2018 Teal Season Forecast: Wet and Wild

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AUSTIN – Conditions are shaping up for what could be an excellent early teal hunting season opener this Saturday. Waterfowl biologists with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department say early migrations of birds into the state mixed with forecasts for more rain have set the table.

The 16-day statewide early teal and Eastern Zone Canada goose season in Texas will run Saturday, Sept. 15 through Sunday, Sept. 30. The daily bag on teal is six, with a possession limit of 18. Bag limit for Canada geese will be three and a possession limit of six in the Eastern Zone only.

While hunting prospects heading into the season continue to improve with rain, TPWD waterfowl program leader Kevin Kraai remains cautious in his optimism. “Despite the recent rains, it is quite dry in most places of Texas,” he noted. “The shallow water rich in aquatic invertebrates and plant seeds is not as abundant as we would like to see less than a week away from the teal opener. Although high chances of rain is forecasted across much of the state, much can change in a very short period of time.”

One thing is for certain, success this season won’t be for a lack of birds. The waterfowl breeding grounds in Canada and the northern states have seen temperatures well below normal in late August and early September, triggering an early migration of teal into Texas. More information about waterfowl population trends is available online.

“We have already seen very healthy concentrations of teal in flooded rice fields along the coast, playa wetlands in the High Plains, and moist-soil managed habitats across Texas,” Kraai noted. “In addition to abundant teal already in the state, it looks like we should follow up the second weekend with another strong push of birds migrating with the full moon on the 23rd and well below average temperatures forecasted up north in the breeding grounds.”

Here’s a regional breakdown of current conditions across the state leading up to the season opener:

Panhandle playas are in much need of significant rainfall in the coming weeks.  Currently, a very small percentage of playa basins are holding water in the High Plains.  Although, those that are holding a little water are full of ducks of all sizes.

Success in East Texas, as usual, relies of water levels of the various public reservoirs that dot the region.  Shallow coves and river mouths are typically the best places to find the suitable habitat teal prefer.  If the forecast for rain is true, success will greatly improve on these reservoirs if water levels begin to creep in to the terrestrial vegetation that has been growing along the lake shores all summer.

On the Upper Coast, recent heavy rains have put water across the landscape.  Teal are arriving and are spreading out across the area where they find suitable habitat conditions.  In the public hunting lands, the water is deeper than before the rains, making the coastal marshes less attractive for teal.  Habitat conditions for regular waterfowl season on the upper coast should be good, barring any major storms hitting the region.  Prospects for waterfowl hunts are good on WMAs in the upper coast going into the season.  We’ve set the table, all we need is for the guests to arrive. — Mike Rezsutek, TPWD wetlands ecosystem leader for the upper coast.

On the Mid-Coast, rain has been fairly isolated.  The Justin Hurst WMA has received over 8 inches of rain in the last week, which provided much needed relief from the drought conditions we were currently experiencing.  Although most of the rain soaked into the ground, we do have some standing water in several of the impoundments and the tidal marshes are full of water due to unusually high tides.  Staff have reported seeing a few teal showing up but I’ve received reports of large numbers of teal in the rice fields north of our area. Mad Island, on the other hand, only received 2 inches of rain and most of the impoundments are currently dry although the tidal marshes are full of water.  A few teal are starting to show up as well with reports of decent numbers of birds in adjacent rice fields. Because of extremely dry conditions this summer, staff at both WMA’s were able to perform quite a bit of habitat management in the wetland units thus setting the stage for a productive season.  All we need now is more rain. — Matt Nelson, TPWD wetlands ecosystem leader for the central coast.

Beginning this season, two of the state’s most popular public waterfowl hunting areas on the coast – the Justin Hurst and Mad Island WMAs – will implement a new process for hunting site selection. Instead of the traditional first-come, first-served format, TPWD staff will use a random drawing system to determine the order of selection. Vehicles in line will be issued a numbered tag from staff between 4:15 to 4:30 a.m. Staff will then randomly draw numbers to determine the order for hunters to choose their designated hunting sites. Although no numbered tags will be issued after 4:30 a.m., hunters not participating in the drawing may still hunt. They simply get in the back of the line and check in after all the lottery participants have chosen their hunting locations. The change is designed to address safety concerns and other issues related to hunters resorting to spending the night parked along the shoulder of the road leading to the WMA entrance to get prime hunting spots.

Hunters are reminded to purchase their 2018-19 hunting license before heading afield, available at more than 1,700 license retailers, online at www.tpwd.texas.gov/buy, or by phone at (800) 895-4248. The online transaction system is available 24/7. Call center hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is a required $5 administrative fee for each phone or online transaction, but unlimited items can be purchased during a single transaction for this $5 fee. All of these license sales outlets offer the opportunity to make a donation to help veterans and/or families in need of food.

In addition, check the current Outdoor Annual for all hunting season regulations, including that everyone born after Sept. 1, 1971 must carry proof of Hunter Education while hunting. If you misplace your card, you can print a replacement at no cost. TPWD also reminds that a Federal Duck Stamp, Harvest Information Program (HIP) certification, and the state waterfowl endorsement are required of all duck hunters.