Texas waterfowlers have always known September blue-winged teal are on their own schedule. They can be here today, gone tomorrow, so we hunt them when they are here and hope they show back up tomorrow.
This year’s 16-day teal teaser was like the rest of 2021 – unpredictable.
“It has been hard to stay on a consistent pattern,” says longtime waterfowler Joe Cochran of Houston. “One morning you are covered up with teal, and the next you are looking to decoy a couple.”
As is often the case with migratory waterfowl, weather plays a key role in bird movement from north to south. Hurricane Nicholas showed up just after opening day and put a kink in what had been a solid start to the season.
“We had a solid opener and lots of decoying birds,” says Ross Russell of El Campo. “Then the hurricane hit and scattered everything with strong winds and water.”
Winds gusting to over 90 mph and tides reaching as much as eight feet above normal near Matagorda and Palacios sent birds reeling far away from traditional moist-soil units and marsh ponds.
“The birds we had left for a few days,” reports guide Ray Sexton. “We were kind of caught by surprise by all the wind and tide surge from the hurricane, and it affected the birds as well.”
The hurricane was followed by a bright moon a few days later. It is no secret that ducks migrate on a fireball moon, which can be a good thing or a bad thing.
It can be good if you have been devoid of teal in your area, and it can be bad if you have a pond teeming with bluewings.
“We loaded up with ducks in the marsh on the moon,” Cochran says. “We shot quick limits and saw more birds than we had seen in a long time. The next morning, they were gone.”
Enter the strongest September cold front Texas can remember in close to 20 years. Early this week winds gusted to near 25 knots from the north along the coast. Overnight temperatures dipped into the high 40s in parts of North Texas, and hunters reported an influx of birds overnight.
“You should have seen all the ducks,” Russell says. “We were shooting groups of 50 decoying birds with temperatures in the 50s. You don’t see that very often in Texas in September.”
The combination of weather and water made for a fantastic final weekend. Several outfitters reported working large groups of greenwings, which is often an anomaly during a September shoot.
“I have never seen this many green-winged teal this early,” Russell explains. “The cold front really pushed down a pile of birds.”
Big ducks also rode the stiff north wind and have made an earlier-than-normal appearance. Large groups of pintails, shovelers and scattered gadwalls worked teal hunters’ decoys and made for dicey shot-calling with acrobatic teal in the mix.
As is often the case in the world we live in today, nothing surprises anymore.
Waterfowlers now have to wait for the regular season, but if occasional cold fronts continue to push ducks south, it could be a banner year. Regular duck season in the South Zone opens Nov. 6.