December 17th, 2007 17:43 EST
Duck Hunting: Texas Duck Tour comes to an end, conservation issues in spotlight
The Texas Duck Tour is over.
And for me hunting seven locations in seven days was the realization of a lifelong ambition and the gain of perspective on the issues facing waterfowl in Texas and beyond in the 21st Century.
One example I could give is the hunt we did with Marsh Point south of Winnie. The big problems there include a loss of rice production, which may be one of the causes of pintails leaving Texas in poor health and later than ever.
Pintails along with scaup are two species of special concern as their numbers are far below the long-term average and although scientists have some ideas why they are on the decline, no one has a definite answer.
Rice loss is also a reason for less ducks staying in our region in the past. The area has lost 83 percent of its rice acreage over the last 30 years.
Waterfowl conservation is complex, and by hitting these different areas I hoped to drive home to the people hunting those areas how important the habitat is, and that without successful nesting in the prairies, there will poor fall flights.”
Upon conceiving the idea, I sought the help of Ducks Unlimited (DU) on this venture to provide logistical support and help choose key areas with specific conservation issues that need addressing.
My cohort on the trip was Southeast Texas Regional Director Tim Soderquist who is over 37 DU Chapters and is as passionate about ducks as anyone I have ever met.
“Texas is a unique state with so many different kinds of habitat and the problems facing certain areas may not affect other hunters directly. However when you put them all together along with problems on the nesting grounds you see it is very important for hunters to think with conservation in mind and get more active at a grassroots level,” Soderquist said.
“It’s our volunteers around this country that have helped conserve more than 12 million acres of wetlands and the more people we get involved the brighter the future will be for waterfowl and waterfowl hunters.”
Being a lifelong East Texas hunter, I was impressed with Pintail Ridge Hunting Club on the Trinity River bottoms near Crockett.
It is the site of an East Texas Wetlands project, which has helped to create some moist soil areas that give productive wintering habitat to mallards, gadwall, teal, pintail, wood ducks and a host of other species.
“Texas is 97 percent privately owned and you have to go where the ducks are. Without working on private land we would have very little effect on habitat here so we partner with conservation-minded landowners like DU volunteer Lee Holsey of Pintail Ridge and members of the club like Wayne Mask,” Soderquist said.
I couldn’t help but marvel at this high quality hunting which took place in the shadow of a gravel pit operation owned by Holsey.
"They are very conservation minded and while they are taking from the environment they give back and being waterfowl hunters they have chosen to help create these wetlands which benefit not only ducks but also shorebirds, reptiles, amphibians and many other organisms. It’s a wonderful example of how industry can work in conjunction with nature,” Soderquist said.
Other hunts found us in the Texas Hill Country where land development is a major issue facing all wildlife, at Choke Canyon Reservoir where water hyacinith and ohter noxious aquatic vegetation is causing problems for hunter access and the ducks themselves and at Port Bay Hunting Club near Rockport. There development is encroaching on traditional waterfowl habitat in a big way.
After this journey it was easy to see that waterfowl are not only facing issues in their nesting grounds but also where they winter here in the Lone Star State. These issues will be addressed in a series of articles to revealed in the next few weeks.
The last hunt of the tour was with outfitter W.L. (Bill) Sherrill at Pierce Ranch near Wharton.
If there has ever been a shining example of habitat conservation, it is this place, which houses literally hundreds of thousands of ducks, geese, sandhill cranes and other migratory birds during the fall and winter. Only an hour south of Houston it is an oasis of habitat in the shadow of coming development.
Upon parting after a great goose hunt last Friday, Bill Sherrill sort of wrapped up the sentiments of the Duck Tour.
“Without habitat you won’t have the ducks and without the hunters caring about habitat you won’t have anything,” Sherrill said.
No greater truth on this subject has ever been spoken.
(The Texas Duck Tour is a join conservation awareness project of Texas Fish & Game magazine and Ducks Unlimited. The idea is to raise awareness to conservation issues facing waterfowl in different regions of Texas by profiling hunting opportunities and the problems that stand in their way. Chester Moore is Executive Editor of Texas Fish & Game and author of the newly released Texas Waterfowl, available by ordering direct at 281-227-3001, at Academy Sports and Outdoors stores and on Amazon.com online. Twenty percent of the author’s proceeds will go to DU projects in Texas and the nesting grounds. For information on Ducks Unlimited, go to http://www.ducks.org)