There's usually no need for a huge spread of decoys during the early teal season. While Haydel has hunted over as few as three decoys and as many as 10 dozen, he says a dozen is generally about right.
"You can certainly get by with standard mallard decoys, but I prefer teal decoys," he says. "We're hunting bluewings in the early season, but I don't think it matters what type of teal decoy you put out. The key is being sure you have the decoys in a spot where the birds want to be."
Tim Daughrity of Murray, Kentucky, has been hunting Lakes Barkley and Kentucky for years. He uses a half-dozen hen mallard decoys. "It's been my experience that hen mallard decoys work just as well as species-correct teal decoys," he says. "The birds are still in eclipse plumage in September, so the drakes more closely resemble a hen mallard decoy than they do breeding-plumage teal decoys. Plus, we pay a premium for magnum and super-magnum decoys for late season. Why wouldn't you want the same effect in the early season?"
Daughrity likes to add a spinning-wing decoy to his spread as well. "Teal respond well to motion decoys," he says. "You don't need an elaborate spread to have them kamikaze at your feet."
Teal flights are often but not always early, short, and sweet. If you find yourself watching but not shooting shortly after daybreak, it may be time for a quick move. This is one reason Haydel favors a mobile approach in the early season.
"After a few flights in the morning, you can usually predict what's going to happen," Haydel says. "That magic window of opportunity may last an hour and a half, and it may last half an hour. If you're hunting one of those short days, moving quickly can be critical. If you're hunting light, you can always move, and if it doesn't pay off, you can move back."
"I always like to be on the 'X' at first light, but I've had some great teal hunting later in the morning," Daughrity adds. "Some mornings, teal don't seem to really start flying well until nearly 8 o'clock. If you are not on the X from prior scouting, all is not lost. Of course, if the birds are piling into a spot 200 yards away, you need to relocate immediately, because the flight can fall off at any time."