HARVEY COUNTY — An hour before Saturday's dawn, four Newton friends gathered for a long-awaited reunion — the beginning of the 2010-11 waterfowl seasons.
Grant Scott, David Hanna, Arlen Anderson and Larry Schmitt met for the opening day of teal season at a lease they've shared for years.
"There were about 60 on here a week ago yesterday," Schmitt said as they settled into the blind.
But as daylight came, teal did not.
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"On a good teal hunt we'd be done by now," Hanna said 20 minutes into legal shooting time.
But more than 150 years of combined hunting experience had taught the foursome to be patient. Their hunting area in the sandhills and bottomlands of western Harvey County had been producing great waterfowl hunts for generations of the men's families.
Before much of the area's wetlands were drained in the early 1900s, sportsmen came from far and wide to hunt the area.
Hanna pointed to where he'd shot ducks with his father as a child. Schmitt recalled his dad's stories of mallards by the thousands in the region decades ago.
Scott talked of good hunts from more recent years as they waited.
"It's amazing the numbers of geese we have out here now compared to a few years ago," he said. "You can come out here in January and birds will be coming in and out of here all day."
It was about 40 minutes into the season when a flock of blue-winged teal finally made an appearance, teasing the hunters as they swept first one way and then another over the marsh.
Eventually the bunch of about 18 birds banked over the decoys and flared as the hunters stood and fired. Three dead teal splashed into the shallow waters — one for each of the group's Labrador retrievers.
After that came more staring at teal-less skies and talk of hunts past and more to come. Schmitt and Scott tossed around ideas about possible new decoys spreads for open water and ice.
A flock of mallards, illegal birds until the regular duck season opens Oct. 30, teased the hunters.
Over an unhunted wetland a half-mile away, the hunters longingly watched as a flock of more than 100 teal settled in for the day.
Three long-beaked ibis came low over the water, prompting Scott's Lab, Mac, to shoot his owner a "Hey, those will work for me," kind of look.
Two pair of bluewings buzzed the decoys before the hunters started gathering decoys at about 9:15 a.m.
One pair fell quickly. The other pair flew on after a total of 10 shots from the blinds. Stunned by their poor marksmanship, the hunters were momentarily silent.
Eventually Hanna yelled, "And don't you ever come back here again!"
But the hunters will be back soon, sure to hold dozens more wetland reunions in the months to come.
Hunting success on Saturday morning's opening of teal season was mixed across central Kansas' top three public waterfowl areas.
Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area — "They were doing good and everybody was smiling and happy," said Karl Grover, wildlife area manager. "About everybody I talked to had a limit except for one group and they were moving to another spot."
Grover estimated about 250 hunters were in the areas he checked. About 80 percent of the teal shot were bluewings.
Habitat conditions and teal numbers were both excellent going into the opener.
Quivira National Wildlife Area — Steve Karel, refuge assistant manager, reported mixed success, with some hunters shooting limits and others getting skunked.
Hunters reported the teal they found didn't decoy well.
McPherson Wetlands — Teal hunting success was pretty poor, according to game warden Hal Kaina. He said the area was dotted with about 60 vehicles but guessed the average was one teal or less per hunter.
Kaina wrote several tickets to hunters who illegally shot wood ducks during the teal-only waterfowl season.