In case you haven’t noticed, the 2018 early teal season began last weekend, starting a two week long run on both sides of the Red River.
While there weren’t a lot of red-hot hunting reports from either North Texas or southern Oklahoma, there were some wingshooters who found themselves walking out of the duck blind with a full strap of these fast and tasty little waterfowl.
As the Sept. 15-30 early teal season — which has a daily bag limit of six teal, by the way — continues on in Texas and Oklahoma, there should be sporadic appearances of early bluewings, greenwings, and maybe even the rare cinnamon teal.
But be forewarned, these early birds can literally be here today but gone tomorrow, thanks to nothing more than a subtle wind shift or the September full moon.
So how do you find success on early teal? For the answers to that question, allow me to turn once again to my good friend Jim Lillis, a retired senior regional director for Ducks Unlimited who lives in Sherman.
I’ll admit that I turn to Lillis frequently in this space, partly because he’s a good interview and partly because he’s forgotten more about hunting ducks and deer than I’ll probably ever know.
For Mr. Duck, as I jokingly call him, early teal hunting success always starts with scouting.
“You’ve got to get out and scout, get out and find the birds,” said Lillis. “They are going to predominantly be going into shallow water areas, things like a flooded field, where a lake backs into the grass, a river sandbar, stuff like that. The shallower the better for them, they love it “
Once a hunter has found the proverbial “X” that wingshooters talk about, it’s time to think about throwing out a proper decoy spread.
“For decoys, you don’t want to use too many for early teal,” said Lillis. “(And) they don’t all have to be drab since a little visibility never hurts. But remember that live ducks are pretty drab in color right now, so don’t go overboard with bright, colorful dekes.”
How many decoys?
“One to two dozen, at most,” said Lillis. “That’s for hunting on a lake or river because you can probably get by with a dozen on a farm pond or stock tank.”
While Lillis likes using teal-sized decoys, he’ll always have a few larger mallard or pintail blocks in an early teal season spread for visibility’s sake. Likewise, he’ll almost always have one or two Mojo teal decoys with their wings spinning away.
How about duck calls for early teal?
“I primarily use a whistle and maybe those little teal calls that (help you) quack like they do,” said Lillis. “But you can use your mouth too. Either way, you are simply calling out with the higher pitched yack, yack, yack, yack sounds that they make instead of a regular mallard quack.”
Do the calls entice the early birds to actually work a decoy spread like wary mallards or pintails do later on in November, December, and January?
“Yeah, they’ll work,” said Lillis. “When they do a flyby, you do some whistles to get their attention, and a lot of times, they’ll often turn back, bank hard and come back in. You can work them just like any other duck, it’s just that they are a lot faster and their flight is more erratic. If you’re in a decent spot and gain their attention, there’s a good chance that you’ll get a fly by.”
Combine the right spot, a proper spread of decoys, and teal-enticing calls, and then it’s time to solve one of wingshooting’s most difficult challenges, the hitting of a small teal target flying by at speeds that seem like Mach One.
“For teal, I always use an open choke shotgun, either a 12-gauge or a 20-gauge,” said Lillis, a serious sporting clays and skeet shooter during the off-season. “I’ll generally use #6 steel shot although some guys use #7. Winchester makes a Super Speed Steel load that’s not very expensive and seems to work pretty good.
“While I’ll generally start off smaller with the first shot, you can then follow up with a larger sized #4 load. Whatever the shot pellet size, I primarily stick with improved cylinder, which seems to work best for the typical early teal shot distances of 30 to 40 yards or less.”
Do keep in mind that getting the shotgun, non-toxic shotshell, and choke combination correct is only part of the wingshooting equation.
“They’re tough little targets to hit,” said Lillis. “You’ve got to get your gun moving at the speed of the bird, pull out in front of him, get a pretty good lead on him, and pull the trigger while moving with a pretty quick follow through.”
“The main thing is to be ready for the shots when they do come,” he added. “With teal, if you wait too long, you’ll shoot at them going away. When you see the birds bank and they start coming in, be ready.”
Because as Lillis wryly notes, early teal can be out of shotgun range almost as quickly as they got into it.
Get all of these details right on an early teal hunt and the results can be something that you’ll remember for years to come.
“I’ve had several memorable hunts out on the west end of Texoma years ago,” said Lillis. “And I had one in Fannin County near Bonham several years ago. I was hunting with Myles Porter, who was a former DU chairman of mine, and we had out a dozen decoys, a couple of teal Mojos, and were sitting low to the ground in turkey hunting gobbler chairs.
“We were just sitting real still right on edge of the water wearing our camo clothes when some birds suddenly appeared, banked hard, and came right on in. It was memorable shooting.”
While early teal hunts are typically quick affairs that only last an hour or two, that’s part of the beauty of this waterfowling warm-up act.
The weather is mild, the little ducks are generally cooperative if they spot your decoy spread, and the post-hunt meal after a successful outing is about as good as it gets in the waterfowling game.
And as the retriever heads out into the water for another early fall retrieve this weekend, what’s not to like about that?
Get the details right, and September’s early teal season can be wingshooting at its very best.