You don’t always get a second chance in life, but Kevin Ortego and Alex Buller got one Sunday morning in their duck blind in Evangeline Parish — and they both made the most of it.
The duo tag-teamed a startlingly white blue-winged teal that made the mistake of visiting the 30-acre cypress lake they hunt on between Vidrine and Oakdale twice in about 20 minutes.
The white-colored teal, which Larry Reynolds with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries identified as likely being leucistic rather than an albino because of the color on its wings and its normal-appearing eyes, made its first appearance in a flock of about 20 birds after 7 a.m.
“Alex was actually in the boat chute with the dog getting a bird behind the blind,” said Ortego, of Bayou Chicot. “I see this bunch break for our little lake, and I immediately notice the white one.
“It’s standing out like somebody’s shining a Q-Beam at you. It was very, very obvious.”
Leucism is a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation in an animal, resulting in patchy coloration. It is caused by a reduction in multiple types of pigment, unlike albinism which is caused by a lack of melanin.
But the hunters watched in vain as the flock motored by without even the slightest interest in their spread, which included a couple dozen dekes and three Mojo teal flappers.
“They didn’t give us anywhere’s close to a chance to shoot,” he said. “They acted like they weren’t even interested at all, and they actually left the lake.”
When the two men heard a volley of shots from hunters in a neighboring rice field just a few minutes later, they feared the worst.
“We both looked at each other and said at the same time, ‘There goes the white one,’” Ortego said with a chuckle. “We thought we had missed our chance.”
But miraculously, only about 15 minutes later, the white teal and its flock re-appeared, and this time Ortego and Buller, of Mamou, hatched a plan in advance.
“We agreed as they were working that if we got an opportunity, we’d go after the white one and pick it out the bunch and not worry about the rest so much,” Ortego said. “We got them to swing kind of close, and we got up and shot in tandem — and it fell.
“I ended up clipping one more out the bunch. It was high fives and hollering after that.”
When their retriever, Ivy, came back with the bird, it was even more amazing to see up close, he said.
“We were checking it out, admiring how pretty it was. I’ve seen pictures of white ones before, and the ones I’ve seen before were almost solid white with no other colors,” Ortego said. “This one has some brown on the back with blue patches — a very pretty bird.”
The teal is in the freezer now waiting to go to a taxidermist, but the two men, who’ve been hunting together for about 10 years, already have a plan on sharing the mount.
“There won’t be a fight over it,” Ortego said. “I have a camper we stay at during the duck season and we’re there often, so I guess I’ll bring it in the camper and we’ll admire it there.”
The two men finished up the very special hunt on the season’s last day with two limits, and were thankful the rare bird decided to come back for a second look.
“When I first saw it, I knew it was a teal. I thought to myself, ‘This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,’ and for it to leave the lake without us even getting a chance at a shot, I was disappointed,” Ortego said. “And then when I heard them break and saw it was back, I said, ‘Well, maybe it was meant to be. Maybe we’ll get a shot on it.’ And sure enough we did.
“I’d have been satisfied if we had ended up just with that one teal. It’s unbelievable how pretty this bird really is.”