Preparing for Teal Season
Teal are early migrators and usually begin making their way south in August. By the next month, they’re flooding the lakes, rivers and wetlands in the southern reaches of all four flyways. Many states have a short September hunting season to take advantage of the migration. It’s an excellent way to dust off the ‘ole shotgun and bag a stringer of ducks.
Typically, it’s blue-winged teal that’ll make up the bulk of the early migration. Many of these birds are young, without their winter plumage, and aren’t wary from shotgun blasts. That means they respond well to decoys and calling, which is good news for you and your hunting partners. If you’re unsure if your state has a September teal season, simply check out your state game agency’s website, or give a wildlife biologist a call.
Teal congregate around wetlands, just like they would in the winter. Start your search near your old haunts from “big” duck season, such as lakes, ponds and swamps. In September, they’ll be feeding on the abundance of aquatic plants, as well as dabbling for invertebrates.
The early migration is highly dependent on the weather. As the early season cool fronts start rolling in, the birds will fly down with them in droves. Even a slight drop in the temperature from a seemingly insignificant front can flood your hunting grounds with thousands of new ducks. It’s best to scout a day or two before you expect to hunt. Typically, bluewings will remain in an area until they’re forced out by hunting pressure or another front comes through, which in turn brings a new crop of birds.
Bluewings in the early migration respond well to decoys - a dozen works wonders. Just remember to use hen decoys, as the ducks don’t have their winter plumage just yet. Teal decoys aren’t necessary, either. We’ve used mallard hens with great success, so don’t feel the need to purchase a whole new lot for the short season.
During teal season, the ducks aren't as wary and respond well to decoys and calling.
A blue-winged teal whistle and a teal hen call are a good combination. However, a mallard call is also effective and the ducks respond well to it. Only a few bursts are necessary to bring in a group. Don’t feel the need to over call.
Be sure to wear camouflage, but don’t fret about being seen. As long as you keep your back to the sun and stay mostly concealed in brush near the water banks, the teal will dive right in. They’ll often circle a time or two, buzzing the decoys before landing.
Use No. 4 or 6 steel shot with an improved or modified choke, as most shots will be close. And perhaps the most important of all: Don’t leave home without a Thermacell, or at least some bug spray with DEET. Early season cool fronts aren’t enough to drive away the mosquitos and chiggers, but it’s sure worth fighting through for a limit of ducks.