Lynn Burkhead — Forget the beef, where’s the teal?

Herald Democrat
Looking to the skies and wondering where the early teal are right now? With any luck, the combination of good blue-winged teal numbers still to the north, the coming September full moon, and a forecasted cold front this week could all combine to  give Texomaland retrievers plenty of work over the next several days.

Many years ago, a national fast food chain produced a famous TV commercial that showed a couple of ladies suspiciously eyeing the skinny hamburger offering from a competitor and humorously asking, “Where’s the beef?”

In similar fashion, as the 2021 early teal season hits the halfway point this weekend, a lot of area duck hunters are asking, “Forget the beef, where are the early teal?”

Thankfully, there are still good numbers north of here, waiting on the full moon of September and the approach of the forecasted cool front that is supposed to arrive this next week.

If all of that comes together, the combination of moonlit skies, a freshening north wind, and the urge to migrate could bring a rush of blue-winged teal through the Texomaland area as the Sept. 11-26 season rushes towards its end.

As proof of that, allow me to point to Braeden Ingold, the oldest son of my longtime pal Casey Ingold. Braeden is now an engineer from Topeka, Kansas who lives in Wichita after graduating from Kansas State and subsequently getting married.

He’s also smack dab in the middle of some of the Central Flyway’s best early teal hunting action, or so it seems.

How good is that action where Braeden lives and hunts in the Sunflower State? He and two friends combined for a three man limit in short order on the Kansas teal season opener, that’s how good.

In fact, Braden expounded on how good his recent teal hunt was when a friend asked on social media if there were a lot of teal buzzing around.

“Yeah, the amount of birds was almost overwhelming at first,” Braeden replied.

That’s music to the ears of Texomaland waterfowlers hoping for a rush of bluewings as the final days of the 2021 season unfold. With any luck and any amount of north wind, perhaps a number of those Kansas birds will be southbound for the Lone Star State.

But while there is still ample reason to hope that some northern teal will push south down the flyway in the next several days, it’s also important to realize that many bluewings—and a few of their green-winged and cinnamon teal cousins — have already done so.

That was pointed out in the early teal season outlook published online last week (the story missed the newspaper — check online at heralddemocrat.com).

In that outlook, Kevin Kraai, waterfowl program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), mentioned that there has already been a good push of teal deep into the heart of Texas, even before the season began last Saturday morning. In fact, some birds were already showing up in parts of Texas as early as mid-August.

Why the unusually early push by the Central Flyway’s ultimate early birds? The weather, of course. Specifically, Kraai indicated in the TPWD news release that the reason that the early birds are so numerous this year is because of drought and warm weather conditions to the north.

Confirmation of that came yesterday through an Instagram post by Gordy and Sons, the well-known hunting and fishing store in Houston. The store’s IG account reposted a picture of Stayton Sartor, a fly fishing and waterfowl hunting guide out of the Oyster Bayou Hunting Club on the Texas Gulf Coast.

That photo showed Sartor and his black Lab hoisting up a heavy stringer of blue-winged teal, one very similar to Ingold’s stringer of early birds hundreds of miles to the north.

What was really interesting was Gordy and Son’s caption of the photo repost — one coming from an outdoors store that keeps its finger on the pulse of hunting and fishing around the Bayou City — which read simply: “The teal hunting has been on fire so far this season!”

Admittedly, it will be interesting to see how the early teal hunting along the Gulf Coast holds up this weekend, after the passage of Hurricane Nicholas and it’s 75 mph winds earlier this week. There was lots of wind, lots of water, and who knows if the birds left the landscape from Matagorda to Freeport to Galveston, where the worst of the storm made landfall?

Halfway between these two hotspots — the small waters of Kansas and the saltwater along the Texas Gulf Coast — remains the Lake Texoma region, a place where the chance remains for some early migrating bluewings to push through over the next several days.

If they do, and if you’d like to get out and take advantage of the September wingshooting action, here’s a few tips to put a limit of teal on the duck strap, some of the tastiest wild protein the Good Lord ever made.

First of all, you’ve simply 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 J.J. Kent used to tell me, "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 — will really help right now.

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 out of those mallard calls or a specialized teal call. Better yet, get you a Sure-Shot Game Calls Rascal call and learn to make the whistling peeps and whistles that teal also produce.

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.

Put all of these tips together in the right place and at the right time, and with any luck, if someone asks you where the early teal are, you can smile big.

And then hold up your duck strap, and confidently say “They’re right here.”