When the 2017 early teal season began a couple of weeks ago, the season started off with the proverbial bang as a number of hunters in the Lone Star State took advantage of a good push of the early birds brought south by an unseasonably strong early fall cool front.
But that was then, this is now and the season is threatening to end with a dud, thanks to the dry and hot weather of late with nary a cool front in sight.
That things have gotten slow in recent days isn’t surprising since early teal — primarily the blue-winged variety — need little if any motivation to pack their bags, flap their wings and travel south towards tropical environs where the birds will spend the winter.
Here today, gone tomorrow, that’s the mantra of Texomaland early teal hunters.
But sometimes, as these early September teal seasons end, what has been a slow two-week campaign can end with a rush of wings and some memorable shooting.
Take the example I got a few years ago from my late waterfowling pal J.J. Kent, a man who loved chasing early teal as much as anyone I’ve ever known.
After a lackluster couple of weeks that particular year, the then head-man of Kent Outdoors hosted three hunters from West Texas.
Just minutes after legal shooting time arrived on the watch, a huge aerial circus of teal buzzed the decoy spread with some 200 bluewings eventually cupping their wings and turning hard to land.
Kent, who passed away from heart surgery complications this past February, recalled that it was pure chaos as the shooting ensued. Another flock or two later, a four-man limit of early teal was on the duck strap, all told less than 20 minutes after legal shooting time had arrived.
Will such an ending take place this season? Maybe, maybe not. But with the month deepening and a weather change in the works next week (rain and a big cool front), don’t be surprised to see some decent teal shooting over the final weekend coming up.
How can you take advantage of the early season bluewings buzzing by a marsh or lake near you as the Texas and Oklahoma seasons get ready to expire on Sunday, Sept. 24?
First, you’ve got to be there. Do your scouting, find where the birds are roosting, what their flight patterns are, and where exactly they are buzzing into the marsh at the crack of dawn.
Second, be sure that you’re there in that marsh — or on that stock tank, small lake, or North Texas reservoir — the following morning well before the crack of dawn.
Why is that? Because early teal hunts are over quickly, usually in the first half-hour of legal shooting light. As my late pal Kent used to tell m, “If you’re late for an early teal hunt, you probably have missed the boat.”
Next, be sure to use the right decoys. In this case, with all duck species in the Central Flyway currently sporting their drab early autumn plumage, the right decoy spread is generally one that leans heavily towards the hen variety. While it’s ok to use a few blue-winged teal drake decoys for some visibility, don’t overdo it and primarily stick with teal hen and even bigger mallard hen decoys.
Fourth, be sure that you are properly concealed. Teal aren’t as wary as late season mallards are, but by the time they arrive in Texomaland in mid to late September, they’ve already been shot at by a few hunters on their journey down the Central Flyway.
Using a good camouflage pattern with a mixture of brown, green and tan colors — think Realtree’s Max 5, Mossy Oak’s Duck Blind or Shadow Grass Blades and Sitka Gear’s marsh pattern — are all good choices.
All of these waterfowl hunting inspired camo patterns will help keep you concealed in the marsh and on the receiving end of a few high-speed fly-bys and corkscrew maneuvers that blue-winged teal are infamous for.
Fifth, be sure to use the right calls to attract teal. That means that you should skip the high-volume high balls from your Zink, Rich-n-Tone or Echo acrylic calls, instead opting for a few timely staccato teal quacks or whistling peeps from a Primos fluttering whistle or a Duck Commander or Buck Gardner teal hen call.
The bottom line is that while it doesn’t take much duck noise to get the attention of these little birds, the more realistic it sounds, the better off you should be.
Finally, be sure to match your shotgun, choke and non-toxic shotshell combination for the diminutive waterfowl. While I like the 12-gauge for all of my waterfowl shooting, a 20-gauge is equally deadly on early teal, especially when coupled with an improved cylinder choke and non-toxic shot that is in the #4, #5 or #6 size ranges.
The bottom line here in all of this is to get out there this weekend and give early teal hunting a try before the 2017 season comes to a close on Sept. 24.
I plan to be out there, remembering my good late friend J.J. Kent as I try to take a limit of bluewings in his honor.
With any luck, I’ll bag a few and they’ll make a superb meal at the dinner table this next week, all as I remember a friend who loved to laugh, who loved to call ducks, and who loved to chase early season teal.
I sure miss you J.J. — this teal hunt is for you.