Every September, it comes and goes in a rush, quite literally I might add.
If you’ve ever sat in a local duck blind during the 16-day statewide early teal season in Texas, you know what I mean. Skies that are empty and silent one minute are filled with the sound of ripping canvas, a rush of wings and corkscrew maneuvers over a decoy spread that can be hard to describe in print.
For hunters in the right spot during the Saturday, Sept. 15 through Sunday, Sept. 30th season on both sides of the Red River, there should be ample wingshooting opportunity to feel the surge of red-lining adrenaline as a swarm of blue-winged teal, or maybe a few of their green-winged cousins, come roaring on in.
And with a little luck, maybe even a Canada goose or two as well since the Eastern Zone Canada goose season in Texas also runs Sept. 15-30 (Editor’s Note: Oklahoma’s early resident Canada goose season runs Sept. 15-24, see Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation regulations for full details).
For wingshooters in the right spot here in Texas, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department notes in a news release that the daily bag limit on teal is six, with a possession limit of 18. The bag limit for Canada geese will be three and a possession limit of six in the Eastern Zone only.
Before you get your hopes up, understand that it’s usually feast-or-famine here in Texomaland, especially when it comes to early season teal.
That’s a fact that I discovered years ago while hunting with Sherman-area wingshooters Craig Watson and former Austin College football assistant Vance Morris.
For several days prior to that 1980s era hunt, the early Intel indicated that the upper reaches of Lake Texoma were literally swarming with teal. With visions of easy limits and waterfowling’s most tasty meal cooking over a mesquite fired grill, imagine my disappointment on the morning of our hunt when a northerly breeze, empty skies, and the sound of crickets greeted us.
Here today, gone tomorrow, that’s often the story of Texomaland teal.
But every once in a while, you will hit it just right and have a duck hunting bonanza that you’ll remember for years to come. One warm, lush September morning comes to mind with my old Denison High School mates Mike Bardwell and the late Jeff Camp when we found several flocks of bluewings buzzing our stock tank decoy spread, enough that we soon had a three man limit.
There were also several good shoots with my late duck hunting pal J.J. Kent on scattered flood control lakes and stock tanks across the area. J.J. always shot far better than I did with his Browning semi-auto shotgun, but eventually, I’d knock down a few birds with my Remington 870 as he chuckled and grinned over in the corner of the blind.
And then there was the day a few years ago, when a swarm of bluewings swept over the tank that myself and a late canine companion were hunting. It was mesmerizing as the rush of wings flew gun barrel high over the decoy spread, not once, not twice, but three times.
When my late Lab looked at me with a “What are you doing?!?” kind of scowl, I took the hint and finally remembered to shoot, knocking down a couple of birds for the grill.
With any luck over the next two weeks, the arrival of the full moon and a strong cool front or two will usher a few big waves of teal into the area, hopefully enough for two or three good shoots for local waterfowlers who have done their scouting homework.
Unless tropical mischief ruins things down on the Texas Gulf Coast, the stage is set for a banner season in such coastal hunting hotspots as Port O’Connor, Rockport, Baffin Bay, and Port Mansfield.
When you move inland, water will be a key factor according to TPWD waterfowl program leader Kevin Kraai.
“Despite the recent rains (in some parts of the state), it is quite dry in most places of Texas,” said Kraai in a TPWD news release. “The shallow water rich in aquatic invertebrates and plant seeds is not as abundant as we would like to see less than a week away from the teal opener. Although high chances of rain is forecasted across much of the state, much can change in a very short period of time.”
While water may be problematic in some areas of the Lone Star State, there should be plenty of teal pushing south thanks to another strong breeding effort from bluewings this year. Add in the fact that Duck Factory areas in southern Canada and the northern U.S. have already seen below normal temperature readings for late summer and early fall, and there will likely be plenty of teal roaring down the Central Flyway the rest of September.
“We have already seen very healthy concentrations of teal in flooded rice fields along the coast, playa wetlands in the High Plains, and moist-soil managed habitats across Texas,” said Kraai. “In addition to abundant teal already in the state, it looks like we should follow up the second weekend with another strong push of birds migrating with the full moon on the 23rd and well below average temperatures forecasted up north in the breeding grounds.”
What are the prospects for different regions across Texas?
On the Upper Coast, TPWD wetlands ecosystem leader Mike Rezsutek notes that recent heavy rains have put water across the landscape where rice used to be king. As a result, teal are arriving and spreading out into areas with good habitat.
On the Middle Coast, rain has been more isolated although that is likely to change with this weekend’s tropical system. While teal reports are spotty in the marshes, TPWD wetlands ecosystem leader Matt Nelson notes that plenty of teal are being observed in the rice fields just to the north of the area.
Up in the Texas Panhandle, playa basins are in need of significant rainfall in the coming weeks. Currently, a very small percentage of playa lakes are holding water in the High Plains, although in those that are holding some H2O, teal are said to be plentiful.
In East Texas — and I’d add that this is true in North Texas too — hunting success will likely rely on scouting efforts that finds concentrations of teal swarming into stock tanks and other likely hotspots. Kraai notes that the shallow coves and river mouths on public reservoirs are typically the best places on the big lakes to find the suitable habitat teal prefer.
And if the forecast for tropical rains is true this weekend, the biologist also notes that success will greatly improve on these reservoirs if and when water levels begin “…to creep in to the terrestrial vegetation that has been growing along the lake shores all summer.”
The bottom line is that early teal season will come and go before you know it, so grab the shotgun, sack up the decoys, and make plans to head for the duck blind soon.
Because with a little bit of waterfowler’s good luck, an ample supply of early birds could mean that a limit of bluewings might literally be waiting in the mid-September wings.