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!