The 2021-2022 duck/goose season was a grind for many hunters in the South. The pattern for the last three seasons has been off, and this year was no different. November and December were warmer and dryer than what it takes to attract and hold waterfowl. Drought conditions that began late summer continued to persist through the winter. Some areas even appeared to be as dry as the 2011-2012 drought. For most waterfowlers seeking larger puddle ducks, reasons to even go hunting for the first two months of the season were slim. I’ve made or heard all the excuses an avid waterfowler can make: too much water, not enough water, cold too fast then warm the rest of the winter, no food, too much food and they won’t migrate, not enough ducks, reverse migration, and the list continues.
However, I have never heard a waterfowler say there is an excess of ducks. Having said all of that, special hunts are just that – because everything needs to come together just right: conditions, birds, habitat, food, cold fronts, wind, sunshine, scouting, and being in the right place at the right time to take advantage of it all. Hunts like the one I experienced for the finale of the 2022 season don’t happen often. Many times, it may just be good fortune, in the right place at the right time, or paying our dues for spending time in the field.
The opportunity to harvest a limit of greenheads is undoubtedly special, but January 27, 2022 worked out to be extraordinary. I invited a pledge brother from Baylor and his youngest son, Holt, to join us, along with my 20-year hunting partner, Charles. It was a mid-week hunt, but Holt did not mind missing school, and it proved to be worth skipping on that day! We were hunting in layout blinds over what most would call a stock pond or cattle pond. Waterfowlers call them “staging ponds” due to ducks congregating on varying ponds based on surrounding food sources and pressure in their eating pattern. There is no food in these ponds or reason for ducks to be there other than being part of a larger pattern. In this case, we chose this pond because ducks had been assembling there all week before going to an adjacent field to eat. Unlike a typical morning hunt, we didn’t get set up until 3 PM. The area had less than one inch of rain in the past six months, but there was a chance of snow showers. We were hoping it would snow, but expectations were meager due to the lack of recent moisture.
Much to our delight, we had a few ducks work in as soon as we got set up, and shortly after, a light snow shower began along with the right amount of wind. The snowfall picked up, and the harder it snowed, the better the ducks worked. It is worth noting that many waterfowlers dream of hunting mallards in certain places and conditions. Some may say it’s hunting flooded green timber, or in a tower blind between two bald cypress trees, or pit blinds over a flooded field. To me, the opportunity to harvest waterfowl during a snow event is as good as it gets.
As the snowfall increased and continued to blanket the parched landscape, larger groups of ducks continued to work into the staging pond the rest of the afternoon. The initial volley (shown in the video) was a spectacle to see. It doesn’t take many groups of ducks like the ones we witnessed to have a spectacular hunt. One of our challenges, not a bad problem to have, was birds continued to work in while we were trying to retrieve downed waterfowl. After the initial retrieve and setting back up, we had another large group work into the snow-dusted decoys.
As the sun began to set and the snow-covered decoys began to lose their believability, the ducks continued to pour into the neighboring cut milo field while we reflected on a hunt to be remembered for years to come.
The close of the hunt was the end of a lackluster season, but it was a hunt to remember for a long time. I am delighted that my friend, Heath, and his son, Holt, got to experience something so memorable. He is spoiled now, and he will be chasing that hunt for the next decade or maybe a lifetime.
Written by Cash McWhorter, Avid Waterfowler, and Broker/Partner at Hortenstine Ranch Company.