September 10, 2021
Like Charles Dickens’ famous line in his classic tome A Tale of Two Cities—it was the best of times, it was the worst of times—so is life in the state of Louisiana right now.
In some portions of the Pelican State, the best of times are rolling on the bayou with the approach of hunting season, the arrival of LSU Tigers and New Orleans Saints football games, and of course, Cajun country’s famous tailgating parties.
On the eve of the state’s Sept. 11-26 early teal season, life and eating is also good in duck camps around the state as freezers get emptied and lots of Cajun spices fire up cast iron pots and pans simmering with gumbo, shrimp, crawfish, oysters, blackened redfish, andouille sausage, and even some fried gator.
Add in plenty of blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, and even a rare cinnamon teal or two heading for the bayous, good habitat in many places, and a six-bird daily bag limit, and what’s not to like right now about September life in Louisiana?
Well, as it turns out in the southeastern parishes of the state, plenty.
Teal Hunting Season Prospects
In fact, about 75 miles either side of a line from Grand Isle to New Orleans, conditions—and early teal season prospects—are downright awful. That’s because of destructive Category 4 Hurricane Ida, which roared ashore at Port Fourchon, Louisiana on August 29, 2021, with 150 mile per hour sustained winds and gusts up over 170 mph.
With Ida wrecking good portions of southeastern Louisiana—and killing at least 10 people directly and 21 people indirectly—the state’s coastal marshes have been swamped by a storm surge of 10-feet or more, which killed vegetation in places and left behind a mine field of debris elsewhere.
So severe is the destruction in places that spots like the Pointe-aux-Chenes Wildlife Management Area is closed to dove hunting until further notice.
The rest of southeastern Louisiana is in pretty rough shape too, so much so that the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) issued a precautionary news release earlier this week, warning early teal hunters venturing into the marshes to be on the lookout for potential problems. “The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is warning hunters and anglers that danger lurks in the debris and hazards left in waterways and hunting areas in the southeast region of the state by Hurricane Ida,” read the news release.
Post-Hurricane Hunting Hazards
From waterways filled with debris and navigational hazards to a landscape that has been altered to trees uprooted, limbs knocked down, and more waiting to come down on the next coastal breeze, the LDWF went as far as warning hunters that emergency medical services are scarce and some hospitals—already swamped with COVID-19 patients—are far from peak efficiency. Add in local curfews and parish regulations, and it’s little wonder that the agency warned hunters to let someone know of their plans, to have a fully charged mobile phone handy, and to have a navigational aid and/or GPS unit ready to go.
So severe was Ida’s recent destruction—which made landfall on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina back on Aug. 29, 2005—that the storm is said to have knocked down more power poles across the state than Katrina (2005), Ike (2008), Delta (2020), and Zeta (2020) all did combined.
This past week, there were even rumors floating around that the LDWF was considering pulling the plug on early teal season, at least in the most badly affected storm damage zones. But like many rumors in the days after a severe hurricane strikes a coastal region, that’s all such murmurings were—rumors—for those who like to throw out a decoy rig, shoot at speedy blue-winged and green-winged teal buzzing by, and fire up the mid-September grill afterwards.
“We haven’t instituted any changes to our duck season and, as of right now, don’t anticipate any,” the LDWF’s Robert Iles indicated to Wildfowl in an e-mail. “We did a release Wednesday, however, advising hunters—as well as anglers—to be aware of their surroundings when venturing out.”
Hope on the Horizon
If that’s how bad things are on the southeastern quadrant of the Louisiana state map, keep in mind that elsewhere, there’s little evidence of any hurricane problems, at least recently, that is. Because in the southwestern part of the state--which was swamped by Category 4 Hurricane Laura AND Category 3 Hurricane Delta a year ago--times are much better as the first flocks of bluewings and their greenwing cousins come roaring by.
Why is that? Because while a satellite photo of a storm like Ida would seem to show a vast cloud shield that swamps an entire state, that simply isn’t the case since the worst hurricane damage is always associated with the passage of the much smaller eyewall.
