In a year that has brought about a lifetime of unprecedented news, the year 2020 outdid itself again in recent days as an unprecedented cold front and winter storm assaulted portions of the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains only days after meteorological summer had ended.
Snow fell in Denver, cold air plunged south through the Dakotas, and people bundled up with jackets weeks earlier than they normally do. And in Texas, at the bottom of the Central Flyway funnel, the powerful September front brought record breaking cold for so early in the year.
So much so that the National Weather Service office in Billings, Mont. tweeted about what was happening thousands of miles south in the Texas Panhandle cities of Lubbock and Amarillo.
“You think it’s been chilly here?” queried NWS Billings. “Wednesday HIGH temps at Amarillo (42°) and Lubbock (46°) were below their daily record LOWS. How does it feel @NWSAmarillo & @NWSLubbock? #mtwx.”
What’s the moral of this story? When a Montana weather office is tweeting about how cold it is in Texas, 2020 is outdoing itself once again.
Thankfully, that record cold snap has had a big effect on the first push of the 2020 waterfowl migration as duck hunters head to September blinds for early teal season action. And predictably, the early chill has put lots of blue-winged teal in the air across the country as their annual push south begins in earnest.
So much so that Ducks Unlimited posted a “Migration Alert” on its website on Sept. 8, noting that teal were on the move in several northern states including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
DU author Jay Anglin noted that "...cool weather and northerly winds have pushed impressive numbers of blue-winged teal into the Great Lakes states daily, and hunters across the region are enjoying some topnotch hunting opportunities."
Zink Calls owner and former Outdoor Sportsman Group TV show host Fred Zink, whom Wildfowl editor Skip Knowles profiled in this great piece a few years ago, gave his own take on early teal season numbers.
"Numbers of blue-winged teal are at a very-high level in the Lake Erie marshes of Ohio,” reported Zink in the DU Migration Alert. “Most hunters have experienced a lot of success so far, and the outlook is good for that to continue. Some green-winged teal have also shown up, but at very low numbers thus far. With the cool north winds hitting this week, we look for some to leave and some new ones to move in.”
Zink’s story is being retold in other parts of duck country, including the corn country of Iowa.
In fact, before the big September front had even hit, things were already looking good in portions of the Mississippi Flyway according to Hawkeye State outdoor writer Lowell Washburn.
He noted in a story for the Mason City Globe Gazette newspaper that two big waves of bluewings had already descended upon the state before Sept. 1 had even arrived on the calendar. And when the second wave blew in, the early teal hunting action it delivered was nothing short of epic.
"When the Sept. 1 teal opener finally arrived, it was everything waterfowlers had hoped for," wrote Washburn.
"For many hunters, the teal “flew like gnats” with some parties bagging their six-duck limits in as little as 5 to 10 minutes," he added.
Not everyone got in on such fast paced action according to Washburn, but many hunters did.
"(Iowa DNR) Officers noted that virtually without exception, hunters were pleased with the numbers of blue-winged teal they encountered, adding that this year’s season opener will go down as one (of) the best ever,” Washburn wrote.
Undoubtedly, even as this Wildfowl story is written, the early season chill and snow in portions of the Rocky Mountain states and northern Great Plains will push a lot of those teal further south into central and southern portions of America’s great flyways.
That should mean that hunters in places like Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Louisiana can anticipate good numbers of bluewings blowing into their states any moment now.
And way down south, deep in the heart of Texas, hunters are chomping at the bit for what could be one of the state’s finest early teal seasons ever. Thanks to a constellation of circumstances and conditions, it might be the perfect storm for September teal hunters across the Lone Star State.
“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 Kevin Kraai, waterfowl program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The reason for Kraai’s enthusiasm comes partially from good news on the northern prairie breeding grounds earlier this year. While the usual breeding population survey data is missing due to COVID-19 cancellation (Link: https://www.wildfowlmag.com/editorial/waterfowl-breeding-population-survey-canceled-2020/376039 ), the TPWD biologist noted that there was ample evidence to believe that a strong early teal season was coming in 2020.
“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 biological data that has been produced this year came from the teal rich state of North Dakota, which was able to conduct its 73rd annual statewide spring duck breeding survey earlier this year despite the coronavirus outbreak.
“Their bluewing estimates were 55% 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, with early autumn cold weather rolling south, hunters are seeing proof of such statements in duck blinds across many parts of America. That should include Texas, which sees its Sept. 12-27 early teal season opener take place this weekend.
And in a state often struggling with hot weather and drought issues in early September, for a change, there’s plenty of water on the Lone Star State landscape as those early birds arrive.
“Yeah, it would be tough to find a better scenario,” said Kraai. “Even yesterday, 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.”
While Kraai notes that the state’s Panhandle counties, home to the duck rich playa lakes region, is dry, conditions are prime elsewhere, even along the Gulf Coast.
In fact, areas east and southwest of Houston, arguably the state’s epicenter of early teal hunting 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.”
Those southeastern Texas hunters might even see increased numbers of bluewings over the next three weekends, partly from the specie’s breeding efforts this spring and partly because of the recent landfall of Category 4 Hurricane Laura in nearby marshes of southwestern Louisiana.
“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 (near Lake Charles and Cameron, La.) 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.”
The bottom line for early teal hunters in Texas and in many other portions of the country appears to be that the table is set for a great September season, and in some places, something even better than that.
In a year devoid of positive headlines, the 2020 early teal season is delivering a truckload of good news for duck hunters. And for some, the early teal hunting campaign could be among the best ever.
As duck hunters head to their early teal season blinds this month, take that 2020.