Larry Reynolds, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ waterfowl study leader, has an interesting recommendation to make regarding next year’s 2017 teal season.
This year especially — after a relatively poor season so far — he’s heard his share of complaints about the warm weather and lack of birds in the state when things cranked up on Sept. 10.
Reynolds already knows the season next year will definitely be 16 days long, because the teal breeding population estimate this spring was 6.7 million birds — well above the threshold for a 9-day season.
The big question will be when the season actually opens.
Traditionally, that has always happened on a Saturday, so that Louisiana hunters get six weekend days to hunt during a 16-day season.
Next year, if the season once again starts on its traditional Saturday, that would mean a Sept. 9 opener with a closing date of Sunday, Sept. 24 — eerily similar to this year. It would also leave six potential late-season hunting days on the table.
But the trick in setting the hunting dates is that teal season absolutely has to end no later than Sept. 30.
“The big question that everyone is bombarding me with right now is, ‘If we can hunt teal until Sept. 30, why did you open it this year on the 10th and close it on the 25th?’ And that’s a reasonable question,” Reynolds said. “And I have a reasonable answer. The reason is because if I don’t open the season on a Saturday and close it on a Sunday, then I lose weekend hunting days.
“In other words, if you take a 16-day season and open it on a Saturday and close it on a Sunday, you get three full weekends — six of your 16 days are Saturday and Sunday. But if I open it on a Tuesday and close it on a Wednesday, I only get four weekend days. I lose a weekend. So I have to balance the opening date of the season with the number of weekend days.”
That leads to an interesting possibly — especially the way the September calendar falls in 2017.
Operating under the general assumption that more birds would make it to the state the later into September the season begins, opening teal season next year on Friday, Sept. 15 would mean the season would end on Saturday, Sept. 30 - the latest day possible in the framework.
But that also means one weekend day of hunting — traditionally that final Sunday — would be lost.
“That way you would have the latest possible season, and the only weekend day you miss is the last Sunday. And that’s a pretty good argument, because if we do it the way we’ve always done it — instead of opening the 15th and closing the 30th — we’d run it from the 9th to the 24th.
“That’s six days. We could have the the season open six days later at a cost of one weekend day … If we would have had a six-day later season this year, that influx of birds that came in the middle of the first week would have come down before the season started.”
Several of the recent September aerial surveys have been some of the lowest recorded, indicating teal have not been arriving in time for the season opener, he said.
So over the coming months, Reynolds will be weighing his options to make the best recommendation to the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission when they issue the notice of intent for hunting season dates next January.
“I don’t know whether I favor it or not. I know that I’m taking away a hunting day. You’ve only got six weekend hunting days in a 16-day teal season, and I’m removing one,” he said. “So I’m removing 17 percent of the hunting opportunity for guys that can only hunt on weekends.
“But at the same time, moving the season six days later is a pretty big benefit for that one day.”
No matter what ultimately happens after public hearings next year and the Commission vote to finalize the season dates in the spring, Reynolds is certain of one thing.
“Some people will like it, and some people won’t like it,” he said.