Lynn Burkhead — Teal season opens with hopes for good wingshooting

Herald Democrat
Drought conditions up north in the Duck Factory have blue-winged teal on the move earlier than normal this fall. With the Sept. 11-26 early teal season opening up tomorrow morning and running for the next couple of weeks, prospects are good for Texomaland area waterfowlers hoping for some good early autumn quacker action.

If you were surprised by the sound of thunder, the flash of lightning and the pounding of heavy rain on the roof earlier this week, join the club.

While yours truly is normally a bit of a weather geek, the early morning barrage of weather that brought heavy rain to my backyard came as a bit of a surprise, even if my thirsty early autumn lawn soaked it up greedily.

Why the weather report right now in this weekly spot? Because depending on that same weather — from surprise thunderstorms to early autumn cool fronts to hot and sunny weather — therein lies the key to what kind of early teal season is about to unfold across the Texomaland area.

In general, there are ample teal preparing to migrate through the area north and south of the Red River as the Sept. 11-26 season prepares to begin tomorrow morning.

In fact, my longtime duck hunting pal Jim Lillis — who lives southeast of Sherman — has already had some blue-winged teal come and go from a sizable bass pond lying outside his back door.

A couple of weeks ago, a big flock of bluewings buzzed in one day and hung around to the next sunrise. How many birds? Maybe a couple of dozen said Lillis as we chatted on the phone and he sat on his back porch.

But once those teal picked up and headed for the Texas Gulf Coast, nothing but a few mourning doves flew around Mr. Duck’s backyard pond, despite my repeated questions about whether or not he was seeing any more early ducks.

This week, however, my query the other day brought another enthusiastic “Yep!” when I asked about bluewings blowing in.

“My wife Jan said she thought there were some wood ducks or something down on the pond, so I got my binoculars out and it turns out there were two small flocks of bluewings,” said Lillis.

The next morning, when Lillis — who retired from Ducks Unlimited several years ago after a long and distinguished career as a DU senior regional director here in North Texas — sipped on his morning coffee, the bluewings were long gone.

As in blew out of here — or is that blue out of here? — and probably halfway to Eagle Lake, Texas before Lillis even got his lump of sugar and creamer stirred in good.

If you’ve read the weekly drivel for any of the 30 or so years I’ve written in this space, then you’re likely well aware that when it comes to early teal prospects, who knows?

Literally a here today, gone tomorrow kind of waterfowl species, I’ve experienced the best and worst of early teal hunting here in Texomaland.

Years ago, hunting with Sherman attorney Craig Watson and former Austin College assistant football coach Vance Morris, we went with great anticipation to the upper flats of Lake Texoma, a place where Watson’s careful scouting a day or two earlier had shown thousands of early teal pumping into the mud flats and shallow water of the lake’s most remote region.

Unfortunately, the wind shifted to the north the day before the season opened, and we swatted down the one or two birds that we saw as our September early teal hopes for a limit were dashed by the weatherman.

In later years, I would hit the early teal rush just right from time to time with my Denison High School classmate, Mike Bardwell, and our pal, the late Denison police officer Jeff Camp. When Bardwell dabbled in the waterfowl outfitting business, mid-September visits to cattle stock tanks around the area gave us some poor hunts, some mediocre hunts, and some that might rival anything a waterfowler can find on the Texas Gulf Coast.

After that, it was more of the same with my late friend J.J. Kent, the Texomaland waterfowl outfitter who passed away far too early in life after complications that arose following heart surgery.

Kent, a highly likable pro-staffer with Mossy Oak, Zink Game Calls, and Avian-X Decoys, had just about every wet spot pegged between here and the Texas Panhandle. From a river setup to flooded fields after a tropical system rolled through to nearly dried up stock tanks to even a big flood control reservoir on the outskirts of the DFW Metroplex, I enjoyed several good early teal shoots with J.J.

There was even an epic September resident goose hunt out near Wichita Falls, one when the big early season honkers just kept coming in. I sure do miss J.J, especially in September when the bluewings are rushing through.

Believe it or not, as challenged as I can be to find a good waterfowling hotspot on my own, or to get the decoy spread just right, I’ve even had a few good early teal hunts where I was the only guide.

One of those hunts came near Howe many years ago when an ill-fated outing was suddenly changed as I looked backwards and saw what I thought was a lone duck settling in. After dumping the decoys in the back of the truck and securing the dog, I hiked back in and peeked over the dam of the small stock tank and saw a couple of dozen teal. Thankfully, my shooting was good and a near limit was soon coming home.

There was also a mild September morning years ago with our late, great Lab named Buddy. As he sat there quietly, the still early autumn air was suddenly interrupted with the rush of a lot of wings overhead.

As the flock of 80+ birds swept overhead, the retriever whined, I sat watching in amazement, and finally, as they circled one too many times over the meager decoy spread, I sent a couple of non-toxic shotshell loads surging down the barrel of my Remington 870.

As the big chocolate Lab — Buddy Boudreaux, as I called him, owing to my one-time Louisiana roots — came swimming back with the last of the two birds I knocked down, it was hard not to smile.

Because sometimes the early season teal are here, and sometimes they’re not. But the mere hope of waterfowl wings whispering overhead is enough to set the alarm clock early, load up the Lab, pack some coffee and mosquito repellent, and venture out the backdoor to see what the new dawn will bring.

After all, when it comes to waterfowl pushing south down the Central Flyway, the simple truth is that you just never know, now do you?