Teal Hunting 101

By Matt Seek | August 21, 2020
From Xplor: September/October 2020

Teal are the buzz bombs of the waterfowl world. These small, sleek ducks dip and dive through the sky in ways that would make a stunt pilot reach for a barf bag. This makes them a ton of fun — and quite a challenge — to hunt.

Early Birds

When the earliest winds of autumn begin to blow, teal skedaddle south. On their way to wintering grounds in Central America, they make pit stops to rest and refuel at ponds, marshes, and mudflats across Missouri. The first flocks arrive here in late August, long before bigger ducks such as mallards show up. Blue-winged teal numbers peak in mid-September, just in time for teal season.

The Real Teal

Three kinds of teal are legal to hunt during September’s season. But be careful! A few other ducks can show up in the Show-Me State during this time. Make absolutely sure it’s a real teal before you pull the trigger!

Ok To Hunt

  • Blue-winged teal are Missouri’s most common kind of teal. Their small size and blue wing patches help identify these zippy ducks.
  • Green-winged teal are even smaller than their blue-winged cousins. Their tiny size and shiny green wing patches are good ID clues.
  • Cinnamon teal are rare in Missouri. In the fall, they look similar to blue-winged teal.

Don't Shoot!

  • Northern shovelers have blue wing patches and are often mixed in with flocks of blue-winged teal. The large, spoon-shaped bill and bigger body help you tell this duck from a teal.
  • Wood ducks also have blue wing patches. But woodies are much larger than teal, and they have blockier heads and square-shaped tails.
  • Northern pintails sometimes turn up in Missouri during teal season. They lack blue wing patches. A long body and pointy tail feathers help identify this graceful duck.

Gear Up

One of the beauties of teal hunting is that it doesn’t require a mountain of gear. You certainly don’t need a boat, tons of decoys, or layer after layer of warm, waterproof clothes. In fact, these 10 items are all you need:

  1. The most important thing to take along is a grown-up who can help you find a hunting spot, show you how to set up, and teach you how to hunt safely.
  2. Lightweight camouflage clothing helps you hide from keen-eyed ducks and keeps the scorching sun and pointynosed mosquitoes off your skin.
  3. Speaking of mosquitoes, don’t forget to spray yourself with bug repellent to keep the bothersome bloodsuckers at bay.
  4. Waders are like rubber boots, except they come all the way up to your hips or chest. They’ll keep you dry when you’re slogging through the marsh, but they can get steamy on a hot September day. Some hunters prefer to simply get wet.
  5. Decoys are fake plastic ducks. You use them to fool real ducks into thinking your corner of the marsh is a good place to land. A dozen teal or mallard hen decoys is usually enough.
  6. Pack water and some snacks to munch. You don’t want your growling tummy to scare away the teal!
  7. Wear safety glasses to protect your peepers and ear protection for your hearing holes.
  8. A 20-gauge shotgun is perfect for hunting teal. Shotguns shoot a cloud of pellets (called shot). Make sure your shotgun can hold no more than three shotgun shells at once.
  9. The number stamped on the side of a shotgun shell tells you the size of the shot it contains. For teal, you’ll want to use No. 4, 5, or 6 shot. Use only steel or nontoxic shot. Lead shot is illegal for hunting waterfowl.
  10. Unless you like standing or kneeling in the water, bring along a 5-gallon bucket or a camp stool to sit on.

X Marks The Spot

There are two things to look for when choosing where to hunt: shallow water where teal can land and a brushy area nearby where you can hide.

Traveling teal rest in marshes, mudflats, ponds, flooded fields, and river sloughs. They like water that’s less than 2 feet deep and dotted with vegetation so they can refuel on seeds and insects.

Ducks are wary birds, and they have excellent eyesight. But you don’t have to wear Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak to hide from them. Just find some cattails, bulrushes, or willows at the water’s edge and crouch down.

Practice Makes Perfect

Many hunters believe teal rocket around at the speed of sound. In reality, many other ducks fly much faster. But that doesn’t mean teal aren’t hard to hit. To better your chances of making a clean shot, practice shooting skeet (aka clay pigeons) several times before the season starts. To find a place to shoot, aim your browser at mdc.mo.gov/shootingranges.

Here Today Gone Tomorrow

During migration, ducks don’t stay in one place for very long. A marsh that was packed with birds one day might be deserted the next. But teal don’t travel on a whim. Weather guides their whereabouts. If you want to be in the right place at the right time, watch the evening news. When the forecaster predicts a cold front coming through or winds blowing out of the north, plan to be at the duck marsh bright and early the next morning.

The Early Hunter Gets The Bird

After flying all night, teal search for a resting place soon after sunrise. Get up extra early so you can set out your decoys and hunker down in your hiding spot before dawn.

Ducks land with their beaks pointed into the wind, so set up with the breeze at your back. This way, the birds will be flying toward you, and you’ll have a better chance to make a clean shot.

When teal start buzzing the decoys, hold still and be quiet. The slightest movement or sound may send them streaking for the next state before you can get off a shot. And speaking of shooting, until you have a few hunts under your belt, let your grown-up guide tell you when to pull the trigger.

When it’s time, don’t shoot into the center of a large flock. Instead, pick out a bird at the edge so you’re less likely to hit more than one.

If you miss, don’t feel bad. Lots of people do. Instead, look on the bright side: You get to stay in the marsh a little longer and enjoy the sight of duck-shaped rockets streaking across the sunny September sky.

Know The Rules

There are several laws you must follow when hunting teal, and it’s your job to know them. Pick up a copy of the Migratory Bird and Waterfowl Hunting Digest where hunting permits are sold or read the booklet online at short.mdc.mo.gov/Z8L.

Also In This Issue

This Issue's Staff

Bonnie Chasteen
Les Fortenberry
Angie Daly Morfeld
Noppadol Paothong
Marci Porter
Mark Raithel
Laura Scheuler
Matt Seek
David Stonner
Stephanie Thurber
Cliff White