Waterfowl Primer: Teal Bring a Taste of Fall

By D. Digby

September 3, 2019 - Just when it seemed I couldn’t sound any sillier on the call, I gave it all I had for as many notes as I could at peak volume. Sure enough, that did the trick and the 30-pack that was nearly out of sight was now turned back heading our way. A bit of follow up calling with shorter cadences to bring them around downwind and before we knew it, they were hovering front and center.

A morning spent in pursuit of early arriving teal can be hot, sticky, bug-ridden, and downright exhilarating. If you’re on the birds, it can be a hunt like no other with red hot gun barrels as wads of blue wings work in close for great gunning. With the early teal season kicking off this month, it’s time to get primed for success.

When trying to find where they may be hanging out in your neck of the flyway, the name of the game will be shallow water. Teal are on the smaller scale of waterfowl and prefer to feed in very shallow water. It is often the same waters used by wading shorebirds thus I’ll often use them as indicators for “tealy” water levels. Be it a rice field or marsh area, the shallowest areas with food will be your best bet for setting up.

Teal Season

If no birds are seen in the area prior to the opener, do not be afraid to make the hunt in the area anyway. On more than one occasion I’ve had surprising action in areas where nary a single teal was observed the day before. They are just as likely to show up overnight as they are to entirely vacate an area; you need to get out there and hunt to know! This is particularly true following a frontal passage or a full moon, which often move birds down the flyway.

With regard to decoy setups, it’s hard to go wrong. Teal decoys are great for realism, though their small size leaves much to be desired in the way of visibility from distance. Throw in other decoys like shovelers or pintails for larger size and bright coloring for improved visibility. If a sack full of mallards and gadwall is all you have at hand, go with it. Depending on the size of your location, a dozen maybe more than enough while others may have room for a few dozen.

While teal are on the hit list during the early September season, a number of other waterfowl species may be present that are off-limits. This may include whistling ducks, wood ducks, mottled ducks or even early arriving pintails or shovelers, among others. Look for the tell-tale blue and white patches on the wings when birds are banking within eyesight.

Green-winged teal are also commonly harvested during the early season and can be a bit more challenging to positively identify on the wing without the bright speculum patch. Keying in on their small size and erratic flight pattern will help to identify teal from other species. Additionally, I find that when flying in groups, teal will often trade positions within the group, whereas a species like wood ducks are more inclined to fly straight.

September Teal Season
Do’s & Don’ts of September Teal Hunting

  • DO dress for the occasion with lightweight, breathable camo. Duck Camp Lightweight Shirts (link) are the best I’ve found.
  • DO stay hydrated; after all, it will still mostly feel like summer. This goes for your retriever as well.
  • DO keep retrieving dogs close if there is any chance of alligator presence in your hunting area. When in doubt, leave your buddy at home, or keep close at hand on a leash.
  • DO pack an arsenal of insect repellent measures. A ThermaCell coupled with a can of fogger (YardGuard) are my go-to when getting into the blind.
  • DO wear hearing protection. A good teal hunt can involve a lot of shooting, especially when hunting with multiple buddies in the blind.
  • DON’T go overboard with shot size; #3 to #6 is ideal, anything larger is overkill for a bird that is thin in fat and feather on their early migration. Similarly, 2 ¾” shells are more than enough, save the 3” and larger shells for the bigger birds still to come this winter. This is also a great time to break out the sub-gauges like 20’s and 28’s in similar shot sizes.
  • DON’T forget your motion decoys like spinning wing decoys. Teal are extremely susceptible to the fast flashing of a spinner. These decoys also give you greater visibility from distance on passing flocks.
  • DON’T be afraid to call up a storm on a teal call. If a flock of birds are in view, there’s no such thing as over-calling in attempt to turn them your way. I don’t give up until they’re well out of sight. “Oh well” can turn into “oh my” in a blink and is well worth the breath expended when it all comes together. 

Good luck out there everyone! Happy hunting.

Dog retrieving teal

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