Tips for bagging blue wings!

Early Teal Season: Tips for a Bag of Blue Wings

Blog & photos by Prois Staffer, Gretchen Steele

For many in the Heartland August means squirrels, chanterelles, big gar lazing around on the backwater, catfish flopping and sweltering away the dog days of summer. But for waterfowlers, it also means that early teal season is just around the corner and now is the time to start putting together your plan for blasting blue wings.

Ah, those first little blue zingers of the season that magically appear after a slight shift in the temperatures up north. In my case, it’s those frustrating little fellows. Although technically they aren’t the fastest waterfowl ever clocked, their flying antics always remind me of a squadron of fighter jets. I have been heard to mutter unladylike descriptions of those (expletive deleted) feathered F-14’s. Combine that with their finicky outlook for changes in the weather, and I have been foiled by these delicious little birds more than once.

Then again, those same frustrating antics are also what make them such a fun and exciting way to start the waterfowl season.  We’ve got some tips for filling your bag with blue wings and getting out there to scratch that waterfowl hunting itch that’s been building since the last day of snow goose season in March.

Up and at ‘em boys and girls! Early teal season is no time to be slacking around in bed. Early season hunts are very often fast, furious, and right at the first few minutes of shooting time. Sleep in, and your chance will likely be gone. Additionally, those right at legal shooting time fly ins make these a great way to fill your strap and still make it to work on time, and get the youngster in the crowd dropped off at school before the last bell rings. Remember – your chances at success are best if you are completely set up, ready to rock and roll at least 20-30 minutes prior to shooting time. Settle the dog, have a cup of coffee, watch the changing sky and know that that those feisty F-14’s will soon be falling into your lap.

Be ready and vigilant as shooting time draws near; blue-winged teal are fast-movers, they will whiz through in a feathered combat style sortie in the blink of an eye.  Be sure that you and your hunting partners are paying attention and ready to shoot when that impressive big flock (or even a single or pair!)  of these ducks whip into range.  Blue-wings aren’t as battle weary compared to late season “big ducks” so while it’s important to remain fairly still and well camouflaged as they are coming in, don’t be afraid to stand up in the blind or step up off your bucket seat to shoot. 

One of the things that make blue-winged teal such fun birds and great for youngsters is that they tend be very eager birds.  They will quite often hit the decoys without any help from a call.  When it comes to teal, less really can be more when calling. A quick almost screechy sounding 5 note hail call can often be all you need. There’s also that legendary “laughing them in” call – a high pitched “ha ha ha ha ha” mouth call. I have often wondered if that wasn’t an accidental discovery early one morning when someone in the hunting party simply could not hit the broadside of barn, let alone a lighting fast blue wing teal!

Another reason you will want to keep your calling to a minimum – oftentimes you can hear a wad of blue wings coming before you see them. Additionally, listening close to the sound of the incoming birds can help prevent you from accidently taking a pintail or wood duck that has the misfortune of putzing around with blue wings. Since in Illinois it’s teal only during early teal season, it’s vital that your duck ID skills are on the mark. It seems like every year somebody ends up with a wood duck or two because they just didn’t know any better.

Blue-wings aren’t picky when it comes to decoys.  They don’t require a bazillion, a small spread of dozen or so is fine, and there’s been a multitude of blue wings shot over older faded hen mallard decoys.  Blue wings are still pretty much in eclipse stage during early season,  so while teal decoys are great they aren’t completely necessary. What’s more important is to leave a couple of good holes open for shooting in your decoy spread.  Any experienced teal hunter can tell you – they slide into the spreads low and well, let’s just say you can really pepper some decoys if you aren’t careful.

Let’s face it, it’s incredibly tempting to flock shoot when a big wad of blue-wings comes screaming into into your spread, however odds are you will do much better and have fewer cripples if you hone in on a single a bird and shoot it.  Teal have a habit of springing up once the first shots are fired, so it helps to look upward to snag those springers after you’ve been successful with the first shot.

Remember that it can still be pretty warm during early teal season. Many a morning I’ve gotten to my spot with sweat dripping off my nose. Dress appropriately, make sure you have water or something hydrating along. That goes for your four-footed friend as well.  The creepy, crawly, biters and stingers are still out and about as well, so strap on that thermacell, and give your hunting clothes a good dousing with permethrin to keep the ticks, spiders, and mites away. One last warning – since it’s still plenty warm for the snakes to be out and about, give your blind a once over so aren’t startled by any surprise visits from one of our slithery friends.

