Pheasant, Goose, Duck and Quail Hunting in Texas and New Mexico

I combined a “big trip” with my dog for quail hunting with my annual opening weekend pheasant hunting trip.  Instead of flying, I loaded the pup in the truck and drove to Amarillo, Texas for pheasant hunting, then to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico for 3 days of quail hunting and then back home.  It was a LONG trip and I also managed to squeeze in a little goose hunting in North Texas to go with my quail hunting.

 

 

 

Pheasant Hunting in the Southern Range

Tough Pheasant Hunting Weather with Cold Temperatures and Snow Covered Fields
Tough Pheasant Hunting Weather

I had my annual pheasant hunt as a prelude to my big quail hunting trip.  Pheasant hunting weather in North Texas is always a crap shoot.  I think I’ve seen every different type of weather up there.  This year, it was very cold with a light snow on the ground.  This wasn’t a great year for pheasants in North Texas due to the drouth.  Compounding this problem – or in some cases helping it – the farmers who usually leave some stubble in their fields had baled literally everything n- including the cotton stalks.  This had the effect of either eliminating their cover entirely or concentrating them in the sparse cover that was available.  As usual, you can’t expect to go the very farthest Southern range of pheasants in North Texas and expect to bag a limit every time.  We had a lot of walking and some great dog work but getting in range of the few we saw was very challenging.

 

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Goose Hunting in North Texas

North Texas Goose Hunting Spread using White and Grey Full Body Decoys
North Texas Goose Hunting Spread

Instead of two days of pheasant hunting, we elected to hunt geese in North Texas near Dalhart.  it was a clear cold day and there were plenty of lesser Canada geese in the area roosting on large water.  Goose hunting in Texas, or goose hunting anywhere for that matter, is always a challenge.  Those birds are smart!  WE did manage to draw in a few birds but the majority of the geese elected to head in a different direction that day.  Goose hunting tends to be all about being on the X – being where they want to be.  Scouting helps a lot to improve the odds but good old fashioned luck is always a critical factor when hunting geese in Texas.

 

 

 

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Turkey Restoration and Hunting

Texas Turkeys NOT for Hunting on a Road in a North Texas Neighborhood
Texas Turkeys NOT for Hunting

As I was driving out from Amarillo on Monday morning to go to New Mexico for quail hunting, a flock of neighborhood turkeys were out on the road looking for some food.  A blistering Norther had blown in overnight bringing lots of snow and freezing rain and the turkeys were hungry.  I’m not a turkey hunter but I do remember when I was a kid that turkeys tended to be a myth.  Congrats to all of the great associations and habitat management that has taken place over the last 25 years that has restored this amazing bird to huntable populations.

 

 

 

 

 

Valley of Fire

Quail Hunting Near Valley of Fire Showing Black Volcanic Rocks
Quail Hunting Near Valley of Fire

My journey from Amarillo Texas to Truth or Consequences New Mexico for quail hunting was planned over two major interstate highways.  Much to my surprise, the interstates were closed in New Mexico due to the storm and I had to take the back roads.  I got off the interstate, bought a paper map – imagine that – and then just kept heading South and West with the hope that I’d get to ToC without a major mishap.  Turns out that it was a wonderful drive through the back roads of Eastern New Mexico with a ton of great sights to see.  The Valley of Fire is an amazing place where a volcano “leaked” some lava to the surface a couple thousand years ago.  New Mexico is rough country anyway but this was incredibly rough!

 

 

 

 

 

Quail Hunting and Tracking in the Snow

Quail Tracks in the Snow on Gravel
Quail Tracks in the Snow

My first of 3 days of quail hunting started in the mountains east of ToC New Mexico.  The goal was to bag one each of Mearns Quail, Gambels Quail and Scaled quail.  On Day one we were after all or any of them.  The storm over the previous few days provided us with a very unique opportunity that I’d never had before – tracking quail in the snow.  New Mexico is BIG country and requires that you cover a lot of ground when you are hunting quail.  It helped tremendously that we were able to see quail tracks in the snow which allowed us to spend a little more time truck scouting and a little less time foot scouting.  Nevertheless, I covered about 8 miles this day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rain Water Collection for Wildlife

