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Back in the Teal Blind Again, Finally

By DAVID RAINER

Although the mid 90s are still stiflingly hot at midday, the cooler temperatures at 4 a.m. give an indication that summer is finally losing its stranglehold on Alabama.

The pre-dawn respite from the heat stokes the pursuit of the outdoors for those of us who have been fortunate enough to partake. And early teal season provides a welcome change in the outdoors activity. Plus, there’s nothing like the smell of spent gunpowder in the morning.

When my buddy, Jay Gunn, picked me up for an excursion into the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, he had already cut about a dozen pieces of bamboo cane for blind building. After launching the 14-foot jon boat on the Causeway, we skittered up the Blakeley River in search of an ideal spot for those earliest of arrivals in the waterfowl kingdom – blue-winged teal.

It had been years since we’d pursued waterfowl in the Delta – mainly because saltwater intrusion from a variety of hurricane and tropical storms had severely impacted the submerged vegetation. Now, thankfully, the grass has rebounded significantly and waterfowl have an abundance of forage.

After a little scouting and past experience, Gunn picked a small, shallow pocket off the Blakeley that was filled with vegetation and we deployed a couple of dozen decoys before positioning the boat behind a patch of reeds to begin shoving the stalks of cane into strategic spots around the boat.

For some reason, the spot we’d picked also seemed to be a thoroughfare for numerous mourning doves, which gave us short jolts of adrenaline only to realize it was not the bird we sought.

Finally, several shots echoed across the Delta, likely from the Big Bateau area and we scanned the skies for possibilities. The thing about teal is they fly nothing like a big duck. Teal are quick, mostly low-flying birds that can sneak up on you in a heartbeat. Their low flight breaks up their outline against the foliage and they’re in your face before you know it.

Despite several volleys for Big and Little Bateau, we still hadn’t seen a teal. Minutes later a group of six or eight sailed into the pocket on the exact opposite side, about 60 yards away. We watched as they sat there for 15 seconds and then ignored any effort to call them our way. Another big group of teal we spotted zipping down the main river, but they never ventured our way.

“I know how to make something happen,” Gunn said. “I’ll cook us up some sausage.”

He reached into his storage box and pulled out a small propane stove and skillet. Soon wild hog sausage was sizzling in the pan.

While Gunn was doing the cooking, I was the lookout and I scanned the skies until my neck was aching.

Without more than a second of warning, a group of teal zoomed into the pocket and made a beeline for the decoys.

I grunted, “Gunn.”

The teal zipped right toward us and then flared perfectly. Boom. Boom. Two teal fell from the sky. Just as quickly as they arrived, they were gone.

“Did I give you enough warning,” I asked.

“Just enough,” Gunn laughed.

We sat there and enjoyed our breakfast of sausage, relishing the cool temperatures and beauty of the rising sun, as well as the fact that we hadn’t been skunked.

Although our success was minimal, you won’t hear me complaining and the prospects for the upcoming season appear promising. Of course, promising doesn’t always pan out, so we’ll have to depend on Mother Nature for some help.

David Hayden, waterfowl specialist with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFF), said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s waterfowl survey indicates the duck numbers are very near to last year’s level.

The overall duck count was estimated at 40.9 million, compared to 42 million last year, which is considered similar to last year because the number falls within the standard deviation.

The mallard count was 8.4 million, compare to 8.5 million last year, which is still 12 percent above the long-term average. Gadwalls number 3 million, which is similar to last year and 67 percent above the long-term average. Numbers for shovelers, redheads, scaup and canvasbacks are all similar to last year.

Blue-winged teal totaled 6.3 million and green-winged teal were 3.5 million, both similar to last year.

“Teal numbers are good, real good,” Hayden said.

The best news is that pintail numbers were steady at 3.5 million with projections that number will increase next year. That allowed the bag limit for pintails to be increased to two birds per day.

“Potentially, we’re looking for a fairly good year,” Hayden said. “Again, it depends on the weather. If we don’t get cold weather and snow up north, we won’t get the birds. If we get some weather up north we should have a good season. Habitat conditions were not that good to begin with, but they’ve had some rain in since the May survey and conditions appear to be good at this point in time.”

Chuck Sharp, WFF’s supervising biologist in southwest Alabama, said the early teal season has been sporadic with almost no activity on opening day and a few birds flying around since.

“Some people are finding little pockets of birds,” Sharp said. “It may be the same birds moving around. There haven’t been any fronts to push any more birds down. There will be a few coming in, but not the big droves that you would like to see.

“A lot of people are dry right now. If we don’t get some rain, there won’t be a lot of water. The Delta will have water, but some of these areas are getting pretty dry. The grass beds look better than I’ve seen them since I’ve been down here – the last 10 years. If we don’t lose them to saltwater, we should have a lot for the ducks. The Tennessee River will have some ducks. Most people can pump some water, so there will be some habitat in north Alabama. The breeding populations and fall flight look good. We just need some weather to drive them on down.”

Hayden said resident Canada geese throughout the United States are plentiful and are continuing to grow in many areas, some to the point of being a nuisance.

“This is a real good opportunity that not enough people are taking advantage of, especially the early season,” Hayden said of goose hunting. “We’ve got another goose season that starts September 25 and runs through October 6. If they know somebody with some birds, it sure would be a lot of fun and helpful in controlling the population.”

Visit http://www.outdooralabama.com/hunting/season-limits/waterfowl%20leaflet%202010print.pdf for the waterfowl hunting regulations and bag limits.

PHOTOS: (by David Rainer) Jay Gunn displays the beautiful wing feathers of a blue-winged teal, one of the earliest migrating ducks in the North America, which allows Alabama to enjoy a special teal season in September. The current season ends on September 26. Simmering wild hog sausage in the duck blind, Gunn quickly made the transition back to hunter and bagged a bird out of the only group that flew over our decoys.

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