All in all, early teal season is great little warm up for the waterfowl season ahead and gives us a chance to have some excellent table fare.  Keep these tips in mind and fill your bag with blue wings!

Wild Bear Feats

Spring Bear Feasts

By, Prois Staffer & Montana State Coordinator, Margie Nelson.

While on our Prois spring bear hunt in Idaho this June I was fortunate to harvest a fine Black Bear sow.  My compadres in “big ideas” and “crime” also were fortunate to harvest two additional sows and one particular beauty named Panda was allowed to grow and spread some fine genetics or we would have all tagged out. 

This was a particularly fun trip with Kirstie Pike of Prois, Judy Sonne of Weatherby and Donna Boddington of The Boddington Experience….And then there was little ol’ me.  Just me, Margie Nelson of me just being me.  We had a super great time with our Outfitter Sparky Sparks of M2D Living the Dream at his Idaho properties.   I have never laughed so hard in all my life!!  Between our drives to Salmon to the taxidermist or having a beer in the most inappropriate bar I have ever been in, and the only bar in town I might add!  Good times.

I had enjoyed an uncontrolled laughing fit at the expense of Sparky just about 10 minutes before I noticed movement behind the bait barrel, then the black bear circled around front.  We watched this bear for about ten minutes trying to decide if it was a shooter or not and once coming to the conclusion that I should just take the shot.  It was over.   Or was it?  My bear moved across the road and we weren’t sure it wasn’t a second bear, so now we had to run over there ever so cautiously and check it out.   Took one more shot to seal the deal and I had my first black bear.

Why at this age was this my first black bear?  Well, My Grandpa said he’d never shoot another bear after he got his, my Dad said he’d never shoot another bear after he got his and my son shot his fall bear with his bow and when I went to process it, I told him that he would never shoot another bear.  Gaross!!  KaKaMeMe!  Yuck.  Then while I was in Africa some guys from Louisiana told me that I needed to give bear a chance!  So I became determined to make bear edible and good.  And I did too!

I came home with some of Kirstie’s bear for sausage (pending) most of Judy’s bear and all of mine.  I took the hind quarters of my bear and Judy’s and turned them in to ham.  And it turned out fantastic.  The shanks will be used for Osso Bucco and the back straps I am going to use Hank Shaw’s recipe for bear stew.  The fat is in the freezer waiting to be rendered for waterproofing leather boots, making pie dough and possibly a few bear fat candles for the Bad News Bear Hunters.  But for now, here is what I did with the hind quarters.

 

Smoked Black Bear Ham

Clean your hindquarters up and remove all the fat that you can.  Then either purchase a net for your hams or roast or wrap it with string (I stringed it)  Mix your brine up in a 5 gallon Rubbermaid container and put the hams in making sure they are covered completely by the liquid.  Inject the brine also into the hind quarters to the bone and make sure you inject and turn each hind quarter daily for 7 days. 

After 7 days get your smoker ready and use some good wood for smoke.  I didn’t add cherry wood until the last two hours and it worked nicely  (for a smoker I used a pit barrel and absolutely loved the ease of hanging the meat and the convection of the barrel smoked the hams beautifully)  Take your hind quarters out of the brine and pat them dry with paper towels and allow to drain for about 15 minutes or so.  Hook them and hang them and smoke for approximately 4-5 hours or until the internal temp gets to 180.  Pull your hams out and let them set for about half an hour before sampling.  Then use just like you would any other ham.  I have had it with cheese on a cracker, Ham sandwiches with Miracle Whip……Yes, I said it!  Miracle Whip!  And made an awesome batch of ham and beans which gave me so many other ideas of what to do with a bear ham.  Here is my Brine recipe….Now, go use that bear!  It is good!

Brine

– 1 to 2 gallons ice cold water
– 2 tablespoons of #1 Insta Cure

– 2 cups coarse salt
– 2 cups brown sugar

-20 cloves of garlic

– 2 cups maple syrup
– ½ cup pickling spices
– 2  10-pound bone-in bear hind quarters