Hundreds of duck hunters have high hopes of swinging the barrel of their shotgun and leading blue-winged teal before squeezing the trigger when a special season gets underway later this week in the Sportsman’s Paradise.
Blue-winged teal, the bread-and-butter of the special teal season in September, can be here today, gone tomorrow. They’re flighty, as veteran duck hunters know, a challenge for even the most accomplished wingshooters, colorful and good in the roasting pot.
Louisiana’s duck hunters know it’s time for a shotgun with either an improved or modified cylinder choke, No. 4 to No. 6 steel shot, and the obligatory mosquito repellent. Shallow flats, swamps and coastal marshes are magnets for the teal and the duck hunters who chase them this time of year.
Louisiana’s waterfowl study leader believes this special teal season could be just that, special.
“I think habitat conditions at least are much better than the last couple of years,” Larry Reynolds said Tuesday afternoon, referring mostly to southwest Louisiana.
Louisiana’s special teal season is scheduled to start Saturday and end Sept. 26. The daily bag limit is six.
The predominant species downed during this fast-approaching September shoot are blue-winged teal. They migrate in August and early September in much greater numbers than green-winged teal, which should provide plenty of action later in the big duck season to come.
Reynolds plans to get a look up-close and personal this week after Labor Day Monday. He and his staff will take to the air in a department prop plane for the first aerial waterfowl population survey for fall 2021.
After missing out on last year’s special teal season, he also plans to “to get mud between my toes” this year and get into a duck blind where he hunts north of Creole, which was Ground Zero last year for Hurricane Laura and Hurricane Delta. His leased property there, he said, still is in bad shape from the double-barreled blast from the storms.
Nevertheless, the state’s waterfowl study leader, soon to have a different title and different job description, said last year’s teal season was average to above average overall.
“You know, last year we had a really good teal season even though the population declined the three years before that,” Reynolds said, referring to breeding ground surveys 2018-20.
The timing of the teal migration was the key to any degree of success enjoyed during September 2020. Plain and simple, and luckily enough, the blue-winged teals’ flight coincided with the dates of the special teal season.
Timing is all-important once again for this special teal season. Why? There is a veritable buffet waiting for the teal as they descend on southwest Louisiana. It looks promising for waterfowlers in that region if the ducks come down when the special teal season is underway.
“The teal season still is in pretty good shape (despite Hurricane Ida). We’ve got really good habitat and there are places in the marsh where the wild millet looks like Kansas wheat. It all depends if our dates catch the teal flight,” Reynolds said.
Wild millet is an annual weed -- also is known as bottle grass, green bristle grass, green foxtail and pigeon grass -- that reproduces by seed.
All bets are off, he said in the same breath, if a tropical weather system similar to Hurricane Ida impacts southwest Louisiana between now and the last week of September.
“I’m certainly more optimistic about this year (upcoming teal season) than last year. We’re going to have better habitat conditions in southwest Louisiana,” he said.
For those who traditionally hunt the Wax Lake Outlet and other areas on the Atchafalaya Delta Wildlife Management Area in St. Mary Parish, the outlook is much bleaker, particularly after the near-miss from Hurricane Ida, which made landfall Sunday around Port Fourchon. Reynolds said he has a feeling the storm surge might have impacted habitat quality.
“You know, the Atchafalaya Delta used to really be great place for the teal season but it hasn’t been recently. I’m not optimistic,” the veteran waterfowl biologist said.
A “nice crop of seed-producing annuals” should catch the attention of plenty of blue-winged teal at Catahoula Lake in LaSalle and Rapides parishes, according to Reynolds.
He’s a lot more optimistic about the upcoming teal season than he is about the regular waterfowl hunting season that begins in November. Drought on the breeding grounds in upper North America, he pointed out, will reduce reproduction success that leads to a smaller fall flight.
The double whammy is that the smaller fall flight will have a proportionately higher number of adult birds because the reproduction was so poor, he said. Experienced duck hunters realize older ducks are more wary than younger ducks.