With three weeks remaining in the 2019–2020 waterfowl season, California hunters are sure of one thing: It’s a teal deal. Green-winged teal are the most abundant species by an overwhelming margin.
A check of the major public shooting areas – national wildlife refuges and state wildlife areas – proves the point. Only one area, Llano Seco, with a paltry .7-1.8 birds-per-hunter average, found any species more numerous than greenwings, and its top bird was wigeon.
Along the entire 800-mile-length of the state, the diminutive teal are the dominant bird from Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) down to San Jacinto and Wister.
“I’ve never witnessed so many teal in gigantic balls of 20 to 100 birds,” says Sim Risso, who hunts near the Yolo Wildlife Area south of Davis. “They are so acrobatic and spectacular to observe in flight. They’re a sporting target and very good table fare.”
Weather since New Year’s Day has been mild, with higher daytime temperatures than normal, and mornings are often shrouded in fog. This scenario creates a good situation for hunters and causes teal to fly under and through the overcast.
In Sacramento Valley rice fields, the per-gun average has risen to about four birds, with some hunters taking limits. Butte Sink clubs with natural vegetation and trees are taking consistent seven-bird limits with a smattering of white-fronted geese.
Sutter NWR produced 50 whitefronts in a single morning this week, the best goose score among the public areas. Best daily duck scores are at Delevan (3.8), Gadwall (3.5), Colusa and Salt Slough (2.8) Mendota (2.9) and Kern (3.5).
The 300,000-acre Grasslands of Merced County is loaded with teal but little else. Only a few wigeon, ring-necked ducks, cinnamon teal and pintails are available to fill out bags. But snow geese are piling in, especially east of the San Joaquin River at Merced NWR and along the Mariposa Plain.
In the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, teal, pintails, wigeon and mallards are common, with white-fronted geese by the thousands feeding on waste corn and sprouts of winter wheat.
It is clear that hunters have held off until the final month to go afield in droves. At Mendota, no less than 617 hunters showed up last Saturday. Kern was filled to the brim as well.
In Southern California, ducks are stacked up on Mystic Lake near San Jacinto Wildlife Area, with greenwings boasting the greatest numbers.
The outlook for the remainder of the season looks good, with cold, foggy mornings filling the Central Valley and very little rain in the forecast to distribute the birds to other water. The season runs through Jan. 31.