Late Great Hunts

Seven spots where the action is just getting started.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Although hunting seasons are winding down in many states, casing your guns for the winter is only one option. Some hunters go to Texas, where the snows have wings. Others hunt the rut all over again in Alabama. Still others grab the dogs and head to California to hunt quail. Here are details on these and four other places where the hunting is great, even late.

**1. Texas Snow Geese **
Visit the "goose hunting capital of the world" in Eagle Lake, Texas-or any number of nearby townships that could just as legitimately make that claim. Since an agricultural boom in the late 1960s, the entire Texas coastal prairie, which extends south, east, and west of Houston, has become the nation's premier light goose destination.

The stories of snow goose flocks so big they obliterate the sun and so loud they drown out your thoughts are just about true. By December and January, the majority of the geese that will winter on the coastal prairie-up to 3 million or more-are here. Set up near a major roost and you might see tens of thousands of geese in a day. To hunt them, though, you'll likely have to open your wallet. Virtually the entire area is privately owned, with access to the best properties controlled by guides and outfitters. Guided hunts run $100 to $150 per person per day. But if you choose your outfitter carefully, via research and recommendations, you'll enjoy some of the best waterfowling on the continent. A great resource is www.hotspotguides.com, which features a list of nearly 200 Texas outfitters.

Hotspots: For the best action, Dave Morrison, waterfowl program leader with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, points to the Katy Prairie near the towns of El Campo and Wharton, as well as the Eagle Lake Prairie near the town of Eagle Lake. Excellent hunting can also be had farther east on the Anahuac Prairie along Interstate 10. Among the few public areas that offer good late-season action, according to Morrison, are Mad Island, Peach Point, and Guadalupe Delta Wildlife Management Areas, all of which are situated along the coast (check local regulations).

Insider Tip: "During the late season, put the shooters 50 or so yards downwind of the spread while the callers hang back," says guide Al Glos of Texas Waterfowl Outfitters (800-899-2650; www.texaswaterfowl.com). "This way, shooters intercept incoming geese before they have a chance to flare. The result is plenty of passing shots at 30 to 40 yards." Season dates: South Zone light goose, Oct. 25¿¿¿Jan. 18; Coastal Prairie Light Goose Conservation Order, Jan. 19¿¿¿Mar. 28.

**2. Arizona Coues' Deer **
Arizona's wild desert mountains are home to Coues' deer, the small whitetail subspecies that Jack O'Connor so admired. The best hunting takes place during the late-December and January rut. For a world-class challenge, bring a bow. While most rifle hunters have to enter a lottery for their tags, bowhunters can buy theirs over the counter.

Southeastern Arizona holds more Coues' deer than any area north of the border, but even here, finding a diminutive and shy grayish whitetail among a panorama of grayish parched hills and canyons presents a fabulous, if formidable, challenge. The rut, at least, evens the playing field some. "Hunter success is much better during the late season," says Brian Wakeling, big-game manager with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. "The deer cover much more ground during the rut, which improves your odds of glassing them enormously. Look for whitetails where the grasslands meet the scrub oaks, and on slopes rather than the desert floor. The bulk of the deer will be between 3,000 and 6,000 feet."

Hotspots: For the best all-around public Coues' deer hunting in Arizona, target Game Management Units 36A and especially 36B and 36C south of Tucson. "Two years ago, the hunter success rate during the late rifle season in 36C was 64 percent," Wakeling notes. f your primary goal is a trophy-class buck, however, try Unit 6A south of Flagstaff."

The vast majority of the state's Coues' deer habitat is public land, but excellent private-land hunting is available on the 1.8-million-acre San Carlos Apache Reservation (928-475-2343), where a limited number of rifle tags are available over the counter. (Access fees run from $700 to $3,000 depending on unit and date.)

Insider Tip: "Glass with tripod-mounted binoculars," says Pat Feldt of Arizona Guided Hunts (520-207-7831; www.arizonahunting.net). "Set up where you can see at least a square mile, and bring powerful optics. We use 15x56 binoculars and a 45X spotting scope. Bowhunters, who will find it very difficult to stalk within range, should stalk instead to within a couple hundred yards, then rattle and grunt to close the distance."

