Reflecting on over twenty years of duck hunting on Lake Livingston there is one thing that is certain. The challenge of putting together a successful duck hunt on the massive reservoir never subsides. With memories of my first duck hunt here in 1977, I am looking forward to the 2003 - 2004 season with exciting anticipation ahead.

Lake Livingston consists of 450 miles of shoreline and 90,000 acres of water at normal pool elevation of 131' mean sea level. There are thousands of acres of flooded timber, stumps, oxbows and islands mainly on the lake's northern end that provides natural habitat for migrating ducks.

Lake Livingston is one of the few remaining public duck hunting properties in Texas. The hunting of waterfowl on Lake Livingston is permitted by The Trinity River Authority in accordance with the state law in areas more than 200 yards from the authority's fee line at the 131' mean sea level elevation and 200 yards from another blind. Blinds built on Lake Livingston become public property. Hunters should respect the fact that another hunter has gone to a great deal of expense, time and effort to construct and brush a blind. It is unlawful for any person to discharge a rifle, sidearm or shotgun except in the course of permitted waterfowl hunting. In other words, waterfowl hunting is allowed. Hunting deer, hogs, squirrel, rabbits, dove or target shooting is not allowed.

How does a person narrow down 90,000 acres of water to the place you need to be in order to bag a limit of ducks? First, duck hunters should get a good map of the lake. Ninety percent of the duck hunting habitat on Lake Livingston is on the northern end of the lake, north of Carlisle. Take the lake map and break it into regions. Spend some time scouting each region. August is the best time to scout. Don't wait until duck season to scout and expect to be successful in December. Pre-scouting is the most important factor involved in putting together a successful duck hunt on Lake Livingston.

The best duck hunting on Lake Livingston is where fresh, shallow water covers green vegetation. This can happen following a dry Summer when the lake remains below 131' and then fills back to 131' in the Fall or when the lake level rises above 131' and "new" water floods existing vegetation and timber. 131' is the key to remember in order to predict world class duck hunting on Lake Livingston. Remember, 131' is normal pool level for the lake. Anything above 131' will push water into vegetation providing perfect habitat to draw and hold ducks here. Extended periods below 131' and ducks will blow in here behind cold fronts but they won't stay long without water covering vegetation. A lake level above 131' will hold ducks on Lake Livingston no matter what the weather is doing. Generally speaking, when the lake is above 131' hunt north. If the lake remains below 131' move south.

Looking at the lake by regions for public duck hunting you have to start with "The Jungle". The Jungle is an immense area of flooded timber west of Sebastopol. Standing timber that was flooded here in 1969 is now all gone, leaving a huge stump flat remaining. The Jungle is so big it is often referred to as the North Jungle and South Jungle. To access the South Jungle, put in at Waterwood, Harts Creek, Galloway's or Gilmore's marinas. To hunt the north end of The Jungle, put in at Gilmore's, Galloway's, Ed's or Cove Marinas. One word about The Jungle, this is a tough environment. It can be hard on hunters and equipment. The bottom here is mostly soft, making walking difficult. This is no place to be if you are out of shape.

North of The Jungle is an area known as Robb's Flat. This is a huge expanse of open shallow water. The best access to Robb's Flat is from Ed's, Cove and Bell and Ford Marinas. The north end of Robb's Flat is a great place to scout.

White Rock Creek is another major body of water that offers some great duck hunting. To hunt the south end of White Rock, put in at Galloway's or Gilmore's marinas. To hunt the north part of White Rock, put in at White Rock City or Parr's Marinas.

The back waters across the river channel from Bell and Ford Marina and Bethy Creek can produce outstanding hunting.

In order to hunt the Riverside region, launch out of Harmon Creek, Bethy Creek and Bell's Marinas. Look for backwater lakes, sloughs and oxbows off the river channel. The Harmon Creek Flats, Bell's Lake and Whitson Slough are popular areas here.

The river channel north of Hwy 19 is accessed best by launching out of Bell's Camp. From here, you can go north or south to hunt several tributary creeks.

If I had to pick the overall best region for consistent duck hunting on Lake Livingston, I would hunt The Jungle and Robb's Flat.

The most common problem hunters run into while hunting Lake Livingston is getting onto private property. There are numerous ranches and state property on the lake's edges. As water levels fluctuate, the debate arises about property lines. Some landowners strictly enforce no trespassing. I would recommend to duck hunters, use boat access only. If you are in your boat, you are generally safe. When you start walking across dry ground, you become more susceptible to trespassing charges.

Lake Livingston attracts many various species of puddle and diving ducks. The Mallard and Wood Duck are the most sought after here. They prefer the backwater habitat of sloughs and oxbows common here. Open water flats provide outstanding action for diving ducks. Pintail hunting on Lake Livingston can be as good as it gets and also, don't count out an occasional White-fronted, Canada or Snow Goose.

According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, the 2002 - 2003 Migratory Game Bird Proclamation, although liberal in scope, will carry some conservative measures, including statewide closure on Canvasbacks and a restricted 39-day season with 1 bird daily bag limit on Pintails.

In the North Zone, duck season will run one week later than in the past and is the latest allowed by Federal framework. This will allow Lake Livingston hunters to hunt Mallards here later in the month as they are typically late migrators. The season will run November 9 - 10, close for five days, then reopen November 16 through January 26. The youth-only season in the North Zone is October 26-27. Hunting for Pintails in the North Zone will be allowed December 19 through January 26.

The South Zone is set to run November 2 through December 1, close for five days, then reopen December 7 through January 19. The youth-only season is October 26-27. In the South Zone and the High Plains Mallard Management Unit, Pintail hunting will be allowed December 12 through January 19. The date is later so that pintails would be in good plumage, since many hunters consider drakes to be a special bird.

The daily bag limit for ducks is 6 and can include no more than 5 Mallards or Mexican-like ducks, only 2 of which may be hens; 3 Scaup (Lesser Scaup and Greater Scaup in the aggregate); 2 Wood Ducks; 2 Redheads; 1 Mottled Duck and 1 Pintail during open season for Pintails. The possession limit is twice the daily bag.

The Eastern goose hunting dates are:

Dark Geese - October 26 through January 19

Light Geese - October 26 through January 19 (in the portion that lies in the South duck zone)

Light Geese - October 26 through January 26 (in the portion that lies in the North duck zone)

Light Geese Conservation Rules - January 20 through March 30 (in portion that lies in South duck zone)

Light Geese Conservation Rules - January 27 through March 30 (in portion that lies in North duck zone)

During the Conservation order, the use of electronic calls, unplugged guns and shooting one half-hour after sunset are legal. Additionally, there is no bag or possession limit during the Conservation Order.

Eastern goose zone bag limits for light geese are 20 in the aggregate; Dark geese (Brant, Canada and White-fronted geese) will have an aggregate daily bag limit of 3 to include no more than 2 Canada or 2 White-fronted geese.

In the Western goose zone, the season for light and dark geese is October 26 through February 9. The light goose conservation season is February 10 through March 30.

Bag limits in the Western goose zone for light geese are 20 in the aggregate, and for dark geese, 5 in the aggregate, to include no more than 1 White-fronted goose.

Hunting Lake Livingston provides some of the finest waterfowl hunting in the Central Flyway. Time spent scouting and you could be on your way to a world class waterfowl hunt of a lifetime.

Lake Livingston is one of the few remaining public waterfowl hunting areas in the State of Texas. Hopefully, it will remain remain that way for generations to come!

Dave Cox of Palmetto Guide Service is a regular contributor to the Lake Livingston edition of the Texas Sportsguide.  This article has previously appeared in that publication.

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