If the sound of a material like canvas or sturdy flannel being ripped brings a smile to your face as you look skyward – then you’re probably a duck hunter. Wind rushing through the cupped wings of a flock of ducks as they quickly descend from high above makes a near identical sound. The larger the flock the greater the sound and the bigger the smile. This early in September the ducks are nearly always blue-wing teal – a welcome harbinger of the season and initiators of the waterfowl migration.
I have a soft-spot for teal. And I am not alone. These diminutive ducks are often eager to investigate decoys, have a tendency to move around often and are darn tasty on the grill which puts them high on the list of many a hunter and nature-foodie. We are blessed in Nebraska that during this time of year all three North American species of teal may visit our state. The most common being the blue-winged teal.
Since September 1, many of us looking for the challenge of a grilled teal dinner have prowled the duck marshes and shallow ponds of the state in hopes of finding the flocks of blue-winged teal now passing through. Experienced teal-chasers and new duck hunters alike quickly find that a few tricks will put you on a hunt that is as rewarding to the eye and ear as it is the stomach.
Teal don’t mind flying around in the dark. But that doesn’t mean you have to lose sleep over them. Having full light will help you ID birds during the teal-only early hunting season. You will also be able to better pinpoint exactly where they already want to land and avoid the early morning rush at some public access areas, too. Spend the morning finding the teal and exactly where they want to land. Zeroed in all you have to do is move in and set up for a mid-morning or afternoon hunt. Returning teal won’t stay away for long. The last 30 minutes before sunset can make for the most memorable hunts, too.
Shallow Water Buffet
The teal you encounter during the early season are finding their food in the water. Often right on top. This means they have a preference for the shallow, fertile waters where plants like millet (aka barnyard grass) and smartweed grow. Find these shallow water buffets with some decent water openings where your decoys are visible, and enough cover to break up your outline, and you are in business.
Decoys – Brown it Down
Like most other ducks right now teal are still in their summer-garb. Drakes and hens are nearly indistinguishable from one another – both all grayish-brown with that namesake powder blue-wing patch. Match what you see by using mostly hen decoys in your spread. I haven’t found that a certain species of hen matters much, either. I have teal decoys and it makes sense to use them during the early teal season. However, if visibility is an issue by all means go bigger with mallard hens.
Create the Illusion
Teal rarely remain still even on the water. However, decoys during this time of year often are. The shallow water teal prefer and the vegetation that is often present in such places keeps most decoys from moving much at all, even with wind. Having a spinning-wing decoy, or two, just above the water level is an easy add that will provide some illusion of movement – those made for dove hunting work very well. I’ve also had some luck tossing out a couple of Quiver Magnets that create some mini-waves and splashing that can resemble active feeding and swimming of ducks.
12 and 20 gauge shotguns are the norm. I highly suggest an open choke – nothing tighter than Improved Cylinder for decoying teal. Most shots will be close and the aerobatic turns, that teal are know for, are challenge enough without tightening your shot spread. The last several years I have had great success with steel #6’s being pushed out at just over 1400 feet per second coming from a high-brass 2 ¾” shotgun shell. And don’t forget the plug for pumps and semi-autos that limit the gun to just 3 shells.
These same tricks work well when the teal stick around for the kick-off to our regular ducks seasons as well. So don’t give up even as our early teal-only season wraps ups. Just keep your ear to the sky to hear those incoming birds. Happy Teal Time.