"Teal to the east!" brought Dian, my wife, and Pete, our yellow Lab to full alert. Dian's grip on her new Stoeger 12-gauge semi-auto tightened. It was her first teal hunt.
Teal season occurs in September, which allows hunters to tune up their retrievers before the longer waterfowl seasons arrive.
"Peep, peep, peep, peep," I blew softly on my H.S. Waterfowl 6-in-1 duck whistle. Several hens in the flight of blue-winged teal answered as the flock of 40 birds winged towards the west end of the small lake.
"Don't forget to get out in front of these birds," I whispered to Dian. "They are fast. I will give the signal to shoot when they hit the end of the decoy string."
Dian and I swung our shotguns in perfect symphony. When the barrage of six shots subsided, five blue-winged teal lay belly-up in the decoys. Three of them belonged to Dian. Pete paddled rapidly to retrieve Dian's very first teal.
"Awesome shooting, babe," I shouted at a beaming new teal hunter.
Dedicated waterfowlers across every flyway in the nation can't wait for teal season to arrive each year. In most states teal season begins in early September giving hunters an early opportunity to warm up for the duck seasons to come.
Blue-winged teal make up the most of the birds in the early teal migrations. However, a few green-winged and cinnamon teal always show up in hunters' bags, adding icing to an already wonderful cake.
Gunners everywhere count down the dog days of August, don their short-sleeved camo shirts and stockpile extra mosquito repellant in preparation for opening day. Those items, along with cool drinks, are something you will not find in November duck blinds. Hunting waterfowl in the heat of late summer may seem odd to some, but hunters are grateful for the opportunity to tune up on teal before the big ducks arrive.
Dian Cooper proudly displays the three blue-winged teal she dropped on the first volley she fired at the speeding birds. Pete, her yellow Lab, retrieved all three ducks for her.
Teal are perhaps the easiest of the waterfowl species to hunt. They are great confidence builders for waterfowlers on their first hunt of the year, or for first-time duck hunters. Teal decoy readily, but are difficult to hit when they zoom over a decoy set at 60mph.
It takes very little equipment and experience to hunt teal. Equipment is a matter of personal choice. The chosen body of water often dictates the style of hunting. Small ponds are a cinch. Make-shift blinds made of natural materials are easy to construct. Six decoys, of any species, will turn the trick. Add a few peeps from a teal whistle and you are in the teal hunting business.
For larger ponds and small lakes, a canoe is the perfect craft. A 17-foot canoe will carry two people, one dog, two dozen decoys and other necessities such as snacks, drinks and a length of camo material. Also, the canoe can be stashed in the brush and hunters can construct a simple shoreline blind. Small portable blinds work well, too.
I position my decoys facing into the wind, arranged in two or three family groups with 10-to-15-feet between groups. Placing the holes in the set at your best shot angles will insure easy shots as the birds attempt to land in the holes.
H.S. waterfowler Pro Staffer Barney Calef recommends scouting heavily before the season begins. "Blue-wings like shallow, flooded areas where the water is less than a foot deep. Lots of vegetation helps, too."
"Look for sign," Calef said. "The easiest sign to find is feathers floating on the surface of the water. It takes a lot of teal to leave very many feathers."
Allowing teal to settle into the decoys and then flushing them produces easier shots for beginners. A handful of scattered decoys is all it takes to attract teal.
Calef likes to toss out a dozen decoys in a loose bunch. "I stick mostly to hen decoys," he stated. "The ducks are not in their winter plumage and the drab colored hen decoys seem to work a little better."
Calef calls to teal very little, but prefers to use the 6-in-1 call from the Barney Calef line.
"The spinning-wing decoys, where legal, are absolutely deadly for decoying teal," Calef concluded.
The simple 6-in-1 call is the only call hunters really need, but I -- like most hunters -- enjoy taking along a mallard hen call. It is fun to use, provides some much needed practice for subsequent seasons and is very effective on teal. Blue wings do make a different sound resembling a rapid "kak...kak...kak." Peeps from a teal whistle work well also.
Ammunition is a highly debated issue, but 2-3/4-inch steel magnums perform well on teal. I prefer the Winchester Extended Range shotshells in number 4s.
One of my favorite teal hunting spots is a 75-acre public lake. The small lake provides one good point to set up for waterfowl on the north side. Seasonal winds are always out of the south-southwest in September. As a result, my decoys are always facing away from me and approaching teal come in to my back, into the wind, or to the left. Neck cramps are a factor and we often get caught with our guns down if the birds have not circled the lake at least once. Quick shots are often necessary as the tiny targets zoom over head. Quite often flocks sneaking in from behind zoom overhead, see the decoys and loop straight back to access the holes in the set. That fact alone makes teal easy to hunt. When first time hunters are along, I often allow the birds to land in the decoys and then flush them to give the beginners easier shots.
Steel shot in 2-3/4-inch magnum number 4s work well for teal, one of the smallest duck species.
Teal hunting allows the added bonus of getting your dog out for some early season retrieving practice. The dog will greatly enjoy the swim during warm weather, and you will enjoy the opportunity to polish your retriever before the longer seasons begin.
Teal are excellent table fare as well. We enjoy filling the cavities with stuffing, wrapping the tiny birds in bacon and cooking them in a covered dish at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Do not overcook. Duck is most flavorful when on the rare side.
Twenty minutes into our hunt a second flock of teal appeared on the horizon. I started calling as soon as the birds hit the far side of the lake. They headed straight for the decoy set.
Dian fired one time and her fourth and final teal tumbled to the water. I fired three times and dropped one more bird. I still needed one more bird to finish my limit. Fifteen minutes later Dian asked if we could head for home. She had a lot of chores to do.
While we were unloading the boat at the ramp an elderly gentleman walked up to us and asked how we did. Dian quickly replied, "I got a limit, but he didn't!"
That was one factor I had not thought of. Dian is a certified NRA shooting instructor. I began hitting the clays range. You should too.
Bill and Dian Cooper reside in rural St. James, Missouri, with their two Labs Pet and Peg. They are avid waterfowl hunters, but enjoy deer and turkey hunting, too.