And this time, southwestern Louisiana escaped the extreme wind and storm surge of Ida’s eyewall. In fact, in a number of areas, it never even rained, and the wind was nothing too far out of the ordinary. That news gives September hope to waterfowl hunters in the southwestern part of Louisiana, a place where teal numbers are building despite the scars of last year’s one-two hurricane punch that remain evident in some areas. So hopeful, in fact, that if you’re in the right spot somewhere in the vicinity of Lake Charles over the next couple of weeks, the shooting should be good and maybe even really good, so much so that a daily bag limit of teal is possible.
Part of the reason for that optimistic forecast is the habitat in the southwestern part of the state appears to be in good to great shape.
Take, for instance, this snippet from Don Shoopman’s story this week in the local Daily Iberian newspaper. “There is a veritable buffet waiting for the teal as they descend on southwest Louisiana,” wrote Shoopman. “It looks promising for waterfowlers in that region if the ducks come down when the special teal season is underway.”
Shoopman then referred to Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries waterfowl study leader Larry Reynolds, who confirmed that the banquet table is set. “I think habitat conditions at least are much better than the last couple of years,” Reynolds told Shoopman. “The teal season still is in pretty good shape (despite Hurricane Ida),” stated Reynolds. “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.”
So, in southwestern Louisiana, the table is set for what seems to be a good early teal season coming up in 2021, even if the season prospects are muddy at best the closer one gets to New Orleans and the Mississippi River.
Do keep in mind the timing aspect noted by Reynolds above—early teal roar south each year in September, thanks to the shortening days triggering the migratory urge for the early birds pushing down the flyways. Add in the month’s full moon cycle and initial autumn cool fronts that turn the wind to the north, and a place can be devoid of teal one day, full of them the next, and empty again only a day or two later.
Meaning that early teal really are a “Here today, gone tomorrow!” kind of waterfowl species that provide some great September wingshooting opportunities for those in the right spot at the right time.
Turning Up in Texas
If southwestern Louisiana is one of those potential hotspots this fall, so too are the nearby coastal marshes in southeastern Texas, which may see a good push of bluewings thanks to the recent passage of Ida.
Teal, like most other waterfowl species, seem to know instinctively when conditions aren’t great in one traditional staging or wintering spot and sometimes avoid such areas entirely. That could mean that southeastern Texas could see more early migrators than normal, in direct contrast to their own teal season misfortunes following the early autumn passages of Hurricane Ike (2008) and Hurricane Harvey (2017).
“I am expecting a good teal season once again for the state of Texas,” said Kevin Kraai, waterfowl program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, in an agency news release.
Krai notes that with the state’s 16-day early teal season—which also runs from Sept. 11-26—preparing to begin, he’s already receiving word of good early teal numbers in the rice prairie country of the Texas Gulf Coast.
As in southwestern Louisiana, that should be good news for early waterfowlers getting out to swat mosquitoes and hope for a limit of six teal over the next couple of weeks. Part of that hope is due to the fact that early teal come through southeastern Texas like clockwork each and every fall, unless a hurricane dictates otherwise.
Krai notes that despite the drought conditions of recent months in North Dakota, South Dakota, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, there are still good numbers of teal coming south towards Texas. Certainly, there won’t be as many gullible juvenile birds buzzing decoy spreads this month, but there is still no shortage of adult teal flying by.
“We still have literally millions of blue-winged teal in North America,” said Kraai. “Current estimates of blue-winged teal are 5.83 million, which is far above the 4.7 million bird threshold required to have a 16-day teal season for 2022-2023. So, there will be no changes next year as well.”
Unless another big, bad hurricane tries to say otherwise in coastal Louisiana or its nearby Lone Star State neighbor. But if that’s the case, the teal will simply shrug their shoulders and move on elsewhere, just like they’ve done for eons, no matter how strong the tropical winds might wish to blow.