When the 2017 early teal season begins tomorrow morning across Texas, to borrow a phrase from Charles Dickens’ classic novel A Tale of Two Cities, it will be the best of times and the worst of times.
That’s because hunters in the northern half of the state — including right here in the Red River Valley — have plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the Sept. 9-24 season as blue-winged teal and a few green-winged teal come calling.
For starters, North American teal populations are in good shape thanks to another excellent hatch this spring and early summer in the Prairie Pothole nesting ground region of the northern U.S. and southern Canada.
In fact, waterfowl biologists indicate that bluewing breeding populations stand at 7.9 million birds this year, up 18 percent from 2016 and up 57 percent over the 1955-2016 long term average (LTA).
For greenwings, this summer’s breeding number of 3.6 million birds is down 16 percent from a year ago but still up 70 percent over the LTA.
No matter how you examine those figures, they should mean plenty of early teal roaring through Texomaland over the next couple of weeks with good chances for hunters to bag a daily bag limit of six birds.
In short, thanks to a good 2017 hatch, this week’s full moon cycle, and the week’s strong cool front that brought below normal temperatures and a stiff northerly breeze, the season should get off to a good start.
And that’s not to even mention the fact that local water and habitat conditions are about as good as they’ll ever be in the month of September thanks to double-digit local rainfall totals in August.
As mentioned above, for North Texas teal hunters, it’s time to let the good times roll tomorrow morning one half-hour before official sunrise as the law comes off the early teal season and some memorable hunting action begins.
Unless you were planning to head for the state’s Gulf Coast, that is, normally the best teal hunting that Texas has to offer each September. But this year, thanks to the horrific visit of Hurricane Harvey a couple of weekends ago, all bets are off when it comes to the 2017 early teal hunting campaign.
Barely more than two weeks ago, it looked like all systems go for a superb early teal season along the Texas coast and the nearby rice prairie agricultural lands found to the east and southwest of Houston.
But then came Harvey with its 130 mph sustained winds in the Rockport and Port Aransas area, normally a hotspot for all forms of coastal duck hunting.
Add in the Biblical rains of up to 51.88 inches in the Houston area and similar amounts near 50-inches in the Port Arthur/Beaumont region, and well, all bets are off as to what kind of teal season — if any at all — will be found in the state’s saltwater zones.
In fact, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials have cancelled or postponed a number of early teal hunts along the Lone Star State’s coastline.
According to a TPWD news release, those hunts that were either annual public hunting (APH) permit hunts or draw hunts on several public hunting areas, have been shelved in light of the Hurricane Harvey disaster.
Areas affected include the Guadalupe River Unit (APH early teal hunts cancelled until county roads reopen into the area); Mad Island WMA (closed for Sept. 9-10 APH early teal hunts); J.D. Murphree WMA (Big Hill and Salt Bayou Units have cancelled all APH early teal hunts); and Sea Rim State Park (APH early teal hunt is cancelled).
Those hunts are affected because of Harvey’s tremendous damage in the region to state parks and wildlife management areas, destruction of roads and infrastructure, and the commitment of agency manpower to the tasks of rescue, recovery and relief.
But it isn’t just state controlled properties where hunting is cancelled at worst or uncertain at best.
David J. Sams, the noted wildlife photographer from Dallas and founder and publisher of the bi-weekly Lone Star Outdoors News, recently posted on the LSON’s Web site blog (www.lsonews.com) that the well-known Port Bay duck hunting club in Rockport had sustained heavy damage from Harvey.
That LSON report indicated damage that included the club’s roof being torn off, two feet of surge water in the manager’s house, and winds destroying the club’s pier and several outbuildings.
And that’s not an isolated example since severe wind and/or water damage is reported all throughout the Rockport/Port Aransas area and on up the coast to Houston and beyond.
Obviously, for hunters anywhere between the middle Texas coast and Sabine Pass, hunting teal will be problematic at best over the next two weeks if it’s even possible at all. And that’s true for both weekend hunters and for guides and outfitters operating along the coast.
What’s not fully known at this point in time is what effect Harvey’s wind and waterborne assault will have on the migrating teal themselves.
To some, it would seem that a lot of water everywhere would be to the small duck’s liking as they push southward in their annual early migration.
But teal are puddle ducks that want shallow water that teems with protein-rich seeds, aquatic vegetation, insects and other invertebrates.
That type of habitat has been inundated with either big surges of saltwater into brackish and/or freshwater areas or multiple feet of muddy, roiling floodwaters that continue to run off through the region’s bayous and rivers.
In short, when early teal arrive along the Gulf Coast, no one is exactly sure what they’ll do when they see the region devastated by Harvey.
It’s possible that some might bounce back to the north into northern, central and eastern portions of Texas. But it’s more likely that they’ll scatter to sheet water in the region or pick up and continue south towards Mexico, Central America, and South America where they’ll spend the winter.
No matter how you look at the 2017 early teal season along the Texas coast, it’s uncertain at best, dismal at worst thanks to the state’s first category four hurricane strike since Carla in 1961.
The birds will be there, at least briefly as the annual September migration takes place. But it’s doubtful that many hunters will be there — or can be there — thanks to the most ruinous storm in modern Texas history.
So here in North Texas, get out if you can and enjoy the Creator’s early autumn bounty this month as early teal flocks buzz into the region on each cool front that pushes south.
If you get some good shooting, smile big and count your blessings. And if you don’t, well, it really doesn’t matter too much in the overall scheme of things.
Either way, pull out your wallet and dig deep to help out thousands of Texans who are hurting and suffering in a great way today.
That includes numerous early season teal hunters down south who are concerned about anything and everything except setting out a spread of decoys on this weekend in September.
Thanks for nothing Harvey…and good riddance.