What could be more fun than crouching in a flooded grain field in the predawn darkness? It's the opening weekend of teal season, and there is no place Rod Snell and his son Hunter would rather be.
Rain pelted the hunters as they drove out to the field an hour before daylight and although the rainfall has halted dark clouds are massing on the horizon. A gray overcast prevails, and the threat of more precipitation is imminent. It is perfect duck hunting weather.
Rod and Hunter are huddled in the soggy field near a pond north of Harlingen, and several hundred yards away their hunting companions Mike Clore and Tom Kilgore are set up at another pond. There are hundreds of teal roosting on the ponds, and when Southwest airlines roars low overhead near sunrise the birds take flight in mass.
Rod swings on an incoming group of birds, and the first teal of the morning topples onto the grain stubble. The next shot belongs to Hunter, and he may be only 11 years old but knows how to handle a shotgun.
"Nice shot son," Rod says proudly, as he gathers up the days first birds.
"The first thing he said to me as we left the house this morning was thanks papa, thanks for taking me hunting," Rod says. "I have been taking him hunting since he was about six years old, and he has probably been duck hunting for about three years, and he just loves it."
"I am glad to have a dad that can take me out hunting, because there are not many dads that can do that," Hunter says as he scans the sky for the next flight. He doesn't have to wait long. There is flock after flock of teal darting by to the left and right and high overhead, but when several suddenly come in range the young Hunter smoothly drops the lead bird just as they attempt to veer away.
"I hunted a lot with my dad," Rod says. "He got me into it, and it's just something I have always done. It's a great way to bond. It's a great opportunity to spend some quality time together."
Soon, father and son have their limit and with the sound of Tom Kilgore's approaching truck they begin gathering their gear. As the mud spattered pickup pulls to a halt along the grain field, Rod and Hunter are already happily trudging thru the muck.
The hunters gather in a grassy area near the far side of the pond to pluck their birds and swap stories of the season's first waterfowl hunt. "To me duck hunting signals the start of all the fall hunting especially this early teal season," Mike Clore says. "We have had such an abundance of rainfall this year that these potholes have been full here on this farmland since probably the first of June. The birds have a place to stop and plenty of grain for them to feed on so it all points to a fabulous year."
The early teal season runs from September 15 -30 and the general duck season for the South Zone opens November 3 and runs thru November 25 and then closes until December 8 and runs thru January 27. Waterfowl numbers are up this year and with ponds in the Rio Grande Valley brimming with water there is every reason to believe plenty of ducks will be stopping over in deep South Texas.
According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service the breeding population of the 10 most common species of ducks in their traditional survey area were 41.2 million birds-a 14 percent increase from last year. These counts are the highest since 2000 and just below the all-time record of 43.8 million ducks recorded in 1999. Both blue-winged teal and green- winged teal had healthy increases and are well above their long-term averages.
"Just being out here, watching the sun come up is great," Clore says, as he pats his chocolate lab, Dutch. "There is nothing like watching ducks come in on a set of decoys."
Hunting, waterfowl hunting in particular, is a bond these men share, young and old alike. Tom Kilgore is celebrating his sixth decade of waterfowl hunting, and he has fond memories of hunting as a youngster. "I actually began hunting ducks at about five, by the time I was seven I was hunting by myself," Kilgore recalls with a smile. "In the fall, when the north winds would begin, I would sleep in the yard just so I could hear the geese passing over, and it is the call of the wild."
Soon, the call of the wild will fill the South Texas sky, but for now it is early teal season and time to get those ducks home for a tasty dinner. "Hunting with my son and good friends is special," Rod says. "It's a great time to talk and open up and spend some special moments creating memories."
"I just think that hunting with my dad is really, really fun," Hunter adds with a grin.
Copyright 2007 Richard Moore