With the 2017 early teal season scheduled to start on both sides of the Red River tomorrow morning, the Sept. 9-24 hunt is about as much fun as a wingshooter can have here in Texomaland.
As long as you pay attention to five keys of early teal hunting success, the first one being to get out and scout.
“I know it’s a cliché, but if you want to get a limit of teal, you’ve got to get out and scout for the birds,” said Jim Lillis, a Sherman resident with nearly 50 years of waterfowling experience under his belt. “You aren’t likely to shoot a limit of teal if you don’t find the birds first.”
For Lillis, a former waterfowl hunting guide as well as a retired senior regional director for Ducks Unlimited, that means a couple of different things.
If you’re hunting a big reservoir in North Texas or southern Oklahoma, it will mean launching the duck boat, getting out, and driving around to see where the birds are feeding, loafing and flying. You’ll want to pay particularly close attention to teal attractors like shallow water zones or mud flats that feature aquatic vegetation and/or invertebrates as food sources.
In stock pond country, scouting for teal means driving roads early in the morning, looking for birds trading back and forth as well as cupping their wings and dropping in. Later in the day, it means scoping out water bodies with a pair of binoculars to find birds sitting down for a spell.
Once you’ve found where the birds want to be — the so-called proverbial X — Lillis says that the second key is to show up in the same spot the next day to capitalize on the hunting opportunity.
“Teal can move in and out of the area so fast that when you find some birds, you’ll want to hunt them as soon as possible,” said Lillis. “If you wait a few days, they are likely to be gone.”
Third, put out a mixed bag decoy spread consisting of one or two dozen mallard and teal blocks. Keep in mind that teal are in their early autumn plumage right now, so both drakes and hens are drab brown. Because of that, use plenty of similarly hued decoys.
But Lillis also notes that you want some visibility in your spread, something that he accomplishes with a couple of MOJO spinning wing teal decoys along with a few big mallard drakes that can be spotted in the air from a long ways off.
Fourth, be willing to adjust your calling sounds from the usual mallard highballs, quacks, and chuckles.
“I’ll primarily use a teal whistle for early season bluewings,” Lillis said. “And you’ll want to be able to make the little raspy sharp quacks that teal make too, either with your mouth like I do or with a specialty teal call. It’s a high pitched quack that really gets their attention and sounds like Yack!, Yack!, Yack!”
Fifth, don’t over-gun teal with shot sizes that are too big and a shotgun choke that is too constricted.
“I like to use an open choked shotgun, with #6 or even #7 steel shot,” Lillis said. “Start off with that, maybe backing it up with a last shell that’s a #4. Use an improved cylinder and a 12- or 20-gauge shotgun and you’re in business.”
As long as you can shoot halfway decent, that is.
“Typically, your shot distances at teal will be 30 to 40 yards or less, so you’ve got to point the gun quickly and get it moving,” Lillis said. “You’ve got to swing the barrel out in front of the bird, get a pretty good lead, and pull the trigger without stopping your swing.
“They move pretty fast, so you’ll rarely shoot in front of a group of teal buzzing your decoy spread.”
Lillis adds that a teal hunter has to be almost like a bird dog on point, ready to seize opportunities that can quickly pass by.
“You’ve got to be ready to shoot because teal will be out range almost as quickly as they got into range,” he laughed.
While early migrating bluewings can literally be here today and gone tomorrow on the next northerly wind, the shooting can be very memorable when a hunter hits it just right.
“Over the years, I’ve had some really good teal shoots out on the western end of Lake Texoma,” Lillis said. “And several years ago, I hunted with Myles Porter over in Fannin County and we had some fantastic hunts.”
“We were just sitting in low-to-the-ground gobbler chairs, right on the edge of the water,” he added. “We were camoed up, of course, but the action was fast, furious and right in our faces.”
And that’s the thrill of September teal hunting, chasing these early migrating little ducks that fly with aerial speed and maneuvers that would make a fighter pilot blush with envy.
It’s fast, it’s furious, it’s fun…and it’s usually over with before you know it.
“If you’ve done your home work and scouted well, if you’re hidden well, if you have the sun at your back, and if you can shoot well, early teal hunting is about as good as waterfowling can get,” Lillis said.
Even if the season’s main waterfowl hunting action is still several weeks down the road.