September 11, 2020
By Lynn Burkhead
The 16-day early teal season campaign, which spans three full September weekends, runs from Sept. 12-27 this year in Texas with a daily bag limit of six.
In a year sorely in need of positive headlines, the news concerning Texas’ early teal season prospects can’t be much better according to Kevin Kraai, waterfowl program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
“If everything works out right, I think we could have an excellent teal season, as good a season as we’ve potentially ever seen,” said Kraai.
The reason for Kraai’s enthusiasm comes from good news on the northern prairie breeding grounds earlier this year, along with the recent run of wet weather across the southern reaches of the Central Flyway. Add in a powerful early autumn cold front that left unseasonably cool temperatures in its wake, and Kraai likes what he sees.
In fact, all of these ingredients together could add up to be the perfect September storm. For Texas teal hunters, that is.
While the usual hardcore biological data about how many bluewings bred earlier this year is missing due to the COVID-19 pandemic (thanks to the cancellation of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey work earlier this year), the information that is available is superb.
“We’re basically looking at two consecutive years of some of the better bluewing breeding conditions that we've seen,” said Kraai. “In fact, the conditions up north in North and South Dakota are such that some of my colleagues up there are calling them epic.”
Kraai said that the only real survey work that has been done this year was in North Dakota where the state’s annual waterfowl breeding study went on as scheduled this spring, albeit with some personnel adjustments made necessary due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“Their bluewing estimates were 55 percent higher this year as compared to the previous year’s estimate, which was pretty high,” said Kraai. “And we know from our own surveys last year in Texas, including where we look at wings of harvested birds, that there were a lot of mature bluewings on the landscape as we headed into this spring.
“So, with all of the pieces of the puzzle that we have been able to put together this year, there seems to be a big spike in bluewing breeding numbers and that’s prior to production,” he added. “And biologists out in the field this year doing banding work and other things in the northern parts of the flyway said they’ve never seen as many broods of bluewings as they’ve seen out in the field this year.”
Now, if the weather will cooperate across Texas for the next couple of weeks, the stage is set for a particularly memorable early teal season.
“In Amarillo, we were in the low 40s on Wednesday and I think the low temperature was 35 degrees,” said Kraai at midweek. “Up in the far northwestern part of the Panhandle, I want to say that I saw where they actually dipped below freezing near Dalhart and there were even a few snowflakes in the air. That’s amazing, because it was 104 to 105 degrees in that same region just a few days ago.”
With unseasonably early snowfall across portions of Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota this week, Kraai is anticipating a big push of blue-winged teal roaring towards Texas.
“Yeah, it would be tough to find a better scenario,” said Kraai. “Even yesterday (Wednesday), we had ample rainfall—flooding rains, in some places—across portions of central Texas. And today (Thursday), there are storms in East Texas, which is helping with water conditions there.
“Sometimes, the reservoirs in East Texas can get pretty low for September teal season and can be pretty hard to hunt. But that doesn’t seem to be the case this year since most reservoirs are doing well. About the only real dry spot in the state right now is out in the Panhandle where the rainfall this week wasn’t enough to put anymore water on the landscape out in the Playa Lakes region.”
Water conditions are also good in the North Texas region right now near Dallas where several big rain events since early August have left many lakes trending towards full capacity.
What’s more, stock tanks in the same region are also full, thanks to generous spring rains, timely summer rainfall, and plenty of moisture so far in the early fall season.
In southeastern Texas, where early teal hunting action can be legendary in good years, all indications are that this season will be good, if not great due to solid water levels.
In fact, areas east and southwest of Houston, arguably the state’s epicenter of early teal action every fall, are in just about perfect shape as land managers, hunt clubs, and lease hunters pump water onto fields and holding ponds just in time for the season’s opening bell.
“Conditions throughout the Texas coastal region are above average with respect to teal habitat,” said Kraai. “There’s not a huge push of natural water this year from the tropics, so the teal are going to be concentrated on the available water that hunters and land managers have put out there.
“It’s really the perfect scenario for those hunting that landscape this year because the ducks are going to be where the hunters are.”
While Texas has certainly had its share of September hurricane trouble over the years—Hurricane Rita in 2005, Hurricane Ike in 2008, and Hurricane Harvey in 2017 all come to mind—the state has dodged really severe tropical mischief so far in 2020.
While Hurricane Hannah did hit the Port Mansfield area in July with 90 mph winds, the cyclone didn’t inundate and destroy valuable waterfowl habitat and hunting club property found in the teal rich regions of the upper and middle Texas coast.
Texas was certainly fortunate a couple of weeks ago when Category 4 Hurricane Laura rolled ashore near Cameron, La. with 150 mph winds and a 10- to 15-foot storm surge south of Lake Charles. While no one would wish that kind of calamity on anyone, the severe hurricane just east of the Texas state line could potentially bring more early teal into the state this month.
“Prior to Laura, the coastal regions of southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana were already recording way above normal early flights of bluewing teal around,” said Kraai. “But now, I’m seeing some pretty terrible photos from that region where there was a lot of destruction, a big storm surge that pushed saltwater into the marshes, and even a sheen of oil covering some of the landscape.
“While we don’t know just yet what the full effects of Laura will be on southwestern Louisiana’s duck hunting this year, it’s likely that region won’t be holding a lot of bluewings for the next couple of weeks. Theoretically, that might mean more teal for Texas.”
If there are any hiccups to the state’s perfect early teal season storm, it might be future weather conditions and mounting hunting pressure as the September season unfolds. Kraai said the start of the 2020 season is likely to be good in many areas, but there will need to be additional pushes of new birds as the season rolls on.
“The overall numbers are above normal for sure,” he said. “But anything can change (over the rest of the month). And since these birds are migrating south, that means they are coming and going by the day.
“In addition to the weather and moon phases, we know that teal are very sensitive to hunting pressure too,” he added. “We see that every season, even in the best areas of our state, where the first day’s gunning action causes a change in flight patterns and bird numbers as soon as the very next day.
“If you can rotate your hunting spots during the early teal season, that will help. But if you’re hunting the same blind, you’ll see a noticeable difference between pushes of new birds.”
The bottom line for the 2020 early teal season in Texas is this—barring a late September hurricane, expect a very good season to unfold, particularly if you’re in a teal rich area of the state.
But if your duck blind happens to be on one of those proverbial “X” landing zones this month, it might be as good an early teal season as you’ll ever see.
And in a state that typically features some of the Central Flyway’s best early teal hunting action anyway, that’s really saying something.