November 03, 2010
By Ron Peach
Sporty fowl lure early-season hunters to Kansas.
By Ron Peach
Darkness had swallowed nearly the entire sky, just a dim fading light remained over the western hills. A few minutes later, as I was eating a cold deer steak sandwich, a bright orange glow appeared to the east over the Kansas Flint Hills. My first thought was a prairie fire in a pasture, but within a couple of minutes, a large sphere peeked over the hills. The valley was illuminated by the bright September full moon, the air quiet except for an occasional whisper of wings as ducks headed to roost on a nearby marsh.
I was in northeastern Kansas for a few days of teal hunting. If I discovered the cool weather of the previous week hadn't pushed the doves south, I had planned on afternoon hunts for them, too.
First Hunt of the Season
I pulled into the parking area at a public marsh two hours before sunset. With a temperature in the mid-70s, I quickly put on lightweight camouflage clothes, grabbed a bag of decoys, my shotgun, a bucket, bug spray and my backpack.
The report from the area's waterfowl biologist wasn't promising, but I was ready to open my waterfowl season. I had plenty of time during the next few days to set decoys, enjoy sunrises and put a few teal in the cooler.
After putting a dozen teal decoys along with a couple of pintails for added visibility in a small opening of the flooded vegetation, I settled into the switchgrass along the dike. A few teal were moving, but they dropped into a spot 200 yards away.
With the sun dipping toward the horizon, I decided to make something happen. I headed for the area where the teal had been settling in. While wading through the grass and weeds, I saw a narrow open-water channel. When another pair of greenwings dropped in, I knew just where to go. As I poked through to the opening, surprised birds jumped in all directions. Two shots from my pump gun interrupted the stillness, and my first two ducks of the new season lay on the murky water.
My shots brought life to the marsh. Blue- and green-winged teal were on the move, and startled rails were whistling and chirping throughout the wetland.
Laying the pair of greenwings by my bucket, I sat down and made a few quacks on my teal call. Teal hunting, especially on small waters, requires few decoys and minimal equipment. Although a mallard call and mallard decoys will suffice, a blue-winged teal call and teal decoys can bring added results. The high-pitched quacks of a teal call seem to turn some birds toward the setup when they ignore a mallard call. It's also more satisfying to see a flock of teal dropping into a spread of teal decoys.
Soon, a large flock of bluewings buzzed my decoys, and a blast from my pump left one with its feet reaching toward the sky. After picking it up, I was wading back to the dike when a single came in. After two shots, my limit was completed -- a pair of bluewings to go along with the two greenwings.
After the shooting had started, it had been a fast-paced hunt. I was sweating in the late-summer air, but feeling good as I picked up my decoys and prepared to head back to my pickup. As the sun was setting, I noticed teal dropping into another opening. After a quick check, I decided to try that spot for the following morning's hunt.
Hunting for teal requires minimal decoys and gear, especially on small bodies of water. For added realism, use teal decoys and a teal call to pull the small ducks within range.
A Morning Event
With the full moon trailing away to the western horizon, I set my decoys under the bright starry sky to begin my second hunt. High-pitched quacks and peeps of teal were scattered around me in the marsh. I had finished setting decoys with 20 minutes to spare before shooting time, so I sat back to listen to the marsh wake around me. Besides teal, I could hear the whistles of pintails, the squeals of wood ducks, and a couple of mallard quacks.
Soon I was able to see the shadowy silhouettes of ducks as they flew past, but none attempted to drop into my hole. Shooting time came and went, and just as the afternoon before, I watched the darting teal drop into another area 100 yards away. As the sun edged over the eastern hills, I walked over to check that spot. Bluewings and greenwings, as well as some shovelers, erupted. It was the spot, because some of them returned before I was halfway back to my setup.
I quickly picked up my decoys, moved to my newfound area, set out eight teal decoys and found a hiding place in the prairie grass. Before I was settled, a bluewing dropped in.
My shot pattern found it. As I was wading in the knee-deep water to retrieve my first duck of the day, a greenwing made a pass over the decoys. I added it to my take.
Sitting back on my bucket, it was only 10 minutes before a pair of greenwings tried to settle in. My first shot dropped one, but my second shot was well behind the target. A hurried third shot clipped a wing. After a short chase, I held the last of my day's limit in my hand.
I hadn't seen a lot of teal, but there were enough to make a good hunt after I moved my setup. Several doves had flown through, so I planned to spend the rest of the morning and afternoon scouting the rest of the marsh and searching for possible dove hot spots.
My walk around the second pool turned up nothing because water pumping to it had just begun, so it was dry except for the side channels. My afternoon scouting for doves was much more fruitful. I found quite a few along a hillside with scattered locust trees and a couple of short tree rows. Cut and uncut fields on the public lands provided food that helped to keep the doves in the area.