Grey Concrete Quail Water Retention Device in a Bare Canyon
Quail Water Retention Device

New Mexico Game and Fish have built numerous large rainfall collectors to aid the wildlife and improve the quail hunting.  In Texas, we use a much smaller version that drains into a 55 gallon drum.  This unit was easily 15 steps on each side and drained into a large underground cistern.  These divces typically hold some quail for hunting but the drouth in the Southwest made finding birds a challenge this year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working the Arroyos for Quail

Tough Quail Hunting Territory with Steep Slopes in a Brushy Ravine
Tough Quail Hunting Territory

Day 2 of quail hunting was in the arroyos beside the Rio Grande river.  There are numerous arroyos and they have been modified to retain as much rainwater as possible to minimize downstream flooding.  These arroyos make perfect spots for hunting quail – I wish we had some of these, and the public land, to hunt quail in Texas.  That said, hiking, working and hunting these arroyos definitely requires some great dog work.  They are intricate with lots of little hiding places and  you need a dog to sniff out every possible nook and cranny.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quail Hunting on the Rio Grande River

Quail Hunting on the Rio Grande River Canyon with small Green Brush
Quail Hunting on the Rio Grande River

While quail hunting, I tended to work the canyon bottoms and let my dog work the edges and tops.  Sometime vice versa when I got tired of looking at the canyon walls and needed some better scenery.  I logged about 8 miles/day and I know my dog logged at least 5 times that working for me to hunt quail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Duck Hunting on the Rio Grande River

Beautiful Red, Orange and Gold Duck Hunting Sunset
Duck Hunting Sunset

Since we were on the Rio Grande for quail hunting and there were ducks working the river, we took the opportunity in the evening to hunt ducks.  I found it amazing that ducks could be found in the desert.  We bagged a few ducks as they worked up and down the river feeding in the evening and then enjoyed the magnificent New Mexico sunset after hunting ducks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tracking and Quail Hunting

Mearns Quail Hunting Tracks in Grey Gravel in a Canyon Bed
Mearns Quail Hunting Tracks

Day 3 of my quail hunting was back to the mountains east of ToC to find some blues and Mearns quail.  I was mostly interested in Mearns quail so we spent the majority of the time working closely and carefully along the sandy bottoms of canyons near oak brush where Mearns quail like to hide.  We saw plenty of tracks that were obviously Mearns Quail but never managed to find a covey.  This was the last of 5 days of hunting for my pup and she was getting pretty tired.  She never failed to answer the call but she also no longer jumped back into the truck after a swing through an area.  She had the will but the energy was draining quickly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It Is What You Experience – Not the Size of the Game Bag

Orange and White Brittany Quail Hunting Dog Near and Ancient Oak Tree
Quail Hunting Dog

I can’t say this often enough.  Quail hunting or hunting ducks, makes no difference.  The true benefit and enjoyment is seeing something new with your best friend.  I never fail to be amazed by the desert and what has adapted to thrive there.  I found this one scrub oak tree that was only about 10 feet tall but had a base and trunk that indicated that the tree was very old.  How long had that tree been there and how many other quail hunters had it shaded?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Headed Home from Quail Hunting

Exhausted Brittany Quail Hunting Dog Sound Alseep in a Truck Seat
Exhausted Quail Hunting Dog

Heading home after 5 days of pheasant, goose, duck and quail hunting is both relaxing and sad.  It was an 11 hour drive from ToC back to Austin where I live and most of that drive is horribly boring through West Texas.  My pup was exhausted and slept the entire way home – knocked out!  She is my first quail hunting dog and I never cease to be amazed at what she can and is willing to do for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary of Pheasant, Goose, Duck and Quail Hunting

All in all it was an amazing quail hunting trip and I’m already looking forward to more in the future.  We went pheasant hunting in Amarillo and goose hunting in North Texas – both with marginal results in the game bag.  We braved the snow storm and back roads of New Mexico to hunt Gambel, Scaled and Mearns quail in the mountains of Southern New Mexico.  We also managed to squeeze in a duck hunt along the Rio Grande River.  After 5 days of hard hunting, we turned back South and headed home – two exhausted hunting buddies with some fantastic memories of some great quail hunting.

