Hunting for ducks on the Brazos

By LUKE CLAYTON

As my buddies, guide Scott Hutchinson and outdoor writer Bob Hood, and I eased down the banks of the Brazos adjacent the W. B. Ranch near Whitney, where Scott is wildlife manager, I felt a few snow flakes hitting my face.

Scott guides duck hunts on the river as well as deer and upland bird hunts on the ranch and from all accounts, this yearís duck hunting on the river is the best in recent memory. Hunting ducks on moving water is a bit different than hunting them on reservoirs or backwater marshes.

Iíve done lots of "jump shooting" on smaller creeks but this was my first time to actually set out decoys and call ducks on a larger river. Granted, the Brazos wasnít much more than a large creek on this day. With waders on, we easily crossed the water, which averaged one to two feet deep.

Large decoy spreads are not necessary when hunting water with current. The moving water causes the decoys to "swim" in real-life fashion and a dozen or two decoys is all it takes to attract passing flocks of ducks.

The decoys were in place just below a shallow riffle in the river and they looked exactly like ducks attempting to swim upstream - to me at least. In a matter of five minutes, the bobbing and weaving decoys must have looked like the real thing to a passing flock of widgeon.

They came in high over the tree line along the bank, folded their wings and began a quick decent to join their comrades on the water. Ducks losing altitude quickly as they "drop" into a decoy spread is one of natureís most beautiful sites. I have photographed waterfowl descending quickly and reviewed the images on my digital camera; the birds actually allow their wings to sail them downward and they use their tail as a rudder, much like the tail of a kite. A couple of this first flock wound up with honored positions on our duck straps- later to be wrapped in bacon and grilled over mesquite wood!

"Itís amazing how few people hunt the rivers for ducks. They are virtually an untapped resource. Regardless of which part of the state one lives, itís a good bet they live within an easy drive of a river system that provides good hunting. Usually, the waters within the high bank limits of the river are open to hunting but hunters should check with local authorities before assuming hunting is permitted," Scott says.

After harvesting that first double on widgeon, ducks continued to approach our makeshift blind set along the shore grass and brush; shooting was relaxed and unhurried with brief periods between flights. We enjoyed shooting for gadwall, widgeon and mallards and even watched a golden eye circle overhead just out of shotgun range.

Scott says scouting is just as important when hunting a river as it is on standing waters. "For reasons known only to the ducks, they prefer certain areas of the river best. Usually slack water with standing grass along the outside bend of rivers is a good place to set up to hunt ducks, but Iíve also enjoyed good shooting on long, straight stretches of the river. A spot that produces well one day might be void of ducks the next."

Scott offers very economical duck hunts on the section of river along the W.B. Ranch ($100 per person). Lodging and meals can be arranged at the lodge, or hunters can simply show up early in the morning ready to hunt.

As is often the case, waders may or may not be needed, but itís a good idea to have a good pair along just in case that "hot spot" is across the Brazos.

Access to the hot spots along this stretch of the Brazos are all easily accessible via a short walk down the streambed from the truck. We never ventured more than a few hundred yards from where we parked. Scott used a little homemade skiff made of plywood to pull his decoys and supplies along in the shallow water.

If youíre looking for a good spots to hunt ducks, itís possible the nearest river will fill the bill as your very own "private" duck hunting lease. Just make sure to check with the local game warden before "assuming" hunting is permitted.

For more information on the W.B. Ranch, check out www.wbranch.com or call 800-WBRANCH.

[Listen to LUKE CLAYTONíS OUTDOORS At www.catfishradio.com. Email Luke at luke@catfishnow.tv.]