by Bill Cooper
Teal are early migrators and begin their long journey in early August. Usually by mid-August the diminutive birds begin to show up on ponds and lakes across the Midwest and South. This season hunters will enjoy a three-week season in most states, the longest allowed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Teal numbers are strong again this year. According to the 2013 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey, waterfowl hunters can expect another banner year, as blue-winged teal number 7.7 million, 16 percent below 2012, but still 60 percent above the long-time average. Green-winged teal number 3.1 million birds, which is 12 percent below last year but 51 percent above the long-term average.
Blue-winged teal are the first of the teal species to migrate and also make up the majority of the combined species. They are rather drab colored except for their bright blue wing patches. The small ducks weigh about 6 ounces.
Scout before hunt
Hopes for a successful season grow steadily throughout August as teal numbers increase by the day. Checking all of your equipment to make sure everything works is paramount to success. Cleaning and repairing equipment is a good activity to couple with pre-season scouting.
Visually check your favorite teal hunting spot several times before opening day. Never depend on what happened last year. Religiously scout out intended hunting areas, old or new, well before opening day. Water levels and vegetative cover can vary drastically from year to year.
Dekes and limits
Teal decoy readily, often swooping in from nowhere and plopping down right in the decoy set. This is a great scenario for beginning waterfowl hunters. Flush the birds to give newbies straightaway shots.
A couple of dozen decoys are more than enough for teal. Most hunters prefer drab, mallard hen decoys. Ducks are not well oriented to size, so it can be to your advantage to use the larger decoys. Toss a Canada goose decoy off to one side to serve as a confidence decoy and an attractor.
Traveling teal hunters will be overjoyed by new regulations approved for teal season by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for 2013-2014. Daily limits have been increased from four to six, while possession limits have increased from a two-day limit to a three-day limit. Houston Havens, of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, expects the six-bird limit to be very popular among hunters.
“The increased bag limit will provide a great encouragement for hunters to get out there and enjoy this early duck season,” Havens said.
Teal are early flyers and are famous for showing up 10 minutes before legal shooting hours, often plopping down in the decoy spread. It is important to know the exact time of legal shooting hours in such a situation. Shooting a minute early can bring a ticket from a conservation agent.
Later arrivals will most commonly buzz the decoys and wing on to other locations. Teal often travel in groups of 10 to 15 but up to 50 or more. Large groups make distinct sounds as rushing wind pours over their wings. Still, little time is availed the hunter to shoulder his shotgun and fire. Teal are fast, real fast. They often approach 60-miles per hour as they zoom across decoy sets. Pre-season shooting practice will definitely help with hitting these turbo charged targets.
Calls and loads
Calling teal is as simple as it gets. Most duck hunters use teal whistles and produce a “peep” with them. Drake blue-wings whistle while green-wings peep-peep. Hens of both species emit a guttural quack, which can be duplicated on a regular mallard call, or a specialty call such as the Primos teal call.
Guns and loads are largely a personal matter, but it does not take much to bring a teal down. A 20-gauge shotgun with number four shot is a good way to go. However, I have had good luck with Winchester’s steel, number 7 1/2s.
If you are new to teal hunting, check with your state wildlife department before hunting. Regulations are not the same in every state. Otherwise, some great places to hunt teal include Missouri’s Ten Mile Pond Conservation Area, Reel Foot Lake in Tennessee, Barkley and Kentucky lakes in Kentucky, and the massive Sabine and Lacassine National Wildlife Refuges in Cameron Parish, Louisiana.
The new limit regulations, coupled with the massive numbers of teal coming down the pike, are sure to bring some new hunters into the game. I hope you are one of them, because this September is going to be the real teal deal!
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