“There’s no such thing as normal or average anymore it seems,” says Larry Reynolds, waterfowl study leader for Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF). That statement sums up what the state’s waterfowl hunters can expect as they head to the field for the teal-season opener this weekend. Following months of record-high river levels and backwater flooding, some areas still have too much water, while other areas are too dry. The state of the habitat is a mixed bag. Hunters are cautiously optimistic but nonetheless eager to get back out for another season.
The LDWF completed flying for the September aerial survey this week. “The estimate of 127,000 blue-winged teal from this survey is over twice that of last year’s estimate of 59,000 but is 20 percent below the most recent 5-year average of 158,000, and 45 percent below the long-term average of 230,000. Since 1969, lower blue-winged teal estimates were seen in 2013 (50,000), 2018 (59,000), 2016 (97,500), 2002 (99,000), and 2009 (126,000). Estimates in both southwest and southeast Louisiana are well above last year’s estimates of 48,000 and 5,000, respectively,” Reynolds reports.
Captain Ryan Lambert, owner and guide at Cajun Fishing Adventures in Buras at the southeastern end of the state, hunts properties bordering the Mississippi River, where record flood levels kept high water on the area for several months. When the water finally receded, Lambert was pleased with what he saw. “The marsh is in the best condition I have ever seen. Miles of submerged aquatic vegetation and duck potatoes. Triple the feed we started with last year,” he says. “If we don’t get a storm in the next few weeks, it should be a great season.”
In many northern areas of the state, lack of water may be an issue. “Current habitat conditions for timber and shallow-water areas have been severely dry during the last month or so,” says Ducks Unlimited Biologist Michael McVay. “However, it has been good for land managers to prep for the upcoming season. Many properties I have been working with are growing diverse stands of desirable vegetation for waterfowl, but it is not maturing until much later than under normal conditions.”
An avid duck hunter, McVay takes note of any teal sightings shared with him. “I have had reports of small teal groups in the greater Mer Rouge/Jones/Bonita area. I also heard reports of large groups in recent days on Lake D’Arbonne in the West Monroe area. Also, a report of a few teal around the Duty Ferry/Enterprise area. Now that it is dry, the lack of water may have an impact on teal distribution. For those that have water, they seem to have a few birds, but not many overall,” he says.
Many of the agricultural properties in the north saw no planting or delayed planting due to the prolonged high water. “The best bet to finding teal to hunt will be the remaining mudflats left behind from the flood or managed shallow-water areas,” McVay adds.
Jared Mophett is head guide and habitat manager at Honey Brake Lodge near Jonesville. Honey Brake’s huge expanse of property consists of large agriculture fields and moist soil areas enrolled in the Wetlands Reserve Program. This area was also plagued by high water, and about 10,000 acres were unable to be planted.
“We have had lots of additional work to do emptying pit blinds and repairing all sorts of other damage due to the water. We have about 1,500 acres out of 4,000 in our moist soil areas that are growing some good vegetation, but we still have more water to get out,” Mophett says. “We’ve seen a fair amount of teal with that last little front. With the full moon coming on Saturday we are hoping to get more birds to move in.”
Although Catahoula Lake also had high water, Brett Herring with ShellShocked Guide Service says that if the water is drained down by September (it was), it never really affects the grass growth. “The moist-soil vegetation is already 10 to 20 inches tall and thick. The lake is being held lower than normal to let the grass grow, so there isn’t as much water as normal coming into teal season. Therefore, not as many teal,” he says. Herring also notes that nearby areas like the Louisiana Delta Plantation had water on the fields into August, so farmers were not able to plant the usual crops such as corn. “I expect that habitat will take a major hit this year,” he says.
The last few weeks have seen record-high temperatures, and with just one day before the opener, a tropical system sitting near the Bahamas has the potential to affect areas along the Gulf Coast. With twice the number of blue-winged teal in the state compared to last year at the same time, hunters on average should see some increased action. It may not be ideal for some, but most are just happy that teal season has returned to Louisiana.