It was late afternoon when I got back to my pickup, so I decided to wait until the next day to hunt doves, following another early morning on the teal waters. I got my cook stove and skillet out, filleted four teal breasts, sliced a yellow squash and cooked a tasty supper under the deep-blue sky to end my day.
Small-Bird Combo Hunt
The following morning, another pair of hunters arrived at the parking lot. I asked where they planned to hunt. They were going to try the southeast corner where I'd hunted the previous day, so I decided on the west side where I had hunted the first afternoon.
The cool air was alive with the sounds of the
marsh. Only a hint of a light glow was showing over the hills to the east when I finished setting decoys, so I settled back once again to listen. Occasionally, I heard air ripping across wings as teal rocketed past. A few singles dropped into my decoys as the eastern horizon brightened, but restlessness soon carried them away.
A couple of minutes into shooting time, a pair of greenwings made a quick drop toward the mirror-like water. Two loads of No. 6 steel started my day with two birds for the game strap. Plenty of shots across the marsh kept the birds moving. I closed out my morning with a couple of singles on bluewings. Quite a few doves flew across the marsh as they headed for the fields, so I had high hopes for a few doves.
After I cleaned my teal and put them in the cooler, I grabbed my brown vest, binoculars and a bottle of water. I filled a pocket with light loads and headed out in search of doves.
The wind was picking up as the sun climbed higher, and it didn't take long before I flushed a pair of doves sitting in a small locust tree. My first shot pulled one of them into the knee-high grass, so I kept my eye on that spot, letting the other escape. I continued walking the hillside, shooting at flushing doves and others that were trading through the area. After taking more shots than I had planned, I was down to one shell in my gun with five birds in my vest before I had gone half a mile. As I headed back to my pickup to get more shells, I collected another dove. Because the temperature was warming quickly, I decided to clean the birds and get them into ice water.
With the doves cleaned and in the cooler, I fixed a sandwich before heading back out to find more of the gray-and-brown rockets. The wind was blowing across the prairie hills and the sun was beating down, so I figured the best places would be the roosting trees and loafing areas during the mid-day hours.
I found scattered singles, pairs and small groups, adding one here and another there to my vest pouch until I neared the end of the hillside and a tree row. The trees were alive with the doves I had been pushing that way. Already skittish, most flew before I was in range.
As I rounded the hillside, I saw more trees spotted throughout the grass-covered hill, as well as a couple of tree rows along the bottomland fields. A shot at a hard-flying dove brought the sky to life with birds. Over the next few minutes, more than 250 doves came streaming past or cutting over the hill. I continued to add doves to my vest, and pushed others faster with misses that echoed across the valley.
Nearing my 15-dove limit, I turned around to make the mile-plus hike back to my pickup.
Adding one more bird on the return trip, I ended up with 14 doves. I could have gone back to try to complete my limit, but I was satisfied with the way my day had played out.
As I was preparing another batch of filleted teal breasts for the skillet, I saw a couple of pickups pulling into the marsh parking lot. With the added pressure of the shots I heard, on such a small marsh, I knew it might push some of the teal off of the small water.
Warming temperatures throughout the week weren't bringing in any new birds either, but I already had three good days, so I considered the following morning as a bonus day.
The following morning, I was greeted by a star-filled sky with a bright moon still in the west. Mine was the only pickup in the parking lot that morning, and I chose the southeast corner of the marsh for my dozen teal decoys.
I could hear the calls and cries of rails throughout the marsh, but whistles of pintails and wigeon were noticeably absent. Only a few peeps and high-pitched quacks of teal sounded across the marsh, but it was a great morning to be out. I still had high hopes.
I saw only a few teal leaving the marsh early that morning, and shortly after shooting time, a pair of bluewings came blazing just over the top of the flooded vegetation. I knew their speed, if I shot, would carry them behind me across the ditch and into shoulder-high grass and weeds, so I let them pass.
After two hours, I finished my morning with two greenwings. I was satisfied. Doves had been moving around, and I was sure I could have had a good dove hunt, but I was ready to call it a day. I had spent four days in the Kansas Flint Hills, enjoying the teal and dove hunting, as well as the camping and scenery available on the well-managed public lands.
September in Kansas can bring superb early teal hunting, with an added bonus of doves. A few calls and a little planning is all it takes.
Ron Peach is an opportunistic waterfowler from Kansas City, Mo.
If You GoAlthough Kansas lands are 97 percent privately owned, many excellent public hunting areas can be found throughout the state.
The Flint Hills, in the northeastern portion of Kansas contains Milford Lake with 19,000 acres of public hunting; Perry Lake, 10,600 acres; Council Grove Lake, 2,640 acres; Tuttle Creek, 12,200 acres; Jeffrey Energy Center, 11,000-plus acres, as well as other public hunting areas. Kansas Wildlife and Parks Department manages all of the properties. Teal and dove hunting can be found on all of them.
For more information about these and other public hunting areas in Kansas, call the state office in Pratt at (620) 672-5911 or visit www.kdwp.state.ks.us.