Big Storm and Little Ducks: Hunting Teal on the Gulf Coast

Shallow-water habitat draws birds to Texas and bottom of Central Flyway

Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017

By John Gordon

WHARTON, Texas -- Time passes slowly in the last five minutes before shooting time, at least it always seems that way.

We sat on the back side of a levee in a shallow freshwater pond near Wharton, Texas, about an hour north of the central coast. Hurricane Harvey had left his mark, pushing the Colorado River to record flood levels and leaving many local residents scrambling to put their lives back together in the aftermath.

Our guide, Bink Grimes of Matagorda Sunrise Lodge, had narrowly escaped flooding of his home in Bay City. Now at the end of the first week of the Texas early teal season, not much evidence of Harvey remained as wind damage didn’t touch the area.

“Three minutes, boys,” Bink said glancing at his cell phone in the growing light. Blue-winged teal had been strafing us for the past 10 minutes in groups ranging from pairs to over 30. Several had landed in the decoys.

Finally, it was time and we loaded our guns, gripping them a little tighter. “Group from behind, y’all get ready,” Bink commanded as the dozen or so ducks raced towards our decoy set.

“Take ‘em!”

Shotguns ripped the prairie silence and several teal splashed down. Reloading quickly, it wasn’t long before more birds were in range.

Guide Bink Grimes (above, with decoys) and Joe Arterburn (with ducks) joined the author on the south Texas teal hunt. (Photos by John Gordon)

When it’s good, Texas teal hunting is the best in the country. Located at the bottom of the Central Flyway, the area is the major staging ground for teal migrating farther south into Mexico and even South America. Without a September season on teal, hunters would miss out on the majority of these ducks during the fall.

Teal will move with the slightest weather change so hunters in the early season must be ready to go when they arrive, meaning scouting is critical to hunter success.

The main reason teal hunting is so good here is the habitat. Teal love shallow waters; as little as six inches (essentially a mud flat) is very attractive. They also love harvested rice fields that are holding water, shallow backwaters of large lakes, small ponds and just plain low areas.

They are on the move, so they need to feed as much as possible on every stop along the way. Ducks Unlimited continues to be very beneficial to Texas duck populations, creating many shallow water structures in association with area landowners.    

Along on this hunt was DU biologist Taylor Abshier, based in the Richmond, Texas, office. I asked him several questions about DU’s involvement in the area and the impact of Harvey on this season.

“The hurricane rainfall was beneficial to the landscape and opened up areas to waterfowl that have been dry for many years,” he said. “This will scatter the ducks and geese over a broader area than normal so the harvest numbers may be down from previous years. While Harvey was very bad for the area residents, it will ultimately be beneficial to the wildlife.”

Ducks Unlimited’s involvement with wetland projects on the Texas coastal prairie only involves water control, as Taylor explained.

“We work with private landowners to create levees and install water control structures. We do no planting in these areas but keeping water on them allows the seed bank of moist soil grasses to germinate and flourish, providing food and cover for not only ducks and geese but a wide variety of bird species.

“While we do no planting, landowners are free to plant supplemental crops within the structure. Often, rice and millet are planted, enhancing the area and encouraging more birds to use it,” he concluded.

Teal hunting is a lot of fun and the targets are challenging. Elaborate blinds are hardly necessary, standing in some tall grass or on a tree line is usually sufficient cover to hide you from these speedsters. Being alert is critical.

Teal will bomb in on your location from any direction and can be gone and out of range in a heartbeat. 

Teal will decoy to just about any species but I like to use their own kind to lure them into range. Shallow water rigging is a must, the Texas style rig born here is perfect for a teal spread. You can deploy them in a flash and gather them quickly once the hunt is over.

Lightweight camo clothing, similar to what you would wear on a dove hunt, is usually the normal attire. A light jacket may be needed after fronts arrive. The new breathable style of wader is nice since they provide ease of movement and will not cause sweating the way neoprene will. 

A pair of hip boots works well here in the typical shallow ponds and fields these little ducks love. Teal hunting is a blast -- I highly recommend getting out for a hunt if possible. Even better if it’s on the Texas coast.