By Wade Bourne
Imagine taking a handful of stirred-up hornets and throwing them in front of a hunter. This is similar to what the latter faces when a flight of blue-winged teal swarms over his decoys. The main difference is, with the birds he’s not in danger of being stung, except perhaps by the embarrassment of empty shell hulls floating on the water with no feathers beside them!
Truly, these little ducks are tricky targets. They come in a darting mass rather than a graceful formation like mallards or pintails. While bigger ducks glide with natural grace, teal scramble like a midget hockey team.
In September, waterfowlers take to marshes, ponds and sloughs to try for these feathered rockets. Bluewings, especially, leave their northern nesting grounds at the first hint of fall, heading toward wintering areas in Mexico and Central America. Most of these birds are long gone by the time later, regular duck seasons open. Thus, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service allows a special early teal season in years when the population forecast is abundant for these birds (in excess of 3.3 million) on the breeding grounds.
These seasons are held between September 1 and 30, and season lengths vary by flyway. The bag limit is usually four birds. Some states like Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee have a five-day special teal and wood duck season. (Check your state game regulations for season length and bag limit in your state.)
This early season is typically a time of sweat-mopping, mosquito-slapping and shell-popping fun. It also offers a preview/tune-up for later seasons when the big ducks arrive. Here’s how you can score on the early season fun.