Louisiana’s early teal season opens this weekend, and most hunters recognize that something is a bit different. For the first time in three years, no hurricanes or tropical storms have made landfall in the state. The season has been unusually quiet, and that is good news for coastal habitats that have been battered the last several years.
Flying along the coast for the early-season aerial duck survey, Jason Olszak, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries waterfowl program manager, observed mixed habitat conditions. Overall, he was pleasantly surprised. “The marsh looked really healthy, with good amounts of submerged aquatics in several areas and minimal nuisance aquatics. The water levels across both the marsh and agricultural areas look great. The southwest had been pretty dry for several months, but August rains really helped out. A lot of the ag fields have been rolled, and the birds are gathered in big flocks here and there. The largest concentrations were around the Gueydan area,” Olszak reports.
“Marsh destruction from Hurricane Ida in Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes gets more evident closer to the coast, where large swatches of marsh were rolled further inland. That marsh has taken root and is full of green grass, but few teal were observed in these areas,” he says.
Steve Stroderd is a hunting guide for Louisiana Outfitters south of Lake Arthur. His in-field observations track what Olszak reported. “We built some temporary teal blinds earlier in the week. We saw some birds. Not a huge amount, but a few flocks of 20 to 100 and some smaller groups. I’m sure they will be here though,” he says. Stroderd explains that the best marsh shooting may not be first thing in the morning because the birds are concentrated in large groups. “It may not be a right-at-shooting-time thing in the marsh, but after they get rattled and bumped, they’ll get to the marshes,” he adds.
After crunching the survey numbers, Olszak estimates a total of 264,000 bluewings across coastal Louisiana, with the vast majority being in the southwest, as is typical. The survey only includes the coastal areas and Catahoula Lake. The teal estimate observed in southwest Louisiana increased 23 percent from 2021 (209,000 to 257,000); however, southeast Louisiana experienced an 89 percent decline in teal numbers (66,000 to 7,000) and no teal were observed on Catahoula Lake where 6,000 were counted in 2021. Overall, 97 percent of teal estimated during this survey were observed in southwest Louisiana.
Bluewings were one of the bright spots in the 2022 USFWS Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey, which estimates duck populations on the breeding grounds. Their numbers were 19 percent higher than they were in the last survey, in 2019, and 27 percent higher than their long-term average.
Captain Ryan Lambert, owner of Cajun Fishing Adventures in Buras, is highly optimistic about what he’s seeing. “The marsh is unbelievably good, and it looks like it is on steroids this year. I just got back from building blinds and saw maybe 400 teal. With the full moon coming this week, there should be more pouring in. We didn’t have any damage from Hurricane Ida and the marsh looks great. I think it should be a great season,” he says.
Typically, the southeast portion of the state does not host as many teal as areas further west. The birds counted on the southeast transects were concentrated mostly in the Venice area. Reports from hunters in St. Bernard and upper Plaquemines Parishes have been mixed. Marsh conditions are good with small bands of teal spotted in various areas.
Weather forecasts across the entire state are fairly uniform for opening weekend:low temperatures in the mid-70s and highs in the mid- to high-80s. Rain chances are 40 to 50 percent for Saturday and 25 to 40 percent for Sunday. A mild cool front is making its way to the state and is expected to bring drier and slightly cooler temperatures by mid-week.
No matter the weather or bird counts, the chances of diehard Louisiana duck hunters being in blinds on Saturday morning are near 100 percent.