Early teal season has never felt like regular duck season, but Texas waterfowlers welcome it, annually, with smiles.
With bluewing breeding estimates coming in at a little more than 6 million in 2022, second only to mallards, expectations are high for a steady flight when the 16-day season kicks off Sept.10.
Texas has suffered through drought conditions for most of 2022. Then August arrived, and low pressure developed over the region and dumped rain, just in time to welcome this year’s crop of teal.
Some areas along the coastal prairies have received 10 to 12 inches of rain in the past three weeks. Habitat in the four-county area of Wharton, Colorado, Matagorda and Calhoun counties looks inviting for the opener.
“The rain came at just the right time,” says Ross Russell of El Campo. “It helped our dove crops and allowed us just enough time to harvest the first cut of rice.”
Russell, a banker by trade, said farmers were able to get the first crop of rice out of the field in relatively dry conditions. Then abundant showers fell for the last half of August and watered the fresh cut rice, providing a five-star buffet for arriving bluewings.
“The birds are thick in the rice,” Russell says. “All of our shallow-water prairie ponds have lots of food and look good, but there are only a handful of teal on them right now. Everything is in the rice.”
More birds are expected to arrive daily with a full moon forecasted for September 10. That, coupled with a cool front expected to provide light north winds for the next five days, sets up what could be a banner season.
“Rainfall has helped keep ponds full and rice growing,” says guide Andrew Armour of Pierce. “The front and bright moon should give us a good push of teal just in time.”
The drought might hurt marsh hunters who have dealt with hypersaline water for most of the year. When our estuaries don’t receive freshwater to balance the brine, aquatics like widgeon grass and other duck foods are tougher to grow, leaving salty ponds with nothing for ducks to eat. Sure, ducks will occasionally use these marshy areas, but without sustenance the birds are here today and gone tomorrow.
“It has been really dry in our marsh all year,” says Jason Salas of Collegeport. “We haven’t grown much food all summer. We are holding a few teal right now, but more will show.”
Tides have been running lower than normal despite low pressure in the Gulf of Mexico. Hence, expect a hit-or-miss scenario on the coast.
“We will get some of those birds from the prairie after opening day,” said guide Ray Sexton. “Everything changes after the first weekend. Birds that have been sitting for weeks get relocated by hunting pressure. That’s when I think we will see more birds in the marsh.”
Texas teal season runs Sept.10-25.