"Chris, you ain't going to believe it," he said breathlessly. "I drove around the farm today and I'm covered up with birds — thousands of them. I spooked them up from one of my rice fields, and the sky literally got black with blue wings."
If I didn't know Tietje as well as I do, I would have been skeptical when he started flinging around words like thousands, black sky and literally. Knowing that he's a truthful person, though, I had to at least give him the benefit of the doubt.
I saw it with my own two eyes the next evening. After arriving at Roanoke, I loaded up in Tietje's truck to the grand tour of his crawfish ponds and rice fields. The first pond we looked at held no more than 20 teal. I could see this trip going down the tubes rather quickly.
"That's just a little taste," Tietje quipped. "I guarantee you these birds are around here somewhere. Let's check out the other side of the farm."
As we were barreling down a dirt road toward the back of Tietje's farm, he abruptly stopped his truck and told me to get out.
"Look through that grass," he said as he pointed to one of his levees. "Don't move too quick, though, and I think you'll see what you're looking for."
I crept up to the levee, and dodged several wasp nests as I tried to get a good look at the few bobbing heads I saw on the water. Unbeknownst to me, this particular crawfish pond wrapped around to my right and actually to my rear.
When I made the wrong move that spooked the birds in front of me, it wasn't just them that took to the air. My ears were filled with the roar of wings as teal to my front, my side and my rear took flight.
I looked up into the sky and found myself using those boastful words that I don't like to hear. The sky literally turned black with thousands of teal.
There were so many birds the next morning that even this horrific wing-shot killed his limit.
We actually waited a few minutes immediately after legal shooting time just to take in the sight of thousands of birds buzzing over our heads.
Once it was clear that we couldn't wait any longer, Tietje took the first shot, and downed the first bird. Shouts of "over your head" and "hot from the right" only added to the excitement as the three of us took 12 birds within 20 minutes.
After waxing our birds and downing a little breakfast, I called around to see how some of the other teal hunters fared on opening morning. Capt. Jeff Poe with Big Lake Guide Service said he took out five hunters, and they finished their limits within 15 minutes.
Larry Shuff with Louisiana Hunting Adventures also reported having a fantastic morning. He had six blinds hunting, and every blind limited out by 7 a.m. The one thing repeated by both Poe and Shuff was that the number of birds was more than either could ever recall seeing.
It might be hard to imagine with last year's fabulous opening morning, but the 2007 teal season is shaping up to beat the 2006 season. With a 2007 estimate that was near a record high of 6.7 million birds and a 16-day September teal season, Sept. 15-30 is shaping up for some fine shooting. Here's what some veteran teal shooters are expecting in their part of the state.
Poe is probably best known for his ability to put his customers on the big trout in Lake Calcasieu, but he can also put hunters on just as many teal as he does anglers on fish.
"We started seeing some teal back with the last front that came through in July," Poe said. "We had one big bunch come by while we were out fishing. I guess that's a good sign to see them that early because we usually don't see any birds in the marsh until the guns start going off in the rice fields."
Poe's characterization of what it's like to hunt in the Southwest Louisiana marshes is dead on since most of the birds that make their way to the extreme corner of the state go for one reason — to eat rice. When hunters disturb them in the rice fields, they make a beeline for the marsh.
"It's actually kind of scary because we're out there doing all that work getting ready for the season without seeing any birds," Poe said. "It kind of makes you wonder if we'll have birds, but it never fails — they'll be there. We've got some polite birds, too. They don't arrive before shooting time because somebody's got to get them up and out of those rice fields."
Poe hunts the teal just like he does the big ducks during the regular duck season, except he doesn't pay as much attention to brushing blinds as he does during duck season because teal are such a low-flying bird and most of them are shot before the sun gets too high anyway.
"We're not breaking teal from up high like we do the big ducks," Poe said. "It's not as critical to have all that overhead cover. I've known some hunters who hunt from really shabby blinds, and they kill just as many as anybody else."
The high teal count has Poe excited about this season, but he doesn't believe all those birds are going to make his hunting any better because it's hard to get better than shooting a limit of birds every day of the teal season.
"I guess those numbers will give us a lot more opportunity, but we usually have our birds no matter what's going on with the numbers. We hunt four to a blind, and we're usually done and back at the camp getting our fishing poles ready before 8 a.m."
What Poe considers to be more important than the numbers is the weather. Things can get a little tough for a few days if a good-sized front blows through Lake Charles, but a return to south winds usually brings them back in droves.
Speaking of teal in rice fields, nowhere are they going to attract as many teal as they do around Lafayette. Rice fields literally span both sides of the I-10 from Lafayette to Jennings, and thousands of teal will settle in here before the start of the season.
