gauges are overkill for all but the biggest ducks.  Steel shot (if of adequate size) will kill ducks – there is no need for HEVI-shot, Tungsten, Bismuth, etc.  You’ll pay a lot more for those shells and they aren’t needed.  You’ll not need more than three boxes and will probably shoot less than two boxes.  Several times hunters haven’t shot at all.
  • Camo or dull blind bag, shell bag, vest, or bandoleer.  If hunting from Cam, a floating blind bag is recommended.  If hunting from land and your shell bag is bright (e.g., a red HEB shopping bag) you’ll need to hide it well.
  • Headlamp or cap light (waterproof is recommended).
  • Camo outer hunting clothes, including cap/hat and a face mask or face paint (face coverings are absolutely essential as oily skin glows in a duck’s eyes).  As you never know when it will rain, bring rain gear.
  • Waders (absolutely essential).  Uninsulated breathable waders are recommended for warmer hunts.  Neoprene breathable waders are recommended for colder hunts (if you wear 5mm thick neoprene waders on an early season hunt you might cook yourself).  Hunters don’t put their waders on until they reach the lake (unless they have uninsulated breathable waders).
  • If hunters hunt from Cam, they’ll not need a bucket, stool, or chair, as Cam has fishing chairs and benches.  However, if they have to hunt from shore (because the cover is too far from shore and Cam will stick out like a sore thumb) they’ll use Cam to ferry them to where they’ll hunt, beach him 100 or so yards away, and sit in the cover.  In which case you’ll need a bucket, stool, or chair.
  • Ear plugs or muffs (electronic ones allow you to hold normal conversations).
  • Non-mirrored shooting glasses or sunglasses (optional).
  • Drinks and snacks (optional; drinks are highly recommended).  There are storage compartments in Cam to put drinks and snacks in.
  • Bug repellent (optional, but recommended).
  • Game shears (optional), small fillet knife, a gallon-sized Ziploc bag, and a small hard or soft ice chest to take your ducks home in, if you get any.

Randy has seven life jackets and three ponchos in Cam, so you won’t need either one.  However, you can bring your own if you want to.

Randy has extras of many of the items that are listed above (such as waders, floating shotgun cases, stools, small and medium-sized ice chests, cap lights, etc.) and will happily loan things if you let him know that you would like to borrow something before they leave.  Of course, if you borrow something and break or lose it Randy will expect reimbursement.  He’ll also expect reimbursement if hunters shoot his decoys and they’re damaged beyond repair or if his motorized duck is submerged while in their care (water will fry its motor).

Here are examples of sitting in cover (all but the top left picture include a mesh blind):

Randy usually starts out with a modified waterfowl choke if the ducks are coming into the decoys.  If all he’s getting are shots as they fly past (pass shooting), he’ll switch to a full waterfowl choke.  Clay target chokes often shoot tighter with non-lead shot (e.g., a modified choke will often perform as a full choke with non-lead shot).  A choke that delivers that performance should say that on the choke.

Randy has 112 decoys (33 mallards (including 28 decoys, two quiver ducks, a swimmer, a motorized duck, and a wind-activated duck that he only uses when it’s windy enough to spin its wings), 26 pintails, 17 redheads, 12 teal, 11 gadwalls, six canvasbacks, six buffleheads, and a widgeon; however, he’ll only bring decoys for the types of ducks found on the lake that they’re going to.  For example, he’s never seen canvasbacks or buffleheads on Lakes Somerville or Granger, so those decoys will stay in his garage when they hunt there.  He’ll bring between 60 – 72 decoys to the lakes, due to Cam’s space limitations.  For ponds, when there is a pond that they can hunt on, he’ll just bring 12 to 24 decoys (depending on the size of the pond).

Expectations

These hunts are a service to FCS members and guests, but Randy will enforce the below expectations:

  • Follow his instructions and abide by the FCS Bylaws Regarding Conduct.
  • Pay for your share of truck and boat gas and and park entrance fees/boat launch fees.
  • Pay for items (that are not yours) that you broke or lost (including decoys that you shot and sank).
  • Help (including helping get Cam back on his trailer).
  • Control your dog (a dog that wants to go play with the decoys or charge the ducks as they are coming in will ruin the hunt).
  • Talk quietly, especially when ducks are coming into the decoys (ducks can hear you and will veer away).
  • Show up.
  • Be on time.
  • Don’t have a pattern of canceling at the last minute.
  • Read Randy’s emails and don’t ask questions that have already been answered in the emails (and you would’ve known the answers if you had read the emails).
  • Return Randy’s phone calls and/or emails, if he asks you a question or asks you to acknowledge something.

Let Randy know at randywrowley@gmail.com (his preference) or 512-922-2484 if you have any questions.

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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.