Teal season provides an exciting primer for serious Alabama duck hunters.
Sitting in a marsh during a muggy September morning with sweat running down the back of your neck, while waiting for sunrise, really doesn’t sound that appealing.
Couple the warm weather with the incessant buzzing of mosquitos swirling around your head, while other members of the insect community dine on any exposed part of your body and you have the recipe for misery.
For thousands of waterfowl hunters along Alabama’s Gulf Coast, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Each September the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service offers waterfowl hunters on the Gulf Coast the opportunity to harvest the diminutive little ducks known as teal. Primarily blue winged teal, although sometimes accompanied with green winged teal, the small ducks are early migrants that should be viewed as true Southerners at heart.
The teal begin their migration southward en masse during September. The teal are on their way to the Gulf Coast and beyond. Many will travel to Mexico or South America, long before the other duck species begin their annual migration a month or so later.
Because the teal migrate so early in the fall, waterfowl hunters are allowed a chance to harvest the sporty birds in a Special Teal Season.
Teal season can last as short as nine days, but can sometimes last as long as sixteen days, depending on yearly teal counts. For the past few years the season has been at the maximum length, due to historically high blue wing counts.
Hunting teal in September doesn’t require a lot of specialized gear. Regular duck decoys will attract the birds, provided you are in the right spot.
Species of decoys usually doesn’t matter. Hen decoys, with drab coloring, of many species will mimic the dull plumage of the early migrating teal. Decoy numbers are not important as they are during the regular duck season.
The majority of teal taken during the special season are first-of-the-year birds and are not as smart or wary as they will be later in the year. Two dozen decoys will usually be plenty.
Calling is not as important during the teal season as it is during the regular duck season. Simple quacks are often enough to get the attention of the teal to take interest in your decoy spread. Haydels Calls makes a blue wing call that is very effective in luring the small ducks your way. The high-pitched call, blown in quick, short, bursts, will fool the teal when used properly.
“The majority of teal taken during the special season are first-of-the-year birds and are not as smart or wary as they will be later in the year.”
You can learn this type of calling by going to YouTube on the Internet.
Shotgun shells for teal don’t need to be as tough or large to down the thinly-feathered teal in September. Steel shot, number six, can effectively down the teal when used over the decoys. The price difference between these game and target loads, versus standard duck loads is substantial.
With mild temperatures come bugs during the warm teal season weather. Good bug spray can keep the mosquitos and gnats off and allow you to hunt in comfort.
Clothes dryer sheets, rubbed on your exposed skin, will also repel gnats and other pests in the marsh. Finally, a product best known for softening and moisturizing females, Amber Romance, is known to repel pests in the marsh. You might get a few funny looks at the boat ramp after the hunt, but you won’t be covered with welts from mosquito bites.
Where to Find Teal
The Mobile Delta is an annual stopover for migrating teal. The birds are very quick to move in and out in just a few days. “Here today and gone tomorrow,” is the normal pattern for the busy travelers.
Scouting to find the birds is key for success.
Teal are very fond of shallow water. Water depths of six inches to a foot are ideal for early migrating teal. With that in mind, you should search out shallow areas with grass floating or barely submerged. These grasses offer teal several kinds of food. Insects and invertebrates will be among these grasses.
Teal, I have found, are very partial to snails. Find grasses covered with snails and you could have discovered a teal haven.
Heavy rains can flood pastures and teal are drawn to these places like magnets. After fronts blow through in September, you should keep your eyes open for sheet water in agricultural areas. Running the roads, scouting, can sometimes pay off in great teal shoots.
Be sure to get the land owner’s permission before stepping on the property.
September is a month that can sometimes be very active with tropical storms, hurricanes or disturbances. This is a double-edged sword for the teal hunters.
Heavy southerly winds moving in prior to a storm can produce very high tides. These high tides will put water over areas of marsh that are normally dry. Most all ducks love a freshly-covered marsh and teal are no exception.
Being on the water looking for this scenario can result in super hunts.
Another effect of tropical weather occurs when a storm moves east of your area. Tropical storm wind patterns are counter-clockwise in rotation. As a storm moves east of your location, you will receive the backside effect.
This means the western side of the storm’s wind direction will be from the north. Large storms will draw northerly flow that is very strong. This flow will often draw cool dry air from the north to the coast. Teal, like other waterfowl, will take advantage of the swift tailwinds created by the storm. These tailwinds are often loaded with a large influx of teal riding the flow southward. Huge numbers of birds can appear overnight in this situation.
Identification is Critical
While the vast majority of waterfowl winging their way to the Alabama coast in September will be teal, there can also be a few other early migrants or local birds seen during the September season.
Pintails are notorious for making an early appearance each year. The long necks of the pintail make this duck easy to identify on the wing. Northern shovelers are another duck that tends to migrate early as well. Shovelers can be picked out by their spoon-shaped bills.
Where duck hunters run into the most problems with duck identification during teal season is with local birds. Wood ducks are smallish, especially young birds, making them harder to tell apart from teal. Always try to make a positive identification before pulling the trigger.
Finally, marsh raised mottled ducks will be around and will fool excited hunters. The mottles are quite a bit larger than teal, so the ID should be much easier for seasoned hunters.
Whether to employ the use of retrievers can be a dilemma. On one hand, the dogs can be especially helpful retrieving teal in shallow water. On the other hand, there is the matter of alligators.
Alligators maintain a large population in the Mobile Delta. It’s the hunter’s call as to whether a dog can be used safely in early September when gators are active.
The Special Teal Season is a great way for hunters to get back in the swing of things before the main waterfowl season opens. Take advantage of high populations of teal while you have the chance. No one knows what tomorrow will bring.
See you in the marsh!