"This morning is about teal, and the gratitude each of us should feel whenever we have an opportunity to enjoy their presence."- Outdoor writer E. Donnall Thomas, Jr. in "Small Packages"
On one of the final days of the special early season that the Feds give to waterfowlers every September, the truth was becoming painfully obvious as we sat and listened to the wind blow and blow in the first blushes of daylight.
We were early.
And the teal were late.
Which explained fully why it was so quiet in the stubble-filled Mossy Oak layout blinds that were being occupied by myself, Texas outfitter J.J. Kent, and his longtime waterfowling friend Kelly O'Neill.
|Time for Bo the black Lab to go to work on an early teal hunt. (Lynn Burkhead photo) |
Quiet because under the morning's bird-less skies - as a fresh northerly breeze threatened to scour the Red River Valley countryside of blue-winged teal that were quickly migrating through - we had already reached the critical mass moment that all waterfowlers know.
The moment when you wonder if the birds will really show.
Or if this duck hunt is destined to become the kind of "snipe hunt" you were duped into years ago while a kid at summer camp.
Over the years, thanks to countless duck blind sits, I've grown accustomed to that feeling and the anxiety that it can bring.
Until I hear the day's inaugural motion of wings whispering above as the Creator splashes the first rays of daylight upon His earthly canvas.
This time, the initial provision of winged music came courtesy of a single teal that zipped by overhead, turned on a dime, and then corkscrewed in for a landing.
Right behind a spinner, that is, a Mojo teal decoy with its rapidly rotating wings advertising that our spread was open for business.
"Check," I thought as I rose to flush the teal.
Except that the bird refused to concede that I had it cornered by my shotgun barrel.
So I stood up and took a couple of steps forward. Still, no wild flush from the decoys. Then another couple of steps forward, and still nothing.
Grown past the skillet shooting days of my youth, I moved forward once again.
Only to watch the teal erupt from the water and quickly put another spinning wing decoy between us.
Waiting until it cleared, I was finally able to touch off a shot...for a clean miss. And then another shot was let loose...with identical results.
"Checkmate," I could swear I heard as the teal flew off in a flurry of motion and speed that would make a fighter pilot blush with envy.
A bit red-faced, I slunk back into the layout blind again, hearing the soft guffaws emanating from my waterfowling companions as they openly suggested that I borrow a crowbar to straighten out my barrel.
|Bo, a black Labrador owned by Texas waterfowling outfitter J.J. Kent, proudly displays a September blue-winged teal. (Lynn Burkhead photo) |
But as so often happens in a duck blind, wingshooting's version of payback was served a few moments later - after J.J. had dropped the morning's first bird when a single bluewing buzzed by - leaving me as the primary person softly chuckling.
And offering up the use of a cheap crowbar after a flock of teal roared by overhead at warp speed.
In the freshening breeze, these teal had the afterburners on and then some. And my two blind mates could never quite catch up.
Pretty soon, we were all laughing.
And hoping for a grand early teal hunting show.
To be honest, those hopes were tempered this fall just a year after one of the best local teal seasons in memory.
Last year, early September rains, abundant bluewings, and a steady migration through the Central Flyway had kept North Texans like myself in the birds from start to finish.
This year, however, after a brutal summer of record heat and drought, water was tough to come by in the area north of Dallas/Fort Worth.
And so were September teal.
Until the final few days of the season, that is.
As I sat there in my blind reflecting on all of this and wondering at the differences that hunters can see from one year to the next, I suddenly heard J.J. hiss for us to keep our heads down.
|Though small in size, blue-winged teal are big in early autumn beauty. (Lynn Burkhead photo) |
He followed that warning with a series of short and sporadic high pitched quacks from his Buck Gardner teal call.
Those bluewing mimicking sounds were soon followed by a roar of wings - many of them, in fact- splitting the air over our heads.
A flock of 30+ teal sped over, banked hard, and displayed the tell-tale powder blue speculum's that mark one of the most striking of all waterfowl on the wing.
In seconds, the birds had executed a 180-degree turn over the skinny water that Kent's Tanglefree decoys floated in and were peeling back in our direction hard and fast.
Suddenly, they were in front of the decoys with their flaps down, their feet reaching for the water, and the wind from their wing-beats brushing us in the face.
|Proving that good things come to those who wait, Texas duck guide J.J. Kent shows off an early teal season stringer of bluewings. (Lynn Burkhead photo) |
That's when J.J. cried "Get 'em!"
And we did. This time, no crowbars were needed for our barrels as we all shot straight and dropped a nice handful of birds.
Enough that Bo the black Labrador retriever had to finally get to work marking and retrieving birds as he fulfilled the call of canine DNA coursing through his veins.
As Bo eagerly worked to and fro, we all smiled, laughed, and enjoyed the wind borne beauty and bounty of fall.
Teal we meet again next September.
Editor's Note:To learn more about J.J. Kent's "Kent Outdoors" outfitting service in North Texas and southern Oklahoma, visit the Web site www.kentoutdoors.com ; e-mail Kent at firstname.lastname@example.org ; or call him at (903) 271-5524.