Early waterfowl seasons are opening across the Great Lakes, where hunters in a couple of states got their first crack at teal and Canada geese on Wednesday. Early indications are that teal numbers are promising at many migration hot spots in the region. Recent rains have bolstered water levels in some areas, and many public hunting areas are being flooded just in time for teal season.
In Minnesota, where the early waterfowl season opens on September 4, extremely dry conditions have impacted wetlands in many areas. While some areas have received sufficient precipitation from late-summer thunderstorms to put some water on parched wetlands, access to these isolated holes may be difficult.
“Duck and teal numbers are pretty good, but I think hunters will have a difficult time getting to them,” explains Minnesota DNR Waterfowl Staff Specialist Steve Cordts. “Plenty of dry wetlands are full of duck food but have little or no water.”
On the upside, because many of these dry wetlands are flush with moist-soil plants, it won’t take much rainfall to create a buffet for migrating waterfowl.
Ducks Unlimited Regional Biologist John Lindstrom remains optimistic. “I have heard of some good numbers of teal around the state on wetlands that still have water. Central and southern Minnesota received several inches of rain over the past 10 days, so there will be water in smaller basins that had been dry most of the summer,” he says. “When these basins refill, they provide abundant food for waterfowl. They will be fantastic for both hunters and ducks.”
Wisconsin and Michigan have also been impacted by drought, but some areas have been pummeled by heavy rains in recent weeks. Early teal and goose seasons opened on September 1 in both states.
“Teal season looks like it is going to be a pretty good from a habitat perspective. Most of Wisconsin has been pretty dry for much of the summer. However, the southern half of the state has been getting a lot of rain over the last month, so I suspect our wetlands are going to be in really good shape come start of the teal season,” says Wisconsin DNR biologist Taylor Finger.
“The northern half of the state has been a little drier, but I expect average to fair conditions for the teal season there as well,” Finger adds.
Michigan DNR biologists and wildlife area property managers are also reporting good numbers of teal going into the opener. “There are quite a few around,” reports Michigan DNR Southeast Region Supervisor Joe Robison.
In some cases, hundreds of teal are utilizing units where water levels are controlled by managers. Extensive tracts of public marsh include the St. Mary’s River corridor in the eastern Upper Peninsula, Saginaw Bay, Lake St. Clair, and the western basin of Lake Erie.
While these areas are notorious teal migration corridors, the entire state is dotted with excellent teal habitat, and numerous reports from scouting hunters indicate teal are present in fair to good numbers throughout the state.
The state of Ohio is also blessed with ideal teal habitat along the coastal marshes of Lake Erie’s western basin. This includes an ample number of public areas intensively managed for waterfowl hunting. Like in adjacent Michigan, good numbers of teal are building up in these areas just prior to the teal opener on September 4.
Early teal seasons open in both Illinois and Indiana on September 11, and reports indicate a typical number of birds can be found in most areas prior to the season.
“The Illinois Natural History crew will fly the first teal survey this week, but they have been flying for shorebirds in the Illinois River valley for a few weeks. They have noted sparse numbers of teal overall, but numbers are steadily increasing,” reports Illinois DNR Wetland Wildlife Program Manager Randy Smith.
Marshes in the northern tier of Indiana are holding decent numbers of teal, and with much needed precipitation recharging some wetlands, heavy stands of moist-soil vegetation such as smartweed and wild millet should hold sufficient water to attract waterfowl.
Two spots in Indiana that draw excellent numbers of migrating teal annually are Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area (FWA) in the far northwestern region and Goose Pond FWA in the southwest.
According to Willow Slough property manager Mike Schoof, a few hundred teal are poking around the property and new tracts of moist-soil habitat are currently being flooded in preparation for the teal opener. The “Slough” has always been a magnet for waves of migrating teal and should be better than ever with recent waterfowl habitat improvements.
“We are seeing some use by teal in our units already. It’s been pretty-dry here for the last month, so we are working on flooding our spring drawdown units,” says Indiana DNR property manager Kalli Dunn. “We have some good mudline habitat the teal have found, and we are currently creating more of this type of habitat in preparation for teal season.”
Great Lakes states waterfowl biologists are all reporting excellent numbers of resident geese and, in some cases, record numbers. Be sure to check each state’s season dates for teal and geese. If you plan to hunt on managed public areas, be sure to inquire about sign-in and blind-draw protocols, as regulations vary and may have changed recently.