GARWOOD – The first two teal landed in the spread at 6:41.
Legal shooting time was 6:43.
It may have been the longest two minutes in hunting history, watching the two ducks swim leisurely in the flooded sesame stubble 10 yards away.
Curse the digital clocks on cell phones. That is the only timepiece anyone had so it meant no fudging on the start.
Of course it came as no surprise to anyone in the blind that as we watched the time flip over to 6:42 and impatiently waited for 6:43 the birds flew off.
In a normal year this would not be an issue on Texas’ prairie wetlands. This year is anything but normal, and the weirdness actually started last spring.
“We still had teal here in April,” said Mike Lanier of Red Bluff Prairie Hunting Club.
What they haven’t had, he warned, was teal this fall.
Red Bluff was formed out of the remnants of Marvin Tyler’s famed Blue Goose Hunting Club. Blue Goose was among a handful of clubs that started commercial hunting on the Eagle Lake, Lissie and Garwood prairies, Texas’ rice growing country 60 years ago.
Lanier, who grew up in the area, worked as a guide for the early outfitters while growing up and attending college.
However, in recent years the number of geese wintering on the prairie has dropped to about 10 percent of what it once was, a victim of a changing farm practices and land use, but more importantly a water war between area farmers depending on flooded fields for rice production, outfitters who need it for waterfowl habitat and the Lower Colorado River Authority that is putting higher emphasis on needs in the Austin area.
This, and changing hunter demand, has gotten outfitters like Lanier to switch to more duck hunting than geese.
Lanier, the retired superintendent of the local school district, has been running Red Bluff across 40,000 acres for the last four years. Like the rest of the state Red Bluff opens the waterfowl season with teal. Traditionally bluewings flock into the area as the last jumping off spot before heading to Central and South America for the winter.
“Last year I guided 12 of the 16 days and we had limits every day. Most of the time we were driving back to the trucks before it was legal daylight,” said Wayne Zimmerhanzel, who, along with David Zatopek, were serving as guides for last week’s mid-week hunt.
“We don’t know where the birds are. Mike has called the feds and all sorts of people trying to figure out where they are,” Zimmerhanzel added.
Blue-winged teal are the earliest arriving ducks in Texas each fall. They start arriving in August and continue to flock in through September. The season is set to run during the peak of the migration and to satisfy hunters wanting to hunt as late in September as possible.
Lanier said what birds they had been seeing early had been males.
“Teal are kind of lazy parents. The males usually pick up and leave the nesting grounds first,” he said.
The outfitter had had decent, but below average hunts the first weekend. What success there was they credited to hunting pressure in other fields stirring up birds. Slow September teal seasons are not unprecedented in East Texas and other areas of the state, but it is unusual on the coast.
Like any other hunting, there were hunters who had a good start include some around Beaumont and others near Winnie. Even the Panhandle, however, started slower than normal.
Sitting dry and comfortable in a blind located next to the sesame field, a new crop in the area, Dr. Bill Ramsdell and Mike Leggett, both of Austin, Bobby Parker of Houston and I waited for our next chance. It happened shortly after legal shooting time when a flock of five or six birds dove into the decoys. The water was still black, and the stubble created a dark background making it impossible to pick out a target.
The next flight, still early, resulted in two birds down.
After that maybe three or four more groups swooped by the blind. In all we had just five ducks after an hour and a half when we called it quits.
With a week left in the season and finally cool temperatures on the way, the last week of the season may be hottest hunting, if there is going to be such a thing this year.
For information on duck hunting with Red Bluff, call 979-758-9026 or go to their website atwww.redbluffprairie.com .
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