Gulf Coast waterfowl hunters are anxious with anticipation for the special teal hunting season offered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that begins in September. The majority of blue wing teal migrate early, so the special September teal hunting season allows hunters a crack at them as the birds move southward on their migration. Here are a few teal hunting tips to be successful during this early season.
Teal Hunting Tips – What They Like
Teal, both blue-winged and green-winged, prefer very shallow water. Finding an area with natural grasses is a great place to find the diminutive birds in September. This can be some of the local marshes along the coast, or it can be on shallow ponds inland.
Teal are especially fond of newly created water. By this, I mean that a freshly flooded area of marsh can be a magnet to these early migrants. This is also true about freshly flooded pastures or farmland. Teal take advantage of the new water to feed on the creatures being overcome by the recent rainfall. Should you find some grasses that are inhabited by snails…Get ready to heat up your barrels! Blue wing teal love snails.
Teal Hunting Tips – Decoys
During the September teal hunting season, most ducks have very little of the beautiful plumage that is seen in late season December and January. Instead, the ducks will be a dull brown. With that in mind, many hunters opt for an all hen decoy spread. Some hunters believe using big duck decoys, such as mallards and gadwalls, will increase the visibility of your spread to attract the roaming teal.
Teal are notorious for giving you the ‘fly-by’ as they skirt your decoys and move on to their intended destination. Because of this, placing your decoy spread within twenty yards of your blind or hide will allow you a better opportunity of the birds on the move.
Motion decoys are an excellent way to get teal to come inspect your decoy spread. Mojo Decoys makes an excellent motion decoy to get the teals attention. It only takes one of the Mojo teal to do the job. Since its motion that attracts, and not necessarily the teal decoy that attracts, many hunter have found out that using one or more Mojo dove decoys can fool the teal as well. Besides, who doesn’t like equipment that can pull double duty!
Teal Hunting Tips – Calls
With the majority of teal in the early season being blue-wings, it just makes sense to have a blue wing call on your lanyard. One of the most realistic sounding teal calls is the Haydel Blue-Wing call. This very raspy call imitates the quick series of quacks made by blue wings. Teal will also respond to just a few quacks on your regular duck call. Keep in mind that once the teal have locked in on your location and decoys, there is no longer a need to call. Y
Teal Hunting Tips – Guns and Ammo
Teal are a small bird in size. Many of the teal that Gulf Coast hunters see in September are young, first-year birds. Their size and minimal feathers during early season make them easier to bring down. With that in mind, twenty gauge shotguns, in the hands of capable shooters, are sufficient to fold the sporty teal. Most hunters prefer twelve gauge, but twenties are a viable option for September teal hunting.
When it comes to shot size for teal, keep in mind that the teal are not a whole lot larger than a pigeon. Having a shell with a large pellet count can make up for less than championship shooting. I prefer Winchester Expert number 7 shot. Another load that is popular among teal hunters is the Rio number 6 shot. The extra pellets in these loads can make up for less than stellar shooting that is experienced during the first wing shooting action of the year. You won’t find many of these in local hunting stores, but both shotshells can easily be ordered off the Internet.
Triggers for Teal Movement
Teal can start their migration early in September or delay it till later in the month. Some early birds even show up on the coast in late August. A full moon will usually trigger an influx in teal to the coast. Teal and other ducks will use a bright moon to help navigate their way from the breeding grounds southward.
Frontal systems will also trigger the teal to move. Unexpected cold fronts in September can often cause a large push of teal to the coast. Because of this, teal are often referred to as “here today, gone tomorrow” birds.
Finally, there is an often over-looked weather situation that causes teal to move southward. Tropical storms and hurricanes out in the Gulf of Mexico can draw teal southward. The motion of these storms cause a ‘wrap around’ effect that produces strong northerly winds. Teal hop on this tailwind and ride it down, allowing an easier flight.
Where They Come From
Loads of information about blue-winged teal and their migration has been collected over the years. This work has been done through the banding program that helps biologist track movements and ages of harvested birds. Blue-winged teal are in the top three of birds banded each year. Mallards are tops, with pintails and blue wings neck and neck after that.
Over the last 45 years of teal hunting, I have only shot two blue wings that were banded. Both were first of the year birds, banded the same year of harvest. Ironically, both birds were shot locations one mile apart in the Mobile Delta. Both teal were from Saskatchewan. The banded teal were taken ten years apart.
Two other waterfowler’s, brothers Colin and Tyler Atchison of Mobile, shot a banded blue wing a day apart in the same bay on the Mobile Delta. Both teal were banded on August 20 in Saskatchewan and were harvested on September 11 and 12 respectively. That means that these birds traveled over 2,000 miles flight in just over two-three weeks! One of the birds was a two-year-old, while the other was a first of the year bird.
Dustin Moore is another teal hunter who was able to take a banded teal on the coast last season. A single bird made its final fight over Moore’s decoys. The teal was a blue-wing. And where was it banded? Why Saskatchewan of course! This teal was also a first of the year bird.
Even though many teal are taken within the first year of banding, there are many that survive to a ripe old age. Banding records show that two blue wings survived over 22 years! One of the birds was taken in Cuba, indicating the blue wings love of southern climates.
September Teal Hunting Tips – Equipment and Supplies
The September teal hunting season is notorious for rain showers popping up. A decent rain suit will prolong the comfort of your hunt. Another thing teal season is notorious for is bugs. Mosquitos and gnats can turn a wonderful morning into a swatting, scratching disaster. A good bug spray is a must for your blind bag in September. I was recently introduced to Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus. This repellant kept away both mosquitos and gnats. I am now a believer!
You’ll also need plenty of cool liquids on a steamy September morning. Try and limit this to Gatorade or bottled water. Push poleing out to retrieve birds will heat you up fast, so try and stay hydrated.
Teal are one of the best-tasting birds on the grill or on the skillet. The key thing to remember is to not over-cook the birds. Try and serve them rare. My favorite way to prepare teal is in a mushroom gravy. Ladle that gravy over some grits or a hot biscuit and you are truly living!
With another ample flight of teal forecast, us Gulf Coast hunters can look forward to some exciting September Teal hunting action. If you can, take along a youngster and introduce them to waterfowling. They are the future of our sport.
See you in the marsh for some fantastic teal hunting!
This article first appeared in the September 2018 print issue of Great Days Outdoors Magazine. For more great hunting and fishing content for the deep South, subscribe to Great Days Outdoors print and digital editions or click the image to download this issue.