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!

Safari Tips!

Here’s a round of some safari tips from Prois Staffer & Texas State Co-Coordinator, Stephanie Wottrich!

Tip 1

Get a good import person. I prefer Lynette Lilley with Wells Worldwide Logistics. We have used several over the years, but she has proven to be the best. They will walk your items through customs, accept your items from freight, etc.. .makes your life a whole lot easier.

 

Tip 2

Have an idea of how you want your animals mounted. You don’t have to be specific, but if there is a chance you want a wall pedestal, or full body, skin it as such. Your taxidermist can always trim excess, but if it’s too short… you’re outta luck. If you want anything as a skull mount (example, I shot a Lichtenstein Hartebeest, I did a full flat skin rug and a european mount.) BE SURE TO TELL THEM YOU WANT A EUROPEAN MOUNT. Often the prep teams over there will saw the skullplate off to make shipping easier and cheaper for you.

 

Tip 3

Have your taxidermist make you plastic coated tags for all parts of every trophy.The info on the tags should be your name, the tannery name/address and taxidermist name/address.Take WAY more than you think you need, you will want one on EVERY piece of EVERY animal you take, and you will take more than you plan on. Example, Kudu, you want to do a shoulder mount and pillows from back hide… you will need minimum of 3 tags for that one animal.

 

Tip 4

RESEARCH RESEARCH RESEARCH. SOme countries lure you in with low daily fees – but trophy fees are high… hunt animals in their indigenous lands, you will have better adventure and pay less. South AFrica, while great, is 90% high fence. Know that you will be hunting high fence before going in, so not disappointed if that is not your cup-o-tea.

 

Tip 5

A lot of my information has to do with MONEY. Which is a big factor on safari. Plan in advance that you will need to pay dip/pack and crating and freight. If in South Africa, the very best is Swift Dip, they have the best prices and excellent quality/turnaround. I have verified with my taxidermist here as well. Many outfitters have “deals” with dip/pack, but if you know in advance, you can make sure yours are picked up by who you want them to be. This can literally make 40-60% difference in cost! Do your taxidermy here. TRUST ME. It is NOT worth it to do it there and ship it. Maybe it will be a little less money, but the quality is not as good, you don’t have as many choices, and you have to decide how you want it mounted while there.

Tip 6

Join Safari Club INternational, get involved with a local chapter (they are in just about every state/region). Not only will you gain knowledge from those who have been there, you can get a good deal on a hunt at the annual fundraisers for the chapters, then you can add more animals, making your budget go a lot further. Plus, you can meet the outfitters and make sure you get along well before you go spend a week with them

An African safari is a dream for a lot of hunters, with the upmost preparation on the forefront and knowledge you can have a successful and safe trip with memories that will last a lifetime!

 

Shooting Tips!

Here’s a round of GREAT tips from Prois Staffer, Tarra Stoddard!

STANCE:

 We worked on our comfortable STANCE (at home). Closing our eyes with an unloaded firearm & swiveling (from waist up) our firearm and stopping when comfortable in stance on our hung target. Adjusting our eyes open to bulls eye when needed. Repeat this exercise thus building our Muscle memory Sight Alignment GRIP: We worked (at home) on being able to pick up & GRIP our handguns in a ready to fire any time we pick up our firearm. A proper & consistent grip is essential to accurate shooting. Together grip & position are the foundations that allow proper execution of the shooting fundamentals.

DOMINANT EYE:

Some people aim with their non-dominant eye. For some they don’t have a dominant eye. I suggest just aiming with whichever eye is most comfortable and gives clear sight. If your dominant eye is opposite our dominant firing hand turn your head to aim with dominant eye.

SIGHT ALIGNMENT:

Lining up the (dots) sights together to form a perfect fit. That’s the easy part. Now it’s keeping the sight alignment steady until you can get your sight picture that’s the tricky part! Close your left eye and hold the gun up so you can see 3 dots. What you’re going to want to do is line up those 3 dots so that the dot on the front site is in between the 2 dots on rear sights. Try to make the space between the 3 dots as even as possible. Ideally, all the dots should be perfectly in line and kept in line as you smoothly pull the trigger. Practice keeping your sight alignment steady (with your unloaded firearm, target on the wall) while dry firing.

SIGHT PICTURE:

With your sight alignments steady, focus on the front site. You should ideally place the front site slightly on top of what you are aiming at on your target. This will cause your target to be blurry or unfocused. You should be aiming center of mass (point of aim, point of impact). The aligned sights are placed in the middle of the aiming area. Practice keeping sight alignment steady and the front site on your point of aim while you steadily dry fire. (With your un-loaded firearm & target on the wall)

BREATH CONTROL:

To breathe or not to breathe, that is the question. Proper breathe control allows the shooter to remain steady to prevent body movement. Believe it or breathing has a HUGE impact on your marksmanship. Learning breath control techniques can insure the ability to take a reliable consistent and accurate shoot each time. Become aware of your natural breathing habits and any changes that occur to those patterns when you are shooting. I believe breathing is a very individualistic and personal decision. It seems there are four techniques to choose from. 1. Take a few breaths to relax, clear your thoughts, & focus on the aiming fundamentals; inhale, then pause your breathing while your lungs are FULL of oxygen and take the shot. 2. Take a few breaths to relax, clear your thoughts, & focus on aiming fundamentals; fully exhale, then pause your breathing, when your lungs are EMPTY of most of your oxygen, take the shot. 3. Take a few breaths to relax, clear your thoughts, & focus on fundamentals; exhale partially (about 50% of air) then pause when lungs are HALF full/half empty, take the shot. 4. Do not pause or hold your breath at all, breath NORMALLY, clear your thoughts, focus on fundamentals; take your shot while breathing. While practicing advanced fundamentals (with a unloaded firearm) after sighting, find your breathing pattern while shooting. Test these techniques and apply the one that best suits you! Happy Practicing!

TRIGGER CONTROL:

Trigger control does NOT mean a slow squeeze but a smooth (like pulling your finger through peanut butter) trigger pull. Smooth is steady & steady is smooth. Center the first pad of your trigger finger on the trigger while maintaining optimum sight picture until the hammer falls & the firing process is completed. Dry firing (with a cleared firearm) is the key to acquiring this skill. Trigger control does not mean a slow squeeze to the rear; it means smooth continuous pressure to the rear UNTIL the break point is reached.

TRIGGER PULL:

Smooth is steady & steady is fast! The trigger finger must pull trigger to the rear so the hammer falls WITH little disturbance to the aiming process. (Imagine pulling your finger tip through peanut butter). Novice shooters can take up to five seconds to perform an adequate trigger squeeze, but as your skills improve, you will be able to squeeze the trigger in a second or less. The proper trigger squeeze should start with slight pressure on the trigger during the initial aiming process. Then you apply more pressure after the front sight post is steady on the target & you have applied your breathe control. You should hold the trigger to the rear for one second after the trigger is pulled. This insures a steady position with reduces the disturbance of the pistol during trigger squeeze.