Inundated with water from hurricanes and tropical disturbances, the past two Texas teal campaigns were anything but normal across coastal prairies and marshes.
Not this year.
Unless a cyclone suddenly appears in the Gulf of Mexico in the next week, Lone Star waterfowlers should see more dust than mud when teal season begins Sept. 14.
“A whole lot different than last year and the year before,” said Andrew Armour of Karankawa Plains Outfitters on the Pierce Ranch near Wharton.
Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and what many believe to be the wettest fall and winter they have ever witnessed in 2018 made a snorkel and mud tires a requirement to hunt the past two autumns.
“We are hoping it stays dry during teal season, then it can rain the month of October,” said Armour.
Sure, dry conditions cost outfitters more dollars to pump water from water authorities and water wells, but few water sources congregate bluewings, making for stellar, consistent shoots along the rice prairies.
“Our best teal seasons are the dry ones,” said Armour. “It ends up costing us a little more in water but the hunting is usually really good.”
Texas has been in a heat wave for most of August and into the first week of September. Highs in the upper 90s and several days above the century mark does nothing to encourage teal to migrate south. However, a few days with north winds mixed with a bright moon has pushed, moderate amount of teal to the coast already.
“I’m happy the season opens in the middle of the month and not the first weekend,” said guide Ray Sexton of Matagorda. “It’s hot and no one I know likes to shoot ducks in 100-degree heat. Another week in September give, us more chances to see cool fronts push through Texas.”
Because of the arid weather, many outfitters chose to turn on their pumps later than normal for fear of losing water to rapid evaporation.
“I could have pumped in the middle of August, but I probably would have had to turn on the water wells again in September because of the heat,” said Harlan Boettcher of Prairie Waterfowl in Eagle Lake and East Bernard. “We have water running full speed right now and birds are beginning to show – nothing real impressive yet, but teal always show on time.”
The marshes east of Houston are showing signs of larger concentrations of birds. Tides have been high this week with low pressure in the Gulf. Typically, bluewings prefer freshwater marshes to saltier venues; nevertheless, most of the larger concentrations of teal are hanging around pumped leveed ponds near the marsh.
Blue-winged teal numbers remain steady at just over 5.4 million birds, down almost a million birds from 2018. That doesn’t mean you should see less birds than a year ago. Bluewings are one of the most prolific species on the Texas coast and a rite of September in the Lone Star state. Many will argue their wintering habits have changed since more and more hunters report bluewings hanging around through the finality of regular duck season, something unheard of in Texas just 10 years.