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Early Season Teal Hunting Tips

Rice rockets bring duck season in with a roar...are you ready?

Early Season Teal Hunting Tips

Here’s what you need to know to kick-off your season on September teal. ((Photo By: Gary Kramer)

They’re small enough your spinning wing dove decoys can work on them, and whether you call them rockets, water doves, peepers, or one of the myriad other nicknames given to someone of our smallest species of waterfowl, teal are almost universally beloved and sought after. If you didn’t already know, teal come in three different shapes and colors in North America, including the green-winged, blue-winged, and cinnamon varieties. While many may consider them bonus ducks on a hunt, (and I was once told while hunting a duck club in California that cinnamon teal were trash ducks), they are far from just extras.

Hunting for teal can be done in multiple fashions, and in some states, during the early special season that was created to allow hunters opportunity before the masses of blue-wings migrate to warmer climates for the winter. If you haven’t done it yet, hunting teal gives you a chance to hone your lead, say a few cuss words when you miss, and barbecue some of the finest duck meat on the planet. I can almost smell the bacon wrapper teal poppers just thinking about it.

Personally, teal have always been some of my favorite species to hunt. Having hunted them quite literally from the farthest reaches both north to south and east to west in North America, regardless of where it was we chased them, their habits, and the tactics we used remained almost the same. Simply put, hunt where they want to be, keep your head on a swivel, and add a little extra to your lead. Nothing is more humbling than draining your gun and watching the shot hit 4 feet behind them, but hey, if we can’t laugh at ourselves, who can we laugh at

american and aleutian green-winged teal drakes
A mix of American and Aleutian green-winged zingers from the author's Alaskan hunt. (Photo By: David Rearick)


Where and When to Hunt Teal

For early-season action and to help knock off the rust after a long summer vacation, both northern and southern states offer the opportunity to chase teal in September, as blue-wings are early migrants. Blue-winged teal migrate the farthest south, thus they start their migration the earliest, as the mass majority of the five-million plus winter in South America. While early season hunts can serve up hot-barrelled action, the regular season in Arkansas is great for green-wings. Blue-wings and green-wings can be had in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas, and cinnamon teal are best found in California, though they are taken in Utah and Arizona as well. And, of course, if you want the trifecta during one trip, Ol’ Mexico is your huckleberry.

As you could expect, northern states open the earliest in September with southern states following suit about mid to late September. Obviously, these dates were chosen to allow hunters the opportunity at the early blue-wing migrants and the season openers generally follow this migration from north to south accordingly. The only bad news about the September season is the ducks are all dirty and brown, and deciphering between hens and drakes is tough. So, if you are looking for a prime mounting specimen, the best dates are in January, and while I would never say you can’t kill a pretty blue-wing in December in Pennsylvania, I watched that happen one year, your best bet to add a mounter to your collection would be a hunt in one of the previously mentioned southern states. I have personally enjoyed hunting them in Florida, Arkansas, and Texas immensely, and it was a good break from hunting in clothes like Randy from The Christmas Story in Pennsylvania to instead hunting in short-sleeves.

yellow labrador retriever with a blue-winged teal drake in mouth
When bringing your retriever on an early season teal hunt, it's especially important to keep them cool during the sweltering September heat. (Photo courtesy of Dive Bomb Industries)

How to Hunt Teal

Hunting for teal requires slightly different approaches than hunting those dastardly greenheads. We will focus on green and blue-winged varieties only because cinnamon teal are a different ballgame. While both species will decoy into a spread of mixed big ducks, if you want to target them specifically, there are ways to up your game.

For early-season blue-wings, the owner of Dive Bomb Decoys Cody Stokes has a specific game plan for hunting them in his home state of Missouri. Cody hunts mostly moist-soil tracks in September that have been flooded to about 25% capacity to create mud flats and shallow water. Blue-wings love these shallow, muddy water areas to feed in, as their diet is mixed, consisting of everything from small crustaceans to smart weed. As with most hunting seasons, Stokes finds opening day to be absolutely banging, and then a slow taper as teal are fairly pressure-sensitive and choose to simply move on when the guns start going off. To hunt teal during the September season, Stokes states, “I run about two dozen teal decoys, and no spinners.” While decoys are certainly important, Stokes believes that the location of said decoys is the key component.

“If you are 30 yards off where they want to land, they will simply ignore the decoys and land where they want to be,” he says. Stokes can’t say for certain why the teal like particular spots, because the feed is spread out and the water depth is the same as other location on the same body of water, however he knows that setting up where they want to be will make or break the hunt. “Scouting is important to find these spots,” states Stokes.

three labrador retrievers on UTV with blue-winged teal
Like other waterfowl species, scouting is one of the most important parts of putting together a successful teal hunt. (Photo courtesy of Dive Bomb Industries)

Another interesting aspect that Stokes points out: “My hide isn’t as important as it is for a more vertically decoying duck like a mallard, and even a makeshift blind made out of limbs stuck in the mud will do.” Teal are notoriously low-flyers, that often like to buzz the tower, A.K.A. your head, like Maverik in Top Gun. With that said, you simply need to create a hide that breaks up your outline and not get overly obsessive-compulsive about covering up every nook and cranny. Since teal tend to go from 0 to 60 and back to 60 rather than feathering the brakes and checking things out when approaching, teal don’t get as good of a look at their surroundings, allowing hunters to focus less on the hide and more on the location of it.  

Stokes also emphatically stated that, “Hunting a dog during September can take its toll, so pay careful attention to your retriever. It is hot out, there are a lot of snakes, and millet is headed-out. The millet seeds can get into a dog’s eyes and really mess them up.” While it easy to get caught up in the fast action, always make sure to pay special attention to your favorite retriever. After all, you trained all summer for the season, so don’t let one hot day in September bring that into jeopardy.

duck hunter in swamp holding duck decoy
Early season teal are often found in smaller waters including swamps, marshes, and flooded fields. (Photo courtesy of Derick Bendell)

On the flip side of the early season, owner of Hellbender Duck Boats Derek Bendell hunts both green and blue-winged teal during the late season in his home state of Florida. Like Stokes, Bendell targets teal in shallow water mud flats and marshes in areas where they are, not just where they should be. “I like to hunt small pockets of water, but you always have to be ready for a snap shot because they are in and out so fast.” Using a different approach regarding decoys, Bendell has switched over to a spread consisting mostly of coots and like Stokes, he doesn’t use a spinner. “Teal tend to mix right in with coots, so I will run a larger rig of coots with some other species mixed in and a jerk cord to keep the decoys moving,” stated Bendell. By mimicking what the teal are comfortable with in the areas that teal are frequenting, Bendell has increased his success. This allows him to target teal, producing many prime late-season specimens for his friends and guests.

With a combined species population of 10 million, hunting teal isn’t difficult, provided you hunt them in the right locales. During the early season, focus on finding shallow-water mud flats with ample mixed food sources that the blue-wings covet. Once you find the water they want, scout it out and figure out where they want to be and you will be in the money opening morning. If the early season isn’t your thing or you don’t have one in your home state, don’t be afraid to head south in December/January to chase them in warmer climates. Finding them requires the same ideas as the early season: Look for shallow water and small pockets, and hunting them requires only a small spread in the right location. Add in some basic calling to gain their attention and get ready for some of the best fast-food on the planet. Teal may be small in stature, but they can also be big fun.  

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