Season dates: Late rifle, Dec. 12¿¿¿Dec. 31; late archery, Dec. 12¿¿¿Jan. 31 in most areas.

3. Louisiana Ducks
Some 4.7 million ducks winter annually where the Mississippi meets the Gulf, the nation's largest coastal tidal marsh. It's no wonder that Louisiana waterfowlers consistently bag nearly twice as many ducks as hunters in any other state.

To find Louisiana's famous duck hunting, follow the Big Muddy. Upriver, winter rains push waters beyond their banks, creating fabulous hunting for greenheads and other puddle ducks in potholes, flooded timber, and soaked agricultural fields. Downriver, 600,000 acres of ricefields border 3.5 million acres of fertile coastal marsh, drawing a tremendous number and variety of wintering ducks, including mallards, pintails, teal, gadwall, wigeon, and mottled ducks.

Hotspots: For the best mallard hunting, target the backwaters of the Mississippi and its tributaries, notably the Boeuf, Ouachita, and Red Rivers, in northeastern and central Louisiana. "The Chafalaya River is another tremendous freshwater system," says Robert Helm, waterfowl program manager with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. "Good public areas here include the Ouachita and Russell Sage Wildlife Management Areas in the northeast, Boeuf WMA just south of there, and Catahoula Lake in central Louisiana."

The ricefields and coastal marshes in the south are mostly private, and you can find excellent guided hunting. However, Helm notes that the Sabine and Lacassine National Wildlife Refuges in the southwest are large public areas that provide great late-season action along the coast.

Insider Tip: "Muddy up the water," says waterfowl guide Larry Shuff of Louisiana Hunting Adventures (337-526-2961; www.louisianahuntingadventures.com). "Walk through the water to make it look like there's been a lot of waterfowl activity around your spread. Also, mix up your decoy placement from hunt to hunt, and do less high-balling on the call."

Season Dates: Late duck: West Zone, Dec. 13¿¿¿Jan. 18; East Zone, Dec. 13¿¿¿Jan. 25.

4. Alabama Whitetails
Peak breeding is long over in most states, but among Alabama's 1.75 million whitetails, the New Year rings in the rut.

That an Alabama hunter can legally take nearly 200 deer per season is testament to the state's dense whitetail population. "There are few good reasons why a reasonably skilled hunter shouldn't be able to take a deer in Alabama," says Chris Cook, wildlife biologist with the Alabama Game and Fish Division. "Moreover," he says, "there's a big advantage to hunting the late season. Even when mast and weather conditions are not ideal, you know the deer will be moving during the rut. If you're willing to poke around the woods a bit, you'll find bucks."

Hotspots: Freelance hunters have a great shot at trophy bucks on public lands managed for quality deer. You can target Lowndes Wildlife Management Area in central Alabama; Freedom Hills and Lauderdale WMAs in the northwest; and especially Barbour and Covington WMAs in the southeast, both of which have been in the state's Quality Deer Management program for five years.

The renowned Black Belt region in central and southern Alabama is largely private, yet offers the best combination of quantity and quality-and plenty of guides and outfitters to accommodate you. Top counties include Pickens, Greene, Marengo, Hale, Dallas, Perry, Macon, Bullock, and Montgomery. But the state's biggest racks, Cook says, are currently coming from the northwest, in Lawrence, Walker, Franklin, and Lamar Counties.

Insider Tip: "During the rut, bucks are really up and moving," says guide Bojie Beers of the Alabama River Lodge (334-874-4281; www.alariver.com). "So set up where you can see a long way, whether you're overlooking a big field or open hardwoods. You'll see more deer, and you'll have more time to judge the animal and get your shot off. Just as important, sit for as long as you can stand it-preferably all day."

Season dates: Firearm, Nov. 22¿¿¿Jan. 31; archery, Oct. 15¿¿¿Jan. 31; muzzleloader, Nov. 19¿¿¿21 and Jan. 9¿¿¿25.