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Finding Texas Goose Hunting via Forums

Duck and Goose hunting in Austin Texas is part art, part science and part luck. My best success finding a great place to hunt geese in Texas has been by looking through hunter comments on Texas goose hunting forums. Finding a great hunting location is largely art. There seem to be more successful goose hunts in North Texas. Texas conservation season goose hunts require a degree of specialization that can be very difficult to find. Successfully decoying and bagging geese is largely science and getting a mixed bag of species – and some sand hill cranes is largely luck. Goose hunting is not as hot and heavy in Texas as it is in other states so you have to dig beyond the obvious. Since the best locations vary from day to day and week to week, it is best to find a reliable outfitter who has access to large areas and permission to hunt. <a href="”> [ Read More → ]

Duck and Goose hunting in Austin Texas is part art, part science and part luck.  My best success finding a great place to hunt geese in Texas has been by looking through hunter comments on Texas goose hunting forums.  Finding a great hunting location is largely art.  There seem to be more successful goose hunts in North Texas.  Texas conservation season goose hunts require a degree of specialization that can be very difficult to find.  Successfully decoying and bagging geese is largely science and getting a mixed bag of species – and some sand hill cranes is largely luck.   Goose hunting is not as hot and heavy in Texas as it is in other states so you have to dig beyond the obvious.  Since the best locations vary from day to day and week to week, it is best to find a reliable outfitter who has access to large areas and permission to hunt.

Finding Goose Hunt Locations from a Texas Goose Hunting Forum

Very nice duck goose hunting location in austin texas
Ideal Location for Texas conservation season goose hunts

The Kay Prairie, just outside Houston, Texas is an ideal place to start looking for a great duck hunt or goose hunt.  I found this place and a great guide service from a Texas Goose hunting forum.  If you’d like to know more, drop me a line.  The abundance of water, harvested rice and winter wheat, along with it’s proximity to the Texas Gulf Coast, make it an idea wintering area for all species of ducks, geese and cranes.

Texas Conservation Season Goose Hunts

Snow Geese found via texas goose hunting forum
Texas conservation season snow goose hunts

Scouting a goose hunt is challenging – it takes a lot of time, patience, driving and a great pair of binoculars.  In most cases, what you’re looking for is a location where geese are feeding during the day and then resting at night.  Ducks, geese and cranes spend the night on water, travel out in the morning to feed, return to water mid day, travel back out again to feed in the afternoon and then finally return to water at night.  It is very very difficult to get into where they are wanting to feed so your next best option is to get underneath where they are traveling to and from.

Ideal Texas goose hunting location found via goose hunting forum
Ditch Hunting Texas Geese from recommendation in Texas goose hunting forum

The irrigation ditches used for transporting water for the rice fields in the Katy Prairie are ideal hidden spots that allow a hunter extensive freedom of movement.  I prefer this type of hunt-and-move hunting to the lay-in-a-blind type of hunting.  The shots available to you will be different as well – you will have primarily passing shots outside of 30 yards where with blind hunting, you are going to have decoyed shots inside 30 yards.  Take some time to practice your passing shots at the sporting clays course.

blue goose hunts and north texas
Blue Goose as a rare trophy from a hunt found in goose hunting forum Texas

A mature blue goose, also called an eagle head because of their white head and dark body, is a rare trophy.  Blue geese are a color phase variation of snow geese and are pretty easy to spot in a flock if you look closely.  For some reason, they seem to be rarer during Texas conservation season goose hunts than during the normal season.

Duck Goose Hunting in Austin Texas

Late Season and texas conservation season goose hunts mixed bag
A nice mixed bag from a late season duck goose hunting in Austin Texas

Late season, or even Texas conservation season goose hunts, are delightful.  While speckle belly geese don’t normally mingle with snow geese, late season scarcity of food tends to concentrate them so you can bring home a nice mixed bag of snows and speckle bellies.

