Blue-winged teal have been on a roll the past few years. In 2013, an estimated 7.7 million breeding bluewings were surveyed on their northern nesting grounds—60 percent above the long-term average. This year, that number is up 10 percent to 8.5 million breeding bluewings. With liberal seasons announced once again, including the addition of several northern states offering an experimental teal season, now is the time to start planning a teal hunt. Following is a list of essential gear to help you start your teal season off right.
Guns and loads: Teal are small birds, and hunters can bag them effectively with less firepower than is required for bigger ducks. A 20-gauge is often all the gun you'll need for teal hunting, and smaller shot and open chokes are a good combination for these birds. Over decoys, size 4 or 5 steel shot and an improved-cylinder choke are ideal. Also, most 20-gauges are light, and quick to mount and swing—a good match for these speedy ducks' acrobatic aerial maneuvers.
Calls: Standard mallard calls will catch the attention of passing teal and help entice them over the decoys, but a special teal call can be even more effective in attracting these birds. Female bluewings produce a "hail call" consisting of one long, high-pitched note followed by a rapid series of descending notes. Teal calls are tuned to imitate these sounds, which are much different from those of hen mallards and more realistic to a passing flock of teal.
Decoys: When teal are migrating south in September, the birds still have drab, brown "eclipse" plumage, so decoys painted like fully plumed drakes look out of place. Greenhead Gear offers early-season "hen packs" for both blue-winged and green-winged teal. These decoys provide a more natural look during the early season. Mallard hen decoys can be used for the same effect.
Mosquito repellant: Mosquitoes and other flying insects can be a real nuisance during early teal season, especially in the South. Mosquito repellant spray with a high concentration of DEET will keep the bugs at bay. Another option is to use a Thermacell repellant. This device uses a heating element to disperse a repellant cloud, eliminating messy lotions and aerosol sprays. A Thermacell can be hung on your belt or on a nearby tree limb to effectively repel insects within a 15-foot radius.
Boots and waders: Many teal hunters wear calf-high rubber boots or hip boots. But if you'll be hunting in deeper waters, wearing a pair of lightweight, breathable waders will keep you dry and more comfortable than conventional canvas waders.
Clothing: Moisture-wicking, fast-drying camo shirts and pants are a great choice for teal hunting in warm temperatures. A good example is the Stalker Lite II line from Redhead. Wear this short-sleeved shirt over a long-sleeved camo T-shirt early in the morning. This will allow you to take the T-shirt off to stay cool as the sun rises and the temperature climbs.
Swamp seat: Many successful teal hunters are freelance specialists. They scout to find bluewings on ponds and backwater sloughs, and conceal themselves in natural cover. A lightweight, portable swamp seat will allow you to set up where the birds are working.