When we think of duck hunting, we're often reminded of numb toes, frozen fingers and rosy cheeks. You won't be cold, however, during a September teal hunt. An early-season foray for blue-winged, green-winged and/or cinnamon teal usually is a shirt-sleeve affair where perspiration runs freely and mosquitoes substitute for snowflakes.
When breeding ground counts show teal numbers are high enough, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allows several states the option of setting a brief, early season to take advantage of the hordes of teal that pass through portions of the U.S. in September and are sitting in the marshes of Mexico and points south long before traditional waterfowl seasons open later in the year.
Seasons typically extend a week to a week and a half in most areas, with a daily bag limit of four teal and a possession limit of eight. Check with your state wildlife agency for season dates and regulations in your area this year.
If you haven't tried teal hunting yet, you should. Targeting teal specifically is a great way to add spice to your hunting season, and teal properly cooked are among the most delectable of all waterfowl.
It's important for the hunter to be able to distinguish teal from other ducks because only teal are legal waterfowl during September hunts in most areas.
Blue-winged teal are pint-sized ducks with chalky-blue shoulder patches on the front of the wing. The bill is relatively large. Males are grayish above, tan spotted with dark below. A white face crescent is present by early winter in adults. The female is brownish-gray above, pale gray marked with dark below. Flight is erratic, and the bluewing's small size and twisting turns give the illusion of great speed. The small, compact flocks usually fly low.
Male green-winged teal have a brown head, spotted tan breast and gray sides. The head turns chestnut-colored and has a green ear patch by early winter when a white vertical crescent behind the breast becomes evident. Females are grayish-brown, speckled below. Both sexes sport a green speculum. The flight is fast, buzzy and erratic, usually low, with compact flocks wheeling in unison.
The male cinnamon teal has a bright cinnamon-colored head, neck, stomach and sides. He has a black bill, yellow legs and feet and red eyes. The female has a light brown head and neck, a gray bill and brown eyes. Her breast and sides are brown and streaked with darker V-shaped spots, her upperparts are brown, and her belly is white. Like the drake, she has a blue shoulder patch on her upper wings, with a white band of feathers under the patch and a green speculum. Cinnamons usually travel in small flocks made up of male and female pairs.
Being trusting, unsuspicious ducks, teal decoy well without calling. That's good news for hunters like me who are less than proficient at blowing a call.
When hunting small waters such as ponds, a half dozen to a dozen decoys usually are enough to draw birds in. When hunting larger waters, carry two or three dozen decoys to gain the birds' attention. Mallard decoys work ok, but small-bodied teal decoys are easier to carry and work even better.
The pattern of your decoy set is vital in attracting teal and luring them where you want them to land. Most patterns have a pocket facing downwind where the decoying birds should land. These patterns often are described as C, V and J patterns, after their shape as seen from above. The pocket should be within shotgun range and encourage the most ideal angle of approach. Decoyed teal land into the wind, which should be coming from the back of the blind, encouraging the normally difficult-to-hit teal to come in straight toward the gunners. It's also important to place decoys where flying ducks have a good view of them. If the decoys are hidden by a high bank, trees or other obstructions, they are useless.