For those wing shooters like me who have so far missed out on any concentrations of doves this season, tomorrow offers another chance at a successful opening day hunt. Teal season opens statewide at sunrise on Saturday, Sept. 11, and runs for 16 days, closing at sunset on Sunday, Sept. 26. Blue-winged, green-winged and cinnamon teal are all legal, but hunters are most likely to encounter blue-winged teal, especially early in the season.
While I am more of an upland bird hunter, I can certainly appreciate the appeal of these small ducks when you manage to be in the right place at the right time. The right time can be a challenge, as blue-winged teal are among the earliest fall migrants through Missouri and they don’t remain here much longer than the cold fronts that drive them through. Mid-September is when we usually have the most blue-winged teal, but drops in temperature sometimes prompt an earlier migration. Shallow wetlands where water stands under seed-producing smartweeds or sedges are good places to find teal.
Blue-winged teal usually fly in small flocks, and their erratic flight is characteristic. The flocks tends to stay in rather tight formations, and their movement through the air is as of one organism. They will sometimes approach low over land or water and then flare up right in front of you. At times when I’ve thought I was keeping a close watch, I still got buzzed by a flock swooping right over me as if they appeared out of thin air. And just because they passed by doesn’t mean they won’t circle back and be right on top of you again in a few seconds. Their grayish-brown overall color with powder blue shoulder patch, small size and erratic flight helps hunters identify them. Care must be taken to avoid shooting other ducks that can be present during teal season, such as wood ducks, pintails and northern shovelers.
Teal hunters age 16 or older will need:
• Missouri Small Game Hunting Permit (unless age 65 or older)
• Missouri Migratory Bird Hunting Permit
• Federal Duck Stamp
Shotguns must be plugged to hold no more than three shells, and non-toxic shot is required. Daily bag limit is four (photo above is daily harvest of two hunters).
Be safe, and I hope you find yourself in the right place at the right time.