Kenneth Kieser: ‘Slow’ teal can still be a challenging hunt
Reports around the country claim that 2020 duck numbers will be better this year, perhaps a reckless estimation considering all waterfowl surveys were canceled this year, mainly because of our recent pandemic.
Waterfowl harvest limits have changed very little, making this a possible mistake. The result will be apparent in the 2021 duck count.
Teal season will open this month in both Missouri (Sept. 12-27) and Kansas (Low Plains, Sept. 12-27; High Plains, Sept. 19-27). Limits are the same for both states, six daily and 18 in possession.
Blue wing teal first return to the Midwest in clouds. This small, agile duck flies at speeds slower than most hunters think, making many over-lead and miss. Teal only have a top speed of 30 mph. They’re the slowest ducks but seem faster because of how they dart over and skim cover. Many hunters call them fast movers, an ironic nickname. Most ducks fly between 40-55 mph while top speed for a canvasback is 70 mph.
Teal, like most waterfowl, sometimes have trouble making up their minds where they want to go. A key to teal hunting is scouting a spot where they are, and set up there the following morning or evening. They might not be there soon, but they may show up later.
While it is never a certainty, ducks or geese may visit a pleasant spot from the day before. They may not know their destination, but you can help them decide with good calling and decoy sets.
“I like to use smaller sets of one or two dozen teal decoys,” said Danny Guyer, veteran waterfowl guide. “But six will sometimes work as well. Teal love to find smaller pools close to whatever they are feeding on. This may include row crops or some type of millet planted in the pool. But a small number of decoys will pull in birds.”
Teal whistles are effective. Experts use whistles to get a passing flock’s attention. A whistle can be assurance to wary ducks that have been shot at. Limited whistling is more effective; sometimes a couple of toots is enough.
An important key to early season teal hunting is bringing a jacket, mosquito repellant and ice to cool your drinks and sandwiches. In other words, be prepared for weather changes. Chances are most of your hunts will be in short sleeves. Shoot light loads – most prefer 6 shot in the steel – and use modified or improved choke barrels. Teal are small ducks. A well-placed pellet will easily bring one down.
A couple of years ago I joined Guyer and his prized Labrador retriever, Blackwater Willie. The morning passed and Blackwater continued to get bored. She would occasionally roll her eyes and groan, and I started feeling the same way. Warm sunlight induced another round of sleep while we revisited current events. I think the subject was football when that treasured sound made us look toward the sun. Our faces quickly dropped to avoid being seen by duck eyes.
The blinding sunlight made it difficult to see, but the morning glare could not hide all of the tremendous flock that was about to drop into our pool. The unmistakable sound of about 50 teal flashed around the blind’s perimeter. Their wings whistled as they made a first pass, then a second.
I closed my eyes and listened to that addictive whistling sound made when air passes through flapping duck wings. They made a third pass before deciding that our spot was the place to be. Blackwater moaned. She heard the wings too.
Our eyes cleared from looking into the sun in time to see the first ducks touching down. I have always marveled at how ducks or geese almost never run into each other when flaring from danger.
We stood up. The sudden sight of two humans brought on a controlled panic. The big flock took off at once as the sun reflected a golden hue from water dripping off wings and feet. The beautiful blue wing teal scattered in different directions. We shot and four teal remained in our pool while the flock quickly disappeared.
We sat back and watched the sky that was now empty. That afternoon dark clouds rolled in and the action heated up. Small groups of teal decided that bad weather was moving in and they needed a place to set down. I picked out a pair and squeezed my trigger, dropping both.
The limit was six each, but we decided to stop. Teal breasts wrapped with bacon and jalapeno peppers are filling and darn good. We each had enough for one meal.
Make sure you have your required waterfowl stamps and permits before hunting. Whether you waterfowl hunt or not, please purchase a Federal Duck Stamp. This money goes to waterfowl research and wetland restoration and maintenance.
Teal season is an exciting challenge. Try it and whet your appetite for a good meal and the main November migration.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.