Early teal hunting is starting soon. Are you ready?
The winds of change are in the air and soon many North American hunting seasons will be in full swing in many parts of the country. But it's a long wait until the peak big game seasons. Wait, who says you have to wait to get in on the hunting action?
Early September teal hunting seasons are a great way to get in some field time on the mud flats and put some tasty game birds in the freezer while you wait for other seasons to arrive.
Here's the how, when and where of teal waterfowl hunting this year.
What are teal?
Teal are waterfowl, members of the dabbling duck family. However, hunting them is a little bit different than other species of migratory game birds, simply because these birds migrate a lot earlier than any other species.
There are three distinct types targeted by most hunters. There is the cinnamon teal, the green-winged teal and the blue teal. Out of the three, the bluewings seem to be the most popular with waterfowl hunters.
The names fit very well with the types of plumage these birds display. Be careful your first time hunting them. There are several look-alike species that can be easily confused. For this reason, we recommend going out with someone who is experienced hunting them for your first hunt. They'll help you get the identification down.
Unlike other duck species, teal don't hang around the U.S. very long once fall starts approaching. They are among the first birds to start migrating south where they spend their winters in Central and South America. This leaves a very narrow window to hunt them, thus the reason these specific duck hunting seasons are often referred to as "early teal season."
When is early teal season?
This is going to depend greatly on where you live. It's not a hard and fast rule, but in general, you'll find the early seasons usually start earlier the farther north you live. For instance, here in my home state of Michigan, the 2019 season begins on September 1 and runs through the 16th. Iowa's season runs the same length of time. But in Texas, the season begins September 14 and runs through the 29th.
There are exceptions to this rule. Indiana's season runs through the same dates as Texas. But most southern states tend to run through the middle part of September. Early teal hunting in Arkansas runs from September 15 through the 30th and Louisiana's teal season runs from September 14-29.
These are short hunting seasons, but in some states, they are shorter than others. Kentucky waterfowlers only have eight days, from September 21-29 in 2019. Wisconsin is similar, their season runs September 1-9. You really need to make the most of the time you are given because it's a long wait till the next season starts!
Bag limits for teal are generally set at around six birds per day with a season possession limit of around 18-20 total birds. It's a short and sweet waterfowl season, so don't expect a freezer full to last all winter.
Also, most states require some sort of waterfowling or duck stamp in addition to a hunting license in order to pursue these birds, so make sure you do your research before you head out into the field, shotgun in hand.
Tips for early season teal hunting
One newbie hunting tip you'll hear constantly from seasoned teal hunters is to scout, scout and scout some more. Teal are very particular about the areas they frequent. You can't just set up anywhere on a lake and hope they'll drop by.
Teal really like mud flats, backwaters and sloughs with shallow water. Not that you can't find them in open water lakes, it's just they seem to prefer the muddier, messier areas. Wear good boots or waders and brush yourself in with a good blind setup. You might also bring some bug spray; remember, this is an early season hunt and depending on where you live, temperatures may get high.
Just like with regular duck hunting, rice fields and flooded farm fields can be dynamite spots to set up if you can find one and secure permission. If you find the birds there before the season, odds are good you'll find some when the season starts.
When it comes to decoys you may be thinking: "I don't want to buy another expensive set of decoys!" We don't blame you. Decoys can get expensive. But here's the great thing about teal: they aren't very particular when it comes to your decoy spread.
Some hunters like to use hen mallard decoys in their setups even though mallards are substantially bigger than teals. This is mainly because the color of a hen mallard closely resembles that of a teal while migrating. Never mind the fact that the mallard decoys are substantially larger than teal. Either the birds have bad eyesight, or they just don't care. Either way, we're not complaining. That's less new equipment to buy this duck season right?
The other great thing is that even if you do decide to go with actual teal decoys, you don't need a ton of them. Spread properly, one or two dozen decoys will get you through a morning of hunting with no worries. Although, most seasoned duck hunters agree, you need at least one spinning wing decoy in the setup. Teals love them.
Why? We can't say for certain, but we do know they work. I've heard some hunters have cut corners on the spinning wing decoys by using dove decoys. It doesn't seem to matter to the birds. They're attracted more to the movement than the look of the decoy in this instance.
When it comes to calls, most hunters agree teal are more of a visual bird. Your decoy setup is more important than the right quack. But a good call like a teal whistle can help bring in the wariest of birds to your setup. Just don't be surprised if they swoop in fast and extremely low.
When it comes to guns and shot, remember that teal are smaller than other forms of waterfowl. They're nowhere near the size of Canada geese. You might want to use a smaller gauge and smaller shot. The two most popular shot sizes for teal are No. 4 and No. 6.
Why hunt teal?
The better question is, why not? It's been a long time since last year's waterfowl late seasons ended. It's been a long time since you broke out the mallard calls, mud boots and other duck gear. Why not get a quick warm up in advance of the other waterfowl seasons?
Even if you focus on mallards or have your eye on a wood duck, teal season typically marks the first chance you get. Ultimately, t's a great way to shake off the rust from a long, hot summer and have an early season duck dinner before the other hunting seasons get into full swing.