More info on crane hunts can easily be found in goose hunting forum texas
Crane and Goose hunts in North Texas

The Katy Prairie is about as far South as you can hunt Sand Hill cranes in Texas.  Much further South and you start running into the restrictions around the Aransas Wildlife Refuge where the Whooping Cranes winter.  Late season goose hunts are also an ideal time to find yourself suddenly transformed into a crane hunt.  Hunting sand hill cranes is very challenging.  Their eyesight is excellent, their necks are long and they have been shot at for many thousands of miles since they left their Arctic homes for the summer.

Sandhill cranes are difficult to kill cleanly
Sand hill crane hunt found in a Texas goose hunting forum

Sand hill cranes are also quite difficult to kill.  There are two methods typically used to hunt sand hill cranes.  One is to decoy them heavily in grain fields.  This approach is typically used in North Texas and results in consistently high bag limits.  The disadvantage to this approach is that you need a large and well concealed blind which limits your ability to move to where the birds are.  The other method, pass shooting over decoys in a sand field, is much more challenging and requires passing shots outside 40 yards.  I prefer this approach as, again, it allows me to move extensively to where the birds are.  In most cases, if you can find where the cranes are coming from, as indicated by the first few flights in the morning, and then position yourself underneath them as they are traveling from their water roost to open fields to feed, you’ll have abundant opportunities for great shooting.  That said, keep in mind that sand hill cranes are larger than you think and flying faster than they appear to be.  Keep pulling the trigger and increasing your lead.  It is not uncommon to bring down a sand hill crane without killing it so you’ll need to be prepared to quickly kill and retrieve your downed sand hill crane.  They are very very hardy and will disappear in a heartbeat!

Sandhill crane and goose hunts are very good in north texas
A limit of Sand hill Cranes taken while duck goose hunting in Austin Texas

The daily limit for sandhill cranes in Texas is 2 per hunter.  Sandhill cranes are also called “ribeye in the sky” and are delicious.  The breast meat is the best part as the rest of the bird is largely long, tough tendons.  Also, take caution when approaching a downed sandhill crane.  Their beaks are long and sharp and they use them for defense as well as feeding.  Most sandhill crane hunter hunt without dogs due to the danger possible with the dog getting an eye poked out by that long, sharp beak.

Conservation Season Goose Hunts

 

The Texas conservation season goose hunts are not as great as they used to be.  End of season duck hunts, with big volumes of concentrated birds, seem to be the end of the duck and goose hunting season around here.  Texas is almost at the very Southern most range of snow geese and the numbers are just not concentrated enough to present the very large flocks and juvenile birds that make conservation season hunting so excited and fun.  I prefer to find a great conservation season hunting guide in Arkansas or Missouri who have the expertise, land access and large volume of decoys needed to successfully hunt conservation season geese.  My favorite guide, and I go every year, is Habitat Flats.  Those guys are absolutely the experts at Missouri waterfowl hunting as you can see from the video from my 2011 conservation season goose hunt.

Summary

Duck and goose hunting in Austin Texas and sand hill crane hunting is magnificent on the Katy Prairie.  You’ll find outstanding guides with plenty of well-scouted and huntable land by using Texas goose hunting forums.  You will find more goose hunts in North Texas so you’ll have to dig a bit though, as goose and crane hunting are not the top waterfowl sports in Texas.  Texas conservation season goose hunts are rare in Texas but can be found.  That said, I recommend Habitat Flats for their expertise and top notch quality.

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Speckle Belly Goose Hunts in Texas!

Light Fronted Geese are also known, in Texas, as Speckle Bellies. The season for Texas Goose Hunting opens at the end of October each year.  Speckle Bellies are a ton of fun to hunt and tend to decoy very very well early in the season.

Speckle Belly Goose

The recent cold fronts have pushed down quite a few light fronted geese as well as snow geese. I’d estimate that approximately 25% of the eventual goose populations have arrived as of early November. And yes, that’s a bird dog grudgingly retrieving a goose.

Finding a great place for a goose hunt in Texas can be a real challenge!  Most of the hunting land in Texas is privately owned and very difficult to lease or get permission to hunt.  I find that looking for goose hunting forums about Texas can be very beneficial for finding leads on good goose hunt leases.  It is most typical to find goose hunts in North Texas but if you look carefully and do your research, you can find one of the great places on the Katy Prairie outside Houston, Texas.

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