As a swollen sun peeked over the horizon, a familiar whistle tickled my eardrums. Seconds later, a flock of blue-winged teal buzzed our boat at breakneck speed. It was a sight my hunting partner and I had seen hundreds of times, but this one caught us by surprise.
The shock came not from the birds’ incredible swiftness or daredevil navigation, but from the fact, we were on Lake Guri, in a remote corner of the Venezuelan rainforest. Six weeks earlier, we had hunted these birds on the upper Texas coast and now they were among parrots, howler monkeys and anacondas in South America.
Bluewings migrate in September, giving hunters an early crack at waterfowl hunting action. The season follows their southward movement, which can be intense. At the first hint of a cold front, bluewings quickly exit our borders and head toward the tropics.
Fortunately, Texas hunters have plenty of opportunities to hunt them on public land while they are here. The key to success is learning what makes these pint-sized ducks tick and applying that knowledge to scouting their habitat.
The most important factor in having a successful teal hunt is finding an area with the right water supply. Dry marshes and fields send teal south quickly, while too much water spreads them out so much that hunters have a difficult time luring them into shotgun range.
Back in 1998, the Texas coast experienced a brutal summer-long drought. Two days before teal season opened, Tropical Storm Frances hit, dumping water everywhere on the coast. Instead of shooting in marshes, hunters were shooting teal out of flooded cattle pastures where the birds had easier feeding on floating seed.
Since hunters cannot control the rain, how should they prepare for early teal season?
The key is scouting.
Teal are dabbling ducks and tend to prefer shallow mud flats and grass beds in marshes where they eat milfoil, seeds of pond weeds and tiny mollusks. High water can cover areas that would normally be productive, but knowing the topography of the land and locating higher ground that might hold only a few inches of water can yield results.
In the Lower Neches Wildlife Management Area near Bridge City, I used to go to an island that has a shallow pond in the middle of it. Tropical storm-level tides make it about six inches deep, and a magnet for teal during periods of high and low water. It seems to be better during high tides because the birds can see the vegetation more easily than in the foot-deep water around it.
With resources available on the Internet, scouting is no longer confined to physically exploring hunting areas. Google Earth for example is an amazing scouting tool.
Teal are small and offer a challenging target, but they are easy to hunt during the September season. They are creatures of habit, so you can generally count on them to feed both early and late.
The first thing to consider is setting up a blind. In the case of teal, this does not require a lot of effort. Teal are certainly not blind-shy during the early season, so hunting out of a boat draped in camouflage netting or covered by Roseau cane is more than adequate. Or you can simply wear plenty of camouflage and sit still.
For years, hunters brought dozens of decoys for the early season, but that is becoming outdated. A dozen decoys of any kind of duck set out in the marsh will give these sociable birds an inviting place to land and you a place to shoot.
I usually bring only half a dozen teal decoys, a few shoveler imitations and a “robo duck,” and have no problem scoring limits of teal.
Calling teal is rather simple, although many hunters on public lands tend to overdo it. Simple teal whistles sounded a few times at the sight of birds is enough to lure them. Too much calling spooks them. I have been in areas where hunters a few ponds away called too much and pushed birds right to me.
Part of a successful hunt on public land is using the mistakes of other hunters to your advantage. It seems there is always someone who calls too much, shoots when the birds are too high or arrives in the field late and pushes birds to you. This may be frustrating, but if you keep your cool, you should get a shot at some of “their” birds.
When you do get a shot, make sure not to use a heavy load, which can destroy the meat in their tiny breasts. I use number six, but sevens will work as well. Improved cylinder or modified chokes work great for teal, especially in close quarters.
Making a paper-cutting sound as they move, teal seem to come out of nowhere. Once a small flock buzzed right over me and landed less than 10 feet from my blind. The encounter excited me so much, I never thought to shoot until my partner’s hyperactive dog alerted them and sent them packing.
Some hunters might consider that a failure, but I consider it the ultimate success. The day I quit being in awe of nature is the day I put away my decoys for good. With their super-fast flight and rapid migration, blue-winged teal remind us that good things come and go quickly, but their memory stays with us forever.
Story by Chester Moore