Last year, blue-winged teal showed an 18-percent increase over 2016 and were 57 percent above the long-term average. It’s that 50-year average that is indicative of the strong population.

That’s important for waterfowlers, who depend on the early migrating species to provide the first duck-hunting opportunities of the year. Mississippi’s early teal season is 16 days, Sept. 15-30. The limit is six per day, with a possession limit of 18.

“We had a fair teal season in 2017, even with the increase in birds,” said Jimmy Pearson of Grenada. “The problem for many of us was the timing. The season is a gamble, like a crap shoot. We set a season based on when we expect teal to migrate through. Some years we get lucky, and our 16-day season hits it perfectly, with the peak of the migration in the middle of the season. 

“Last year, most of the birds came through late in the season, at least where I hunted, and we didn’t have but a few good days of hunting. The first week to 10 days were basically a bust. Our converted catfish ponds didn’t produce during that time, but we found some birds on bigger waters like Grenada Lake and over on the (Mississippi) river. Then, during the last five or six days, we had a strong migration, and our catfish ponds were covered up with teal. That gave us one good weekend.”

Teal feed in extremely shallow water, basically looking for mud flats, Vaughn said.

“I think that’s why Grenada Lake was a little more productive last year,” he said. “Summer was dry, and the water was falling, leaving a lot of the lake’s points exposed. The little groups of teal were buzzing those areas. That’s not easy hunting because there’s not a lot of cover to hide in out on those points. You have to work to find places where you can get in the trees or brush on the bank and still get them passing in shooting range.”

Managing the water levels in the smaller ponds is a gamble, too.

“You want to drop the water right before the season to expose more of the bottom, but then it’s not a sure bet you will get the rain to fill those ponds back up. And if you can’t pump water, which can be expensive, you could be in trouble as dry weather continues through to the first duck seasons in late November and early December.

“You’ve got to have water and you’ve got to have food if those ponds are going to attract and hold big ducks when they start arriving.”