by Will Brantley
We were among several hunters at the boat ramp arranging gun cases, decoys and blind bags before joining the squadron of aluminum crafts on the lake. The September air was hot, muggy and filled with so many mosquitoes that killing only two of them in a swat was a product of poor timing. But our anticipation was high for good reason. It was opening morning of the Kentucky teal season, and the grassy mudflat we'd scouted the evening before had been crawling with birds. Fortunately, no one else had claimed the spot when we arrived, and we were able to hide the boat and set decoys just before the last stars faded from sight.
Five minutes before legal shooting time, just as the sweat from our predawn chores was drying, we heard the whistles of little wings, followed by splashes. A small flock of bluewings was swimming in our spread of hen mallard decoys. The flock flushed but was followed in short order by another.
When the legal minute finally arrived, the lake roared to life in the fashion of a hot dove field, although the shotgun reports carried much farther across the open water. Scouting paid off for us. By 8 o'clock, the flight slowed, but we'd shot a nice bag of blue- and green-winged teal.
September teal hunting is a popular tradition for many duck hunters. The sport requires minimal equipment, but some aspects of teal hunting are specialized. Taking note of those aspects could add a few extra teal breasts to your grill this fall.
Coastal marshes and flooded rice fields are classic settings for teal in south Louisiana, and bluewings are usually thick there by early fall. In a good area, shooting a limit in 15 or 20 minutes isn't unusual. Even so, Rod Haydel, president of Haydel's Game Calls in Bossier City, is quick to point out the importance of scouting prior to a teal outing on the Gulf Coast, especially in the marsh.
"If you're off the line by even a hundred yards, you can literally sit there and watch teal fly by all morning," he says. "As far as flight paths go, certain areas are good year after year. Teal tend to skirt the edges of grass and points in the marsh, and they'll often fly over little islands next to those points. If I don't see birds on the water while scouting, these are good places to hunt."
Tim Daughrity of Murray, Kentucky, has been hunting Lakes Barkley and Kentucky for years. Hunting September teal and wood ducks, both legal during the state's early season, is among his favorite waterfowl pursuits. He says teal are a little choosy in their habitat preferences, so it's important to know what you're looking for in a hunting spot, especially on public water.
"Teal like larger bodies of water than where you typically find wood ducks here in western Kentucky," Daughrity says. "I've had fantastic wood duck shoots in nothing bigger than a creek, but you won't find many teal there. Swamps and sloughs with expanses of open water will hold teal, as well as larger lakes and impoundments. Shallow (usually no deeper than a foot) aquatic vegetation is key. I have never had a lot of luck on a water body without a good food source. Occasionally I have been able to hunt teal over flooded crop fields, and these have always been dynamite hunts."
There's usually no need for a huge spread of decoys in the early 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."