Nothing signals the beginning of the greatest time of year better than the sound of gun shots coming from the sloughs and shallows around East Texas during the early teal season.
It’s like a starter’s pistol that signals the beginning of the hunting races for the year. Teal season coincides with dove season in early September. It’s the first taste of hunting for waterfowler’s across Texas.
Teal are among the smallest of the dabbling ducks. Basically dabbling means they feed in very shallow waters, mainly on sedge and pondweed along with duckweed. They also eat a lot of crawfish and aquatic insects.
So if you want to target early season teal, you will need to hit the shallow shorelines and muddy sloughs. This also means you better buy stock in a mosquito repellent company. Waking up four hours before daybreak in September to battle 70-plus degree temperatures and mosquitoes the size of a small single engine aircraft are the norm for teal hunting in Texas.
Teal are small and fast. To me, they are some of the prettiest little ducks around. If you can find a good spot to set up, you can almost be assured some great exciting early season action.
The full moon will cause ducks to feed longer at night. So, be as silent as you can as you make your way into your blind. You may have several ducks already on your spot. If so, just wait for daylight, so you can catch them as they fly off your spot.
I generally like to set up on a shallow, marshy slough off the Sabine River. These sloughs afford a great environment for all the things teal like to feed on.
They provide an unending supply of insects and crustaceans but also it lends to an excellent place for the plant life such as duckweed to grow. I like a spot only a few inches deep to maybe a foot or so, if I can find it with lots of grass growing in it.
I then like to set out a small spread of blue and green-wing decoys mixed with a few wood ducks as well. I prefer to use only 8 or 10 decoys.
Ducks are not so spooky in early season and come in just fine. I also like to use anchors on my decoys along with some elastic bands you can buy at any sewing department. I tie about a foot of it between my anchors and my decoys, then tie a length of heavy mono line to my blind. This helps with the action of the decoys. When I pull on them, they have a more subtle and natural action and reaction from the elastic bands’ cushioning effect.
Calling teal is an altogether different game from what you might think. I know lots of guys who simply give their best mallard call to draw attention to their decoys and bring birds in for a closer look.
I have found over the years that learning the calls of the green- and blue-winged teal is about as important as shooting the right choke or gauge. The calls are as different from one another as a wood duck is to a mallard. The green-wing has a short peep-whistle-type call whereas the blue-wing has a raspy squeal.
After opening weekend, both calls, once mastered, can draw in birds that have been educated by the sky buster club. Practice is key. I like to sit in my living room and practice.
Warning! This is not popular with the wife so I wait for her to be out with the ladies for a day.
Many videos and audio tracks can be found on the net. I love to pull them up and play them, then pause them and imitate what I am hearing. I often record myself and play it back just to see how I sounded.
I know this seems a bit excessive, but when you have a couple of thousand invested in a boat and another couple of thousand invested in gear, it really sucks to spend too many days on the water bringing home an empty bag.
Teal are hard wired for migration, and the weather plays less of a factor than in other species. They head for their winter-feeding grounds at about the same time every year regardless of the weather conditions up north.
That being said, a good, hard, cold front in the northland is welcome to push these little beauties our way a bit faster. The great thing about weather and teal hunting is it serves to aid the hunter in his comfort more so than in teal migration.
Knowing wind direction is the key to setting-up your spread. I have seen many hunters set up dozens of decoys only to sit all morning with the wind blowing wrong while they listen to everyone else blasting away.
Knowing whether you will need that slicker or poncho could mean the difference between a miserable day or a great day. Not much is worse than being wet and cold.
You might not think cold is a problem in East Texas in September, but try being soaked at 7 a.m. and see how cold you get, especially on the long boat ride back to the boat ramp. The weather can be used as effectively as a call or a decoy in your teal-hunting arsenal.
I guess the last thing that has helped me with my early season teal hunting, is to get to know others and make buddies who like to hunt early season. I first went teal hunting back in the late 80s with a guy named Mikah Griffith, and I was hooked for sure.
In the years since, I have hunted with many friends who never minded showing me a few things they had learned along the way. The biggest key to hunting teal, or anything for that matter is—you can’t do it sitting on the couch.
It isn’t as expensive as people lead you to believe. A flat-bottom boat or even a kayak, a shotgun, along with a few calls and decoys. A guy can literally get into teal hunting for a few hundred dollars. Most everyone already has a shotgun in 20 gauge or larger and even a fishing boat, so you’re already halfway there.
Check out some teal hunting videos on the net. See whether your blood starts pumping, and your mouth starts watering for some hunting action—early September action—which gets you in the field that much earlier.
Get off the couch and on the water this September. If you can’t find a hunting buddy, just look me up on social media. I am sure we can find time to give it a try.
—story by Jeff Stewart