The same aerial acrobatics that make blue-winged teal a popular duck for waterfowl hunters can also make them a challenging target. Here are five tips from a pair of experts on how to connect on more shots this season and put more bluewings in your bag.
Pick One Bird
After more than 50 seasons in a duck blind, the sight of blue-winged teal barreling into the decoys still gets the blood pumping for Buffalo, Minnesota hunter Mark Stevens. The excitement is one of the reasons why he loves to spend mornings on the marsh, but as a veteran shotgun instructor and coach, he is also keenly aware of how the rush of action over the decoys can cause hunters to rush their shots.
“It is easy to get caught up in the moment and just shoot into the flock,” says Stevens, a National Rifle Association Advanced Certified Shotgun Coach. “This is why the single most important thing to do is slow down and pick one bird to track. I know it sounds simple, but everything becomes a little more difficult when you see those bluewings twisting and turning into the decoys. Focus on just one bird.”
Maintain the Focus
Once your eyes are tracking a particular bird, Stevens says to keep that focus while preparing to shoot when the teal are in range.
“Don’t raise your gun until you have locked your eye on that particular duck,” he says. “Raising your gun too early can cause you to switch your focus from the duck to the bead on the barrel of your shotgun. Doing this will normally cause you to stop the swing of the gun when you approach the shot and you will shoot behind the teal.”
To further illustrate this point, Stevens recommends a simple experiment. Start by picking a light switch on a wall 20 feet away.
“Now raise your trigger finger and point at the switch. When you keep the focus on the switch it remains perfectly clear,” says Stevens. “Now switch the focus to your fingernail, which represents the front bead on your shotgun. You cannot see your target clearly. In fact, you lose all sight of it or it even becomes two targets. Which one of the targets do you shoot? The left, or the right one? When this happens in the field, most people will stop moving the gun because they lose sight of the target. Then they restart, simply repeating the pattern until they eventually pull the trigger with poor results.”
The Four Bs
For more consistent shooting on teal and other waterfowl, Stevens says there is a simple saying that helps hunters stay focused and keep their barrels moving.
“Butt, belly, bill, bang,” he says. “Keep your face down on your stock, focus hard on the head or bill of the bird, pull through the bird, and then shoot. And the faster you move the gun, the less need for lead is required.”
The skeet range produces the types of targets that are perfect for a hunter looking to practice this approach to leading a teal, Stevens says. And time spent shooting these crossing, incoming, and overhead clay targets at varying angles will help put things into perspective on the marsh.
“The perception is that teal are such a fast flyer because they can turn on a dime, but they are actually a slower duck, flying around 30 miles per hour,” says Stevens. “A clay target at the range moves at around 42 miles per hour, so if you can consistently break those clays you know you have what it takes to connect with that teal.”
Know What Works
Missouri hunter and guide Tony Vandemore targets blue-winged teal over the decoys each September, but his approach for choosing a shotgun choke for these early-season birds is the same that he takes for December mallards.
“I don’t change a thing when it comes to the choke in my gun. I keep the same one in from September teal through the end of the season because it is what I know and I am confident with it in my gun,” says Vandemore. “I know what my sight picture is, and I know when to pull the trigger after pulling through the bird. I think it’s easy to overthink your choke selection. Use what works for you.”
Vandemore does change his choice of shotgun load for bluewings, moving down in size to a 2-3/4” shell with #6 shot or smaller if possible.
“It doesn’t take much to bring a teal down when you do connect, and I don’t want to damage the bird with a heavier load,” he says. “Bluewings are probably one of my favorite ducks to eat.”