I’ll be perfectly honest: Teal season in coastal Louisiana is not for everyone. It’s hot and humid. It’s buggy. The birds aren’t in their beautiful winter plumage yet. There are gators and snakes to worry about, and you’ll leave the blind covered in sweat and mosquito bites.
But of course, there are perks: The teal, for one. Those fast-flying acrobats of the sky, when they decide to show up, offer shooting opportunities like no other duck. There are pre-dawn airboat rides through the marsh, fast shooting, abundant wildlife, Cajun hospitality, and food that can’t be beat.
As if that weren’t enough, if you time it right, Louisiana also offers an opportunity to bag something a little toothier — teal season overlaps gator season here. With the right tags and a willing outfitter or landowner, you can shoot a limit of teal in the morning and run gator lines in the afternoon.
Last fall I discovered one more unique experience in coastal Louisiana — a 39,000-square-foot elementary-school-turned-hunting-lodge on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico.
In the mid-1970s, Pecan Island School had an enrollment of 150 students. The population of Pecan Island dwindled over the years, and by 2005 enrollment was down to 62 students. Hurricane Rita rolled through in September of that year, displacing so many families that the school never reopened.
The school sat idle until 2009, when David Johns purchased it with the intention of turning it into a hunting lodge. That was no small task, given the size of the building and the shape it was in after sitting for years.
David turned the old school library into his bedroom and remodeled all the classrooms into suites for guests. The principal’s office is still an office, from which David runs the business operations. The cafeteria was turned into a commercial-grade kitchen and dining room/den (David is an avid chef and served us such delicacies as gator nuggets and fried duck tenderloins).
The school’s former agricultural building was turned into a massive mudroom, now full of waders and shotguns. There are tennis courts, a full-size gym with basketball courts and refinished floors, an outdoor walking track, a game room with a pool table and dart board, and the soon-to-be-restored original swimming pool, locker rooms and weight room. At the same time, it’s still very much a school building, with children’s murals and brightly colored handprints adorning the hallway walls.
In 2010, David hired William Burch to manage the lodge and property. Pecan Island School Lodge owns around 350 acres and leases nearly 1,500, with a number of duck blinds set up in the surrounding marshland. In teal season, a typical day includes shooting teal from legal light until mid-morning, then an afternoon on the water catching redfish or in the truck running gator lines. You can obtain the licenses to take a gator yourself, or you can just tag along and watch William and crew pull gators up to the bank and dispatch them Swamp-People style with a point-blank .22 to the head. I actually harvested my gator a few days earlier in Texas, on an earlier leg of my trip, but I can assure you it’s quite an experience whether you are shooting or just spectating. Not a lot of meals can beat a supper of teal breasts and gator tail, harvested in the same day.
The trip was sponsored by Sure-Shot Game Calls, makers of the original double-reed duck call known as the Yentzen. The Yentzen is a legend in Texas and Louisiana — and pretty much everywhere else — and its classic wood styling and distinctive profile make it instantly recognizable. The new Yentzen One, an update of the classic, is made of a dense material that’s tougher than acrylic, with the first-ever screw-lock design.
“This allows for the signature low raspy tone of the Yentzen on a calm day and the highest note ever achieved from a double-reed when the One is put to the test on a windy day!” says Charlie Holder, owner of Sure-Shot.
Our first morning out, I sat in a wooden blind with a Weatherby PA-08 and two Thermacells, watching flocks of mottled ducks and tree ducks — species you’ll find very few other places — circle our blind. It was as if they knew they were safe and it was only teal we were after.
For whatever reason, it took a little while for the teal to show up. But eventually they started dropping in as singles, pairs and groups. We dropped some, not all, as sweat dripped down our faces. The humidity was high that my camera lens fogged up to the point of being useless. Oh well — I prefer shooting with a gun anyway.