Jan
29

Self-guided Inland Duck/Teal Hunts

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I, Randy Rowley, host several self-guided inland duck/teal hunts on central Texas lakes, within 110 miles of Austin.

Do not expect limits on these hunts, as I have a full-time job, am not a guide, hunt on Saturdays or state of Texas holidays (usually), and hunt on highly pressured lakes in an area of Texas that is not known for great duck hunting.  Our 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
2022/2023 9 (5 on lakes and 4 on ponds) 8 25 1.13 0.36
2021/2022 6 (3 on lakes and 3 on ponds) 6 16 1.00 0.38
2020/2021 1 (on a lake) 5 20 0.20 0.05
2019/2020 50 (6 on lakes and 44 on a pond) 11 39 4.55 1.28
2018/2019 5 (on a pond) 6 24 0.83 0.21
2017/2018 8 (on lakes) 6 18 1.33 0.44
2016/2017 0 4 24 0.00 0.00
2015/2016 9 (on lakes) 5 15 1.80 0.60
2014/2015 10 (4 on lakes and 6 on a pond) 7 28 1.43 0.36
2013/2014 11 (9 on lakes and 2 on a pond) 6 18 1.83 0.61
2012/2013 16 (on lakes) 6 18 2.67 0.89
2011/2012 16 (on lakes) 5 17 3.20 0.94
Total 141 (77 on lakes and 64 on ponds) 75 (average of 6.25 hunts/ season) 262 (average of 21.83 hunters/ season) 1.88 0.54

Some of our successes include:

I can take up to three adult hunters (four including me) on my 2019 20-foot 3-inch camo Excel Bay Pro 203 with a 115 HP Yamaha motor, which has a camo blind that sits on top of it (see below).

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

We will hunt either Lakes GrangerStillhouse Hollow (aka Stillhouse), Somerville, or Waco in their Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs).  Lake Belton is our last choice as we’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.  We also didn’t see hardly any ducks within range from the WMAs.  In order to hunt Lake Belton successfully you need a flat bottom boat, which I don’t have, to get up the shallow Leon River.

All five lakes are administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).  We 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).

We will not hunt Lake Georgetown.  The USACE requires a Small Game Permit to hunt waterfowl.  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.

We have had our best hunts on Granger and Stillhouse Hollow, so they’re tied for my first choice.  Somerville is my third choice.

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 annual public hunting permit is required.  The cost is $48/year.  If we decide to hunt Granger we will hunt in the San Gabriel, Willis Creek, or Sore Finger WMA’s.  Friendship Park on Granger is 47 miles from my house.

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 we decide to hunt Stillhouse we’ll launch at Riversbend Park (51 miles from my 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 we’ll launch at Cedar Gap Park and hunt in the Gravel Crossing or Twin Creek WMA’s, up the Lampasas River, but that area is very stumpy so I usually don’t hunt it.

If we decide to hunt Waco (which we never have) we’ll hunt either in the Flat Rock hunting area or in the Hog Creek or Middle Bosque hunting areas.  Depending on where we hunt, Waco is 58 – 65 miles further than Granger (99 – 106 miles from my house), so we’ll have to leave an hour earlier than we would if we were going to hunt 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.  We’ve yet to hunt Waco, so the jury is still out on it.

Somerville does not require a USACE lake hunting permit.  You’ll need a TPWD annual public hunting permit if we hunt in the TPWD day hunt area (the undeveloped area designated by the yellow line on the below map).  We must hunt from my boat, be far enough from the shoreline that our shot will not fall on dry land, and must not set up so that we’re shooting in the direction of the shoreline.  If we hunt in the “developed” area of Nails Creek Park (the area designated by the orange line on the below map) we must hunt from my boat at least 200 yards from shore.  We cannot hunt in the area designated by the red line on the below map.  The USACE day hunt area does not require a TPWD annual public hunting permit, although we can only hunt from the shore in that area (we can’t hunt from my boat), so it’s my last choice.  Somerville is 54 miles further than Granger (95 miles from my house), so we’ll have to leave an hour earlier than we would if we were going to hunt Granger.  We’ve only had one good hunt on Somerville, so it’s my next to last choice.

Where we hunt will depend on hunting reports that I received from various sources and lake levels.

Costs:

  • The participants (excluding me, if my boat 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 we take any).  I have to replace my boat’s starter battery, trailer tires and wheel bearings, etc. more quickly due to taking FCS members and guest on such trips than I would if I didn’t take FCS members and guests on such trips, and pay boat and trailer insurance; therefore, I am exempt from the above expenses.
  • If we’re not using my boat then I’ll join the other participants on splitting the vehicle gas and toll road feeds (if we take any).
  • We’ll stop at Whataburger on the way to the lake and might stop for second breakfast or brunch on the way home.

We typically launch at free ramps so there 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 we’re hunting from my boat a floating case is recommended.  If your case is bright you’ll need to hide it well if we’re 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 we’ve not shot at all.
  • Camo or dull blind bag, shell bag, vest, or bandoleer.  If we’re hunting from my boat a floating blind bag is recommended.  If we’re 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).  We don’t put our waders on until we reach the lake (unless you have uninsulated breathable waders).
  • If we hunt from my boat you’ll not need a bucket, stool, or chair, as my boat has fishing chairs and benches.  However, if we have to hunt from shore (because the cover is too far from shore and my boat will stick out like a sore thumb) we’ll use my boat to ferry us to where we’ll hunt, park it 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 my boat to put your 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.

I have five life jackets in my boat so you won’t need one.  I also have three ponchos in my boat.  However, you can bring your own if you want to.

I have 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 me know that you would like to borrow something before we leave.  Of course, if you borrow something and break or lose it I will expect reimbursement.  I’ll also expect reimbursement if folks shoot my decoys or if my motorized duck is submerged while in their care (water will fry its motor).

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

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

I have 110 decoys (38 mallards (including 33 decoys, two motorized ducks, two quiver ducks, a swim duck, and a wind-activated duck that I only use when it’s windy enough to spin the wings and when it’s too windy to use my motorized ducks), 28 pintails, 17 redheads, 14 gadwalls, six canvasbacks, six buffleheads, and a widgeon.  However, I’ll only bring decoys for the types of ducks found on the lake that we’re going to.  For example, I’ve never seen canvasbacks or buffleheads on Somerville or Granger, so those decoys will stay in my garage when we go there.  I usually only bring around 48 decoys on the big lakes, due to boat space limitations.  For ponds, when there is a pond that we can hunt on, I’ll usually just bring a dozen.

Expectations

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

  • Follow my 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 the boat back on the 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 my emails and don’t ask questions that have already been answered in the emails (and you would have known the answers for if you had read the emails).
  • Return my phone calls and/or emails, if I ask a question or ask you to acknowledge something.

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

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