September is almost here and with it comes the early hunting seasons. One that I really anticipate is the early teal season. Along with the early goose season, it is a prelude of hopefully many successful duck hunts to come in the next few months.
Shooting at those little jet fighters screaming through the spread at mach four is one of my greatest joys in the blind. Don’t get me wrong, I am a mallard kind of guy. I love to work a flock of mallards with a call and take them with their landing gear down, but nothing matches the fun and challenge of trying to catch your gun barrel up with a flock of darting teal hitting the afterburners straight up into the sky as you jump up to take them. I can’t think of a better way to welcome in the start of waterfowl season.
Many waterfowl hunters skip teal season in fear that they might accidentally harvest a wood duck or gadwall. Too bad they are missing out on one of the best tasting ducks our state has to offer. Identifying a blue-winged or green-winged teal on the wing can be a little intimidating to the rookie hunter but if you spend your time learning how to identify ducks and make sure you see that patch of pale blue or green speculum on the wings, you will be safe to squeeze the trigger. When in doubt, error on the cautious side.
Hunting teal is not a difficult task. Scouting is a key element because being where the birds want to be is the most important factor for success. These early migrators can show up one day and be gone the next. Blue-winged teal and a few green-winged teal like to get a jump on the migrating competition and it doesn’t take much of a front to get them heading south to their wintering home. A few cool nights or even a wind from the north can get them on the move.
Scouting every day is essential to being successful. Concentrate your efforts on shallow, open water areas with emergent vegetation such as millet, smartweed, and cattails. On big lakes, check out mud flats, shallow points, and the backs of bays. They also love to feed and rest on many of our vegetative filled marshes and wetlands that are found throughout the state and are open to waterfowl hunting.
Teal aren’t very picky about huge elaborate decoy spreads either. There are many very realistic looking teal decoys on the market today and I own and use some of them. But to be honest, in September both drake and hen teal look more like hens. The drake’s beautiful plumage doesn’t develop until much later in the season. Because of this, you can do just fine with setting out a dozen or two hen mallard decoys.
I like to set my spread up in small groups close to the bank as this is where you will find most of the teal spending their time loafing. I also like to add a few goose decoys to create a more natural look even if I am in an area that doesn’t allow early goose hunting such as Magee Marsh. Usually though, I am after both teal and geese at the same time so my duck decoys are usually set next to a goose spread and this creates a very inviting look.
September days can be very calm so adding motion to your spread can be beneficial. Using a couple of spinners, a jerk string, or shakers can be very helpful in keeping your spread looking life-like.
Another key element of teal hunting is using a call. Teal are very social birds and you will do fine with just using a hen mallard call. However, there are some great teal calls on the market that mimic the drake bluewing’s whistling peep and the hen’s short and high-pitched quack. I use both of the teal calls and will have a partner mix in a hen mallard call when I first see a flock of teal approaching.
One of the fascinating things about teal is that their speed and flight pattern can fool you. One minute you think they are blowing by your spread with zero interest and before you can take your next breath they have hooked around and are plopping down in your decoys. Fortunately, we are hunting them here in Ohio where they haven’t been called at too much yet, so aggressive calling isn’t really necessary. I am also a strong believer that if a duck is coming to the spread, keep your calls around your neck. The same holds true for teal.
Because of the teal’s small size and fast flight, most gunners will downsize their steel shot to #4’s or even #6’s. Some will even get by with using 2.75 inch shells. Teal season is also a great time to get out that light 20 gauge if you prefer. However, I still like the knock down power of a heavier load with more pellets since it provides a greater margin of error in my shooting.
As with all waterfowling, concealment is a key. Full camouflage can be a challenge in the September heat but it is still very important. I do most of my September teal hunting from a boat blind as it allows me to be more mobile so that I can set up where the birds want to be. Ground blinds along the shore can work fine as well. September days are typically sunny so don’t forget to watch for the shine from your faces and gun barrels.
Teal offer a great shooting challenge along with some awesome table fare. With the teal numbers being high enough to warrant a 16 day season and a daily limit of six, if we get a little cold front or two, it could be a banner year. Opening day is Sept. 2 and runs until Sept. 17. Pack plenty of water and bug spray and listen for those mach four wings breaking the wind overhead. You couldn’t ask for a better way to start the waterfowling season!
Until next time, Good Hunting and Good Fishing!
Ken Parrott is an Agricultural Science teacher with Northmor High School.