You watch the skies with anticipation as the sun peeks over the horizon. The air is silent until you hear what sounds like a glider passing only inches over your head.The air fairly sizzles with the sound of raw speed. Looking up, you spot a flight of small ducks bearing the iridescent wing patches of blue-winged teal.
The soul-stirring sound of these winged rockets is one that many dedicated duck hunters never hear. That's because teal hunting usually occurs very early in the fall. It is so different in many respects from later season hunting that many waterfowlers simply aren't geared for it mentally. It seems so out of place to don lightweight, green-colored camo and to wear mosquito repellent for a duck hunt. It seems more like dove hunting than waterfowling.
Teal provide a great way for duck hunters to get motivated for the main portion of duck season. It's also a lot cheaper to hunt the early teal season than it is to hunt ducks in cold weather. It requires less gear, and hunting areas are usually easier to reach. As a bonus, skill with a duck call is less crucial with teal than with mallards, gadwalls, pintails and other fall ducks.
Basic teal hunting gear starts with lightweight waders or hip boots. The ones you use for fishing during the spring and summer will suffice. Any dark color pants will work, since they will be mostly covered by waders or boots. Because you'll be hiding in green foliage, wear a dark green or camouflage shirt or jacket that blends with green leaves or mud.
I prefer a shirt heavy enough to thwart pesky mosquitoes because I can tolerate heat more than being bitten by insects. A mosquito head net is inexpensive, yet priceless. It protects your neck and face from gnats and mosquitoes, and camouflages your face. Top off your outfit with a dark camo cap and hat, and you are ready to hunt teal.
A spread of only 12 to 15 mallard hen decoys makes a suitable spread for teal. Know the depth of the water you will be hunting over, and rig the weights accordingly. Normally 2 to 3 feet is plenty of string for teal decoys. It's better to be too long than too short when it comes to rigging weight strings.
Calling can be helpful at times, but it's usually not necessary. With a mallard hen call, you can use a feeding gabble, soft quacks or an occasional five-note "lonesome hen" call. You can also use a high-pitched waterfowl whistle, available at most stores that sell waterfowl hunting supplies, to attract our blue-patched friends. The whistle, like the duck call, requires a little practice. You can also buy special teal calls. The pattern sounds like a long, high-pitched quack, followed by three short quacks. As a rule, silence is much better than making the wrong sounds on a call or whistle.
Almost any shotgun will work for teal. The most popular gauges are 12 and 20. With some of the new non-toxic options available, a 16-gauge is also effective for waterfowl. A pump, semi-automatic or double-barrel shotgun will net you more birds than a single-shot model.
You must use only federally approved, nontoxic shot. Steel is the most popular and least expensive option. Hevi-Shot and Bismuth are also legal. Lots of hunters use 2 3/4-inch, 3-inch, or 3 1/2-inch inch ammunition loaded with No. 4 steel shot. Teal flit, dart and dive at tremendous speeds. Practice shooting at clay targets before hunting to sharpen your skills.
The most important factor in teal hunting is selecting the proper location. If you have no experience in waterfowl hunting, join someone who does. If you can't find anyone who hunts that will share information with you, contact any of the waterfowl hunting guide services on the internet, and consider hiring someone to take you out for the first few times.
Teal hunting is allowed at most conservation areas that contain suitable duck habitat. Conservation agents and area managers are happy to share information about hunting opportunities and can usually provide tips that will greatly enhance your success.
Even if you are able to find a mentor to guide you, it pays to study any information you can find about teal. Learn their behavior patterns, life cycle, food sources and feeding habits. The more you know and understand about teal, the better your chances of putting together a successful hunt.
For feeding, teal prefer still or slow moving water, only a few inches deep. They like receding sloughs or drying waterholes that have exposed mud banks and flats. They feed on small crustaceans and insects along the waterline. The birds usually need a flyway to the site. Migrating teal follow rivers and watersheds throughout the Midwest every fall. They also take "side roads," flying up tributaries to find cutoffs and sloughs that fit their needs.
Because decoy spreads are smaller and the necessary clothing is more affordable, teal hunting is a great way for newcomers to discover the sport of duck hunting, It also serves as a good "warm-up" for seasoned waterfowlers. Best of all, it's fun.
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