Tietje said the habitat in the rice fields is going to be awesome this year because none of the fields had been plowed as of early August. All the grass is seeding out, and there is a lot of food available for the birds when they get there.
"As usual, I'm expecting it to be another awesome season," said Tietje. "By far, this is our No. 1 thing we have to look forward to each year as far as waterfowl goes, and teal season is our best duck season. We stayed pretty wet this past summer, and that's not going to do anything but make it better."
Farmers typically harvest their rice in late July and early August. Almost immediately after the first harvest, they put water back on the fields to raise a second crop of rice. About two or three weeks after this flooding is when they start seeing the teal coming in to feed on the abundance of lost rice at the bottoms of the ponds.
However, by the time teal season has rolled around, the rice has basically reheaded and is producing a second crop of rice that matures around the opening of teal season. This second crop of rice is easy pickings for the birds, and they line up like the crowd at Piccadilly on Sunday afternoon.
"Of course we push a lot of these teal down to the marsh at Little Cheniere Ridge and Grand Cheniere Ridge," Tietje said. "They leave the rice fields by the thousands once we start shooting at them, but they tend to move back and forth, especially at night when they come to the rice fields to feed."
If you want to see Capt. Ryan Lambert with Cajun Fishing Adventures get excited, just mention the word teal around him and watch what happens. You don't even have to say it very loud. He has a finely tuned sense of hearing the word any time it's uttered. In fact, the only person who might be more excited is Don Dubuc, who has been calling Lambert every day to get an update on the birds.
"Sixteen times four," he quipped as he began discussing his feelings on the approaching season. "We've got a 16-day season, and we get four birds a day, so whatever 16 times four is, that's how many birds I expect to kill in Buras this season."
Lambert said there is plenty of grass in the marsh around Buras because the Mississippi River has stayed high for longer than normal. Everything was setting up beautifully at the beginning of August, and barring any major weather events, Lambert expects this season to be unbelievable.
"We don't have all that rice down here," he said. "Our big deal is that we're hunting in the flyway where the birds come down the river in droves. I remember the last day of the teal season last year. We were watching them coming from as far as we could see on top of that grass. We can actually see the migration in Buras."
Lambert typically takes out his Go-Devil barge to wherever he observes the teal flying through. He sets up in an area with a lot of grass where the sun won't be in his eyes, but the sun usually doesn't bother him anyway because it's over with by the time it comes up.
Hunters at the mouth of the Mississippi aren't hunting the same birds every day, either. According to Lambert, these teal are in and out with the fronts. Those that leave are usually gone for good, but they are quickly replaced by a new group of birds that come in right after the others leave.
"Man, I had all my boats, decoys and gear ready to go back in August," Lambert concluded. "I've got calluses on my hands from scratching my itchy trigger finger so much. All I got to say is it's time to whack 'em and stack 'em."
While South Louisiana gets all the teal hunting glory, there are other parts of the state that get their fair share of birds assuming the conditions are right. Hunter Shaffett with Cypress Point Hunting Lodge in Clayton believes the increased numbers this year will have more of an effect in Central Louisiana than anywhere else.
"Our teal season wasn't so great last year," Shaffett admitted. "But the year before was awesome because the numbers were up then like they are this year. Our main problem here is that our birds will leave after some rain ushers in some cooler weather. They go down to South Louisiana where they can find a little warmer weather."
However, Shaffett believes with the numbers as high as they are this year that any teal that leave Central Louisiana should be replaced by some more. In fact, teal hunting in this section of the state probably gets a little better during the normal duck season than it is in the September teal season.
"Most of the teal we shoot are in the potholes we have back in our flooded property," Shaffett said. "We also kill some out in a lake called Fletcher's Lake. These areas stay loaded up with good duck food. It gets so thick we have to go back in them with our Gator Trax boats and lay down with the Gator Hide cover."
Overall, Shaffett is looking forward to a good teal season in Clayton because of the high numbers. Whether they're thick or thin, though, Shaffett says he's determined to be out there shooting them no matter if there's one flock or one hundred.
If you have a cynical ear like me, please don't take Poe, Tietje, Landry and Shaffett's advice as empty promises. With the teal numbers as high as they are and condition of the habitat in Louisiana, there's nothing to be skeptical about this teal season.
Contact Jeff Poe with Big Lake Guide Service at 337-598-3268, Ryan Lambert with Cajun Fishing Adventures at 985-785-9833 and Hunter Shaffett with Cypress Point Hunting Lodge at 225-301-7335.