As the September full moon arrives today, early teal season is already off and running to the north of the Red River as the Sept. 7-22 campaign continues on in Oklahoma .
And south of the border stream, the 16-day early teal season kicks off here in Texas a half-hour before sunrise tomorrow morning, ready for a Sept. 14-29 run in the Lone Star State.
While blue-winged teal breeding numbers were down somewhat this year as compared to recent years, there is plenty of reason for optimism as the September wingshooting campaign runs its course.
Part of that optimism comes from the generous limits that early teal season brings — the daily bag limit is six in both Texas and Oklahoma — and part of that anticipation comes from what is being reported in the Central Flyway states to our north.
“Literally millions of teal are heading our way and growing numbers are already being reported across the state,” said Kevin Kraai, waterfowl program leader with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, in an agency news release.
“It is looking like the timing of this year’s teal season may be another encouraging point considering the full harvest moon will be on Friday (today, Sept. 13), the day before the season opener. That will trigger mass migration of teal out of the Dakotas.”
If there’s a fly in the ointment for Kraai’s optimistic outlook, it could be the hot and dry conditions that have spread over much of the state in recent weeks. Unlike 2017 when the southeastern part of the state was awash in floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey, this year, Texas is living up to its more arid reputation.
The TPWD biologist acknowledged the current heat and dryness, but also pointed to the wet spring and early summer. Add it all up, and there should still be fair hunting in much of the Lone Star State.
“Seems we are always in a pattern of too much or too little rainfall here in Texas,” said Kraai in the news release. “We have definitely entered a dry spell over the last couple of months, which is not necessarily a terrible thing for many parts of Texas.
“Typically, when there is less water spread out across the landscape it concentrates birds in areas where hunters tend to be waiting.”
Out in the High Plains region of the Texas Panhandle, substantial rainfall earlier this year have enabled some playas to stay wet even as hot weather, stiff winds, and abundant sunshine have brought a recent drop in surface water.
If you can find a wet spot in the Panhandle, you’ll probably do well on early teal. If not, head south for the Gulf Coast where teal hunting should be fabulous this year.
Down in the state’s vast saltwater region, Kraai said biologists point out that the area is also drying out thanks to recent weather. But they also note that freshwater flows earlier in the year have led to above average amounts of submerged aquatic vegetation growing in the usually salty marshes. That should mean an increase in teal numbers utilizing the upper, middle and lower coastal areas this month.
Just inland in the rice-belt region to the southwest of Houston, there isn’t as much rice production as there used to be. But where hunt clubs and outfitters operate, canals are flowing and water is being pumped into shallow lakes and moist-soil impoundments.
Even without as much rice these days, expect plenty of teal buzzing around this month in traditional waterfowl hunting hotspots like Eagle Lake, El Campo, etc.
What about the North Texas region? It’s a mixed outlook since the wet conditions earlier in 2019 have left Lake Texoma, Lake Ray Roberts, Lake Fork, and area ponds and stock tanks relatively full this September.
On the positive side of things, that means that there will be enough water to float the decoys over the next couple of weeks. But there will also be less in the way of seed producing vegetation — think smartweed here — that can help keep teal in the area a bit longer.
If you can find submerged aquatic vegetation growing on the water bodies that you like to teal hunt on, the result should be enough seeds and aquatic bugs to attract the flighty bluewings and their green-winged cousins for a September visit.
Otherwise, good early teal hunts here in the Red River Valley will likely be all about timing, being out in the marsh as waves of early teal push through thanks to the full moon and any future early autumn cold fronts.
Do keep in mind that there could be a few more birds headed towards Texomaland this early teal season.
Why is that? A recent talk with Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation migratory game bird biologist Josh Richardson found the biologist quite optimistic.
“When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released their 2019 waterfowl production report (recently), they talked about blue-winged teal numbers being down,” said Richardson.
“But at the Central Flyway meeting (held in Wyoming a few weeks ago), the biologists I talked to were awash in bluewings up in Nebraska and down into Kansas. Any bluewings that nested there this past spring — and they were just as wet as we were — didn’t get reported in the spring breeding survey conducted back in May.”
Meaning that there may be many more breeding bluewing teal than the USFWS report indicated for 2019.
“Yeah, the biologists I talked to recently (in Nebraska and Kansas, well south of the breeding survey regions of the Dakotas and southern Canada) said they were just covered up with bluewings,” said Richardson. “So even though the report numbers were down, probably in reality, bluewings really are not down that much, some just weren’t counted this year.”
That’s why Richardson gave me a two thumbs up forecast for Oklahoma early teal hunting prospects this year: “We definitely have a lot of bluewings that were produced up there just to our north this year and it should be looking good for our state’s early teal hunters as those birds push south.”
Dakota Stowers, head man for North Texas Outfitters (www.northtexasoutfitters.com; 903-815-9842), says so far, so good for his outfit’s early teal hunting campaign to the north of the Red River.
“Early teal this past week in Oklahoma has been treating us pretty good,” said Stowers. “We killed a six-man limit of birds opening day and we also had a group of six hunters that limited out on one of our early Canada goose hunts. So we can’t complain as the hunting continues in Oklahoma and gets ready to open up in Texas.”
And with more and more dove starting to show up, Stowers is optimistic that the hunting prospects should continue to pick up as September rolls along.
Dust off the decoys, find some non-toxic shotshell loads, shoulder the decoy bag, and head out with the Lab to see if you can’t get into some of that good wingshooting action.
Because with a little luck, it could be a September to remember.