**5. California Quail **
Any part of Southern California is a fine place to be in December and January, but we recommend the Mojave Desert region, where you can bag California, mountain, and Gambel's quail, and chukar partridge-all in the same trip on more than 7 million acres of public land.

Good rainfall this spring has brought quail and chukar numbers up considerably in both the east and west Mojave Desert regions, according to Andy Pauli, wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. "I counted more than 400 quail in two days at a water hole this spring. So the birds are here." And the bird hunters should have their best season in years.

Hotspots: Look for California quail along the Mojave River valley near Victorville and in the Granite Mountains, north of State Highway 18. For mountain quail, work the BLM lands south of Lucerne Valley, as well as the northern edge of the San Bernardino National Forest. And for chukars, try around Ord Mountain and Goat Spring near State Highway 247, as well as the Lucerne Valley, Barstow, and Apple Valley areas. Finally, you can find good hunting for Gambel's quail along the eastern slope of the San Bernardino National Forest near Yucca Valley. But they are most abundant and evenly distributed in the eastern part of Mojave. Try the area near the Hole-in-the-Wall Campground and Soshea Pass, just north of Interstate 40, about 100 miles east of Barstow.

Insider Tip: "Concentrate on water sources for quail," Pauli says. "Use a quail call to locate birds, or just park your vehicle and listen for them calling, especially in mornings and evenings. For chukars, focus on slopes with cheatgrass and filaree, and be willing to expend some boot leather."

lly Barbour and Covington WMAs in the southeast, both of which have been in the state's Quality Deer Management program for five years.

The renowned Black Belt region in central and southern Alabama is largely private, yet offers the best combination of quantity and quality-and plenty of guides and outfitters to accommodate you. Top counties include Pickens, Greene, Marengo, Hale, Dallas, Perry, Macon, Bullock, and Montgomery. But the state's biggest racks, Cook says, are currently coming from the northwest, in Lawrence, Walker, Franklin, and Lamar Counties.

Insider Tip: "During the rut, bucks are really up and moving," says guide Bojie Beers of the Alabama River Lodge (334-874-4281; www.alariver.com). "So set up where you can see a long way, whether you're overlooking a big field or open hardwoods. You'll see more deer, and you'll have more time to judge the animal and get your shot off. Just as important, sit for as long as you can stand it-preferably all day."

Season dates: Firearm, Nov. 22¿¿¿Jan. 31; archery, Oct. 15¿¿¿Jan. 31; muzzleloader, Nov. 19¿¿¿21 and Jan. 9¿¿¿25.

**5. California Quail **
Any part of Southern California is a fine place to be in December and January, but we recommend the Mojave Desert region, where you can bag California, mountain, and Gambel's quail, and chukar partridge-all in the same trip on more than 7 million acres of public land.

Good rainfall this spring has brought quail and chukar numbers up considerably in both the east and west Mojave Desert regions, according to Andy Pauli, wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. "I counted more than 400 quail in two days at a water hole this spring. So the birds are here." And the bird hunters should have their best season in years.

Hotspots: Look for California quail along the Mojave River valley near Victorville and in the Granite Mountains, north of State Highway 18. For mountain quail, work the BLM lands south of Lucerne Valley, as well as the northern edge of the San Bernardino National Forest. And for chukars, try around Ord Mountain and Goat Spring near State Highway 247, as well as the Lucerne Valley, Barstow, and Apple Valley areas. Finally, you can find good hunting for Gambel's quail along the eastern slope of the San Bernardino National Forest near Yucca Valley. But they are most abundant and evenly distributed in the eastern part of Mojave. Try the area near the Hole-in-the-Wall Campground and Soshea Pass, just north of Interstate 40, about 100 miles east of Barstow.

Insider Tip: "Concentrate on water sources for quail," Pauli says. "Use a quail call to locate birds, or just park your vehicle and listen for them calling, especially in mornings and evenings. For chukars, focus on slopes with cheatgrass and filaree, and be willing to expend some boot leather."