On the second morning of this month’s teal season, Beaumont’s Warren Claybar pretty much summed it up as four of us sat in a blind near Winnie with very few birds to shoot at.
“Every single time the feds come out with news of big time numbers of teal, the season is a flop,” said Warren, as we looked up into an empty sky. “This is hard to believe.”He was referring to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s early season report on blue-winged teal. A few weeks ago, the service released a report that said the blue-winged teal estimated abundance was at a record 8.9 million, which was 41 percent above the 2010 estimate of 6.3 million, and 91 percent above the long-term average.
That may be true, but one thing is certain – teal are migratory birds. They can be here today and gone tomorrow.
Bobby Vaughan, who lives and hunts west of Beaumont in China, says his opening weekend teal hunts were excellent. He flooded a 40-acre field a couple of weeks prior to the opener and had birds on the water within a few days.
I was talking with James Reynard with Cast & Blast Outfitters a couple of days prior to the season opener. He pulled out his cell phone and showed me some video from one of their flooded fields in Katy. There were clouds of teal flying around. They set up on that water Saturday and had a six-man limit of teal in less than 30 minutes.“It was fast shooting with lots of birds,” says Reynard. “We’ve also got a place in Anahuac that was holding lots of teal.”
Hunters at the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area in Port Arthur had some pretty good hunts on Sunday. Jim Sutherlin, the area manager there, says they had 113 hunters out on Saturday. They averaged 1.12 teal per gun. Sunday, 40 hunters averaged 2-1/2 teal per gun. That’s very good for a public shooting area. Sutherlin says Monday was slow due to very little wind.
“We’ve got good habitat conditions but not nearly enough birds,” said Sutherlin. “I think the blue wings are coming in then leaving. I’m not sure where all of them are going when they leave here. Maybe the Yucatan. With teal hunting, it’s hit and miss.”
Guide Jim West says his hunts on flooded fields between Winnie and Anahuac were very good the first two days of the season.
Many teal hunters who can afford the high price tag to pump ponds have been hindered due to water restrictions brought about by the year-long drought. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department reports that water agencies and authorities have limited the sale of water to agricultural practices and not recreational uses like duck hunting, thereby limiting the number of ponds available on the coastal prairies. The good news is that higher tides associated with Tropical Storm Lee filled marsh ponds. Hunters along the coast are seeing a noticeably large number of pintails and shovelers.
We’re on the backside of a full moon phase this week. Plus, there is a weak front moving through Texas, although it’s supposed to stall and move east before it reaches Southeast Texas. The combination of the moon phase and front should move lots of teal down the Central Flyway.
It’s no secret that teal are highly migratory waterfowl. And like I mentioned, they are here today and gone tomorrow. If your water is holding birds, it’s best to be there and set up right at shooting time. When it’s right, the shooting is fast and limits come easily. But I’ve been on many hunts where the birds show up one or two hours after shooing time. With that in mind, you might want to stick around the blind even if the birds don’t fly early. Blue wings are totally unpredictable, and can show up when you least expect them to.
“It’s not unusual to have teal swarming a pond one day and be gone the next,” said West. “That’s why scouting can really pay off. I think with the full moon this week, we’ll have a ton of birds move into Southeast Texas. Some of the best hunts will likely be towards the tail end of the season.”