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Metro Marshes
The Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge east of Houston is a big-city waterfowler's dream come true: Close to home, inexpensive, and a Mecca for ducks and geese.

By Chester Moore, Jr.

Upper Coast waterfowl hunters are in no shortage of public lands to hunt. Whereas most of the land in Texas is privately owned, there are hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands on the Upper Coast that are managed by the state and federal governments.

Capt. Troy Coleman's yellow lab Amber gets an appreciative ear-scratch for a job well done.
Capt. Troy Coleman's yellow lab Amber gets an appreciative ear-scratch for a job well done. An experienced retriever is an invaluable asset to all waterfowlers -especially those who hunt the super-tough wet terrain of refuge lands.

Some would argue the government may own too much land in the area, but the fact remains that there is plenty of low-cost, close-to-home waterfowl hunting available to Houston-, Galveston- and Beaumont-area metropolitan hunters thanks to government purchases.

One of the most popular and productive of these hunting areas is the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, located near the small towns of Anahuac and Hankamer in Chambers County.

This 34,000-acre area is a Mecca for thousands of snow geese, gadwall, specklebellies, widgeons, teal and mottled ducks along with a host of other huntable species.

Anyone who's ever hunted public lands knows that conducting a successful hunt is no cake walk. Successful public hunts are the result of lots of studying, hard work, determination and a little luck.

Anahuac NWR manager Kelly McDowell says of all the ingredients required for a successful hunt on this area, studying is the most important.

Texas Fish & Game's Ron Ward.
Texas Fish & Game's Ron Ward is ready for action, decked out in Realtree Advantage Wetlands camouflage and holding a Benelli 12-gauge automatic in-hand. The importance of quality camo, just like a reliable shotgun, cannot be over-stressed.

"If you want to be successful hunting Anahuac or just about any other public hunting area, you have to do some scouting before you hunt," he advises. "Many of our hunters are first-timers from the Houston area and they come back disappointed because they had a poor hunt. Then," he continues, "when you ask them if they looked the place over before hunting they tell you no. I guarantee that's one of the biggest factors in hunting failures. Scouting is crucial."

McDowell says the refuge is open for scouting the weekend before the season opener. Hunters are also usually allowed to scout during the preceding week up until Thursday.

"With seasons opening on Saturday we don't want a bunch of people out spooking the birds on Friday," McDowell stresses. "Some of our hunters would get pretty upset about that."

Scouting for waterfowl can mean physically viewing the birds in a given area or simply looking for habitat requirements such as water and edible vegetation.

"The hunters who look the areas over the best," McDowell adds, "are usually the ones who take the most birds."

There are three units of the refuge open to hunting and each has its own set of characteristics and rules.

The Pace Tract is the most popular with hunters and is open seven days a week from one hour before sunrise until noon.

"The Pace Tract is one of our boat-access only areas and it consists of tidally-influenced streams and ponds. There are lots of ducks and geese in this area so we get a lot of hunters there. The thing to watch out for is low tides," McDowell warns, "especially during northers. The water is shallow in many places and the hunter who doesn't pay attention can get stuck."

The interesting thing about the Pace Tract is that areas on the south end aren't tidally-influenced; it's the north end that is controlled by tides which can serve to fool the hunters that are unaware of this unusual occurrence.

The Middleton Tract is only open on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Access to this area is primarily boat-only with outboards of 25-horsepower and less allowed in the unit. Access to this unit is via a boat roller system in East Bay Bayou.

The East Unit of the refuge opens Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. This is a tidally-influenced area where hunters should be mindful of water conditions.

"One thing that has changed over the last few years about the East Unit is that we're getting a lot of saltwater-type submerged vegetation like widgeon grass," McDowell says. "That's not necessarily ideal, but it certainly draws in some ducks like gadwall and other species."

Hunters are allowed to enter the refuge one hour before sunrise and must be done hunting by noon. They must be off the refuge property by 12:30 p.m.

That eliminates evening hunting, but most of the best waterfowl hunting is done in the mornings anyway.

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