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Lynn Burkhead — Get out and hunt as early teal season buzzes on by

Staff Writer
Herald Democrat
Early teal hunts can be a hit-or-miss affair in North Texas. To increase your odds of shooting success, get small details right like assembling the proper decoy spread for the diminutive waterfowl species.

As I’ve noted in this space before, early teal season can be a hit or miss wingshooting affair here in the North Texas area.

Some years, tropical trouble scrambles the migration to the Texas Gulf Coast, like it did in 2017 when Hurricane Harvey roared ashore and swamped everything in sight with ferocious Category Four winds and blinding rains.

At other times, triple digit weather and drought conditions can scuttle early teal season prospects in the Lone Star State like those conditions did in the horrible stretch of hot and dry weather that baked Texas unmercifully from 2011 to 2014.

But every once in a while, all of the ingredients come together for some epic September teal shooting in portions of the state when blue-winged teal and a few of their green-winged cousins come buzzing on by.

What are those ingredients? A good year of teal production up north, plenty of shallow water here in Texas, a good full moon cycle that corresponds with the heart of the September migration, and some strong early season cool fronts to push the birds south.

When that perfect storm comes together like it has in 2020, the results can be some crazy good shooting, limits of six teal taken in mere minutes.

Outdoor industry veteran Sheldon Lovelace of the Dallas/Fort Worth area found out that truth earlier this week when he was part of a sizzling good teal shoot to the northwest of the DFW Metroplex area. Lovelace works for Hadley Development, which produces Pnuma outdoors clothing and gear, a job that has let him see some of the best hunting and fishing action that North America has to offer.

After interviewing Lovelace last weekend about a giant velvet eight-point whitetail he took during the Kentucky bow season a few days ago, I took off the hat for my day job and we talked a little bit of wingshooting.

Lovelace is a dedicated regular season duck hunter here in North Texas, but he confided that he had never gotten into a red-hot kind of early season teal hunt that you’ll remember for years to come. But he also noted that he was heading northwest first thing Monday morning and the scouting report was good.

When Lovelace texted me a photo of his hunt Monday afternoon, I could only smile and chuckle a little bit as I admired the limit shoot that he and his buddies had enjoyed. All while thinking that Sheldon might not have ever been on a great teal hunt before, but he certainly has now.

Looking at teal hunting results on the website on Thursday, reports have been mixed this past week as hunters have gotten out to take advantage of the season’s early action.

One poster found some of the best wingshooting in the state, being a part of a group of 12 hunters that all limited out in the Eagle Lake area southwest of Houston.

Some hunters in North Texas also reported good shoots as well, while others didn’t see much action at all.

Which gets back to the premise at the beginning of this story, that early teal season hunts in North Texas can be a hit or miss affair, even when overall hunting prospects are good.

What will happen over the rest of the season between now and the Sept. 27 closing day? Well, since hunters to the north of Texomaland are reporting some good early teal shooting in Kansas, there’s a good chance that some of those bluewings and greenwings will push south over the next few days.

Keep in mind that some years, the last few days of the early teal season are actually the best anyway. In fact, I remember the late local waterfowl guide J.J. Kent telling me several years ago about a final weekend hunt that was as thrilling as any wingshooting adventure could ever be.

“I had three guys from Midland who hunted with me in the Bonham area,” said my late friend. “Five minutes after legal shooting time, we had a group of about 200 teal dump into the decoys. It was pure chaos and in less than five minutes, from that first bunch and a few others that followed, we had a four-man limit in hand.

“It was the fastest, most intense wingshooting that I’ve ever seen,” he added. “It was over almost as fast as it started.”

Will such a sizzling good end take place this season? Perhaps, but first, you’ve got to actually 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 and be there the next day.

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. Early teal hunting on local waters is over with quickly, usually an hour or less after sunrise.

Third, 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 generally leans heavily on hen decoys that match the current color schemes of migrating early season ducks.

Fourth, be sure that you are properly concealed. Teal aren’t as wary as late season mallards can be, but by the time they arrive in Texomaland in mid to late September, they’ve already been shot at by plenty of hunters on their journey down the Great Plains.

Using a good camouflage pattern with a mixture of brown, green and tan colors — Pnuma's Caza, Sitka Gear’s Optifade Marsh, Realtree’s Max 5, or Mossy Oak’s Duck Blind or Shadow Grass Blades patterns are all good early season choices — will help keep you concealed and on the receiving end of a few high-speed fly-bys and corkscrew maneuvers that 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 acrylic calls, instead opting for a few timely staccato quacks from a wooden duck call or a pintail whistle like Sure-Shot Game Calls’ “Rascal” version that produces perfect whistling peeps. It doesn’t take much September duck chatter to get the attention of these little birds, but 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 regular season waterfowl shooting chores, a 20-gauge is equally deadly now, 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 is simply this: it’s time to get out and give early teal hunting a try before the 2020 season buzzes on by.

Because like Sheldon Lovelace found out earlier this week, sometimes, the very best teal shooting in our state is right here in our own North Texas back yard.