Early teal duck season is a time for wiping sweat, slapping mosquitoes and popping shells at some of the testiest targets in the marsh. It's also when special know-how must be applied to hunt these fleet birds. They aren't difficult, but neither are they gimmes. Following is a collage of duck hunting tips on where, when and how to pursue these first ducks of autumn, which few hunters unexplainably do.
Where to Find Blue-Winged Teal
Blue-winged teal frequent both large waters and small: lakes, sloughs, swamps, beaver ponds, farm ponds, strip mine pits, etc. They feed on aquatic vegetation and invertebrates in shallow areas, and they commonly rest and preen on mud flats bordering these shallows.
The best way to find these birds is simply to go looking for them. A day or two before the season opens, head to likely spots at dawn to see what's there. If teal are present, they'll be visible, sometimes in large flights working over feeding areas.
Also, understand that teal hunting can be a boom or bust proposition, and the outlook can change quickly. Blue-wings are cold front-driven. Even the slightest north wind can bring in a new wave of birds. A swamp like the one Don Wright and I were hunting can be void of birds one day, then covered up the next.
This is why we were in Don's blind the morning described above. On the day before opening morning of Kentucky's 2006 season, a stiff (for September) cold front had blown through. We'd hunted these birds enough to anticipate what the next morning would bring. And obviously, we weren't disappointed!
Not the Usual Duck Decoy Spread
|Quiet, shallow waters are where to look for teal in September, and small duck decoy spreads are the rule for hunting them.
All decoy manufacturers sell teal decoys, but they are usually painted in a winter (breeding) plumage pattern. Howe
ver, in September blue-wings are still in eclipse plumage, meaning their heads and bodies are all-brown. Also, most teal decoys are sized to match live birds — small. This means their profile is slighter, and they're harder to see at long distance.
I prefer to use standard mallard decoys with a preponderance of hens in the spread. The brown color is a better match for the season, and the larger-profile decoys are more visible.
The number of decoys I use depends on my hunting location. On big water where trading ducks can see a long way, I may set out 5 dozen. But on smaller, more confined water (ponds, sloughs, etc.), a dozen decoys may be plenty. Don Wright's blind rules over a one-acre pothole in a thick swamp, and on the morning of our hunt I put out only 12 decoys in a random pattern.
Or make that 13. The extra decoy was a MOJO wing-spinner, set on a pole in the middle of my spread. Teal are drawn to wing-spinners like magnets. Typically, they're fresh off the prairies, and they haven't been educated by hunter pressure. Hunters may or may not elect to use a wing-spinner decoy, depending on their personal preference. But where early-migrating teal are concerned, a wing-spinner is a definite plus for drawing birds into close shotgun range.
Vegetation Works for Duck Blinds
In September, vegetation is still lush in most flyways. And since teal aren't too hunter-wise, most hunters can get by hiding in whatever natural cover is available: willows, buck bushes, cattails, sawgrass, etc. It's not that fixed blinds aren't great! My hunting buddy, Don Wright, and I enjoyed standing on a firm platform instead of in soft mud. But a copse of thick vegetation, supplemented by all-over camo clothing (including a face mask) and holding absolutely still when teal are coming, is usually sufficient to keep these birds from seeing you.
Take along a hand axe or a machete for cutting brush on site. Also, it's better than nice to have a seat handy for periods of inaction. A 5-gallon bucket turned upside down is perfect. (If a bucket is white or bright-colored, spray paint it in olive drab before the hunt.) Also, a dove stool will work if the mud is firm enough to keep its legs from miring up.
How to Call the Blue-Winged Duck In
Blue-wing hens make a call similar to a 5-note hail call of a mallard hen, except it's higher-pitched, faster and softer. Call companies sell teal duck calls that realistically mimic this sound.
However, my experience is that standard, louder mallard calls are more effective at attracting these birds. It's the same philosophy as using the mallard decoys. Mallard calls are louder and can be heard farther. Also, teal and mallards frequently share the same waters, so there's nothing unnatural in teal hearing — and responding to — mallard calls.
Also, one twist to calling teal is "laughing them in," which I've seen guides do at teal-rich Reelfoot Lake in west Tennessee. When a flight of teal is spotted, a guide will laugh aloud — ha, ha, ha, ha, ha — in a high-pitched voice and tempo similar to a real teal's call. It sounds crazy, but the birds respond to it. Who cares what it sounds like if it works?
Duck Hunting Guns and Loads
Teal are the buzz bombs of the duck family. They fly fast and dart unpredictably, thus earning their reputations as being among the trickiest targets in wingshooting. However, they aren't difficult to bring down. A couple of pellets on target will usually cause teal to splash.
This is why teal hunters need shotguns that swing easily and throw dense patterns of fairly small shot. Lighter, shorter guns are better for this purpose, and chokes should be improved cylinder or modified. Shot sizes should be #3-#7, of course in a non-toxic payload.
One great choice for teal hunting would be a 20-gauge over/under, especially over smaller waters. Normal shooting distances will average 20-30 yards, and the 20-gauge will handle this chore neatly, if the shooter can handle his!