THE SEPTEMBER TEAL SEASON follows early southward movement, which can be intense. At the first hint of a cold front, bluewings quickly start moving toward the tropics.
Back in 1998, the Texas coast experienced a brutal summer-long drought. Two days before the 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 more comfortable feeding on floating seed.
How about Hurricane Harvey for a teal season spoiler? That ruined it for pretty much the entire Upper and Middle Coasts. This has been a wet year in much of Texas, typical teal hunting range, but at the time of this writing some areas were drying up.
Anything could happen weather-wise by the time this article hits, but generally speaking we expect substantial hunting opportunities and once again have a six teal limit
So, how should a hunter prepare to hit the field, especially in the overcrowded arena of public land? Let’s face it, on private hunts whether they are with an outfitter or on a well-managed lease, the situation is much easier than on public land.
We thought we would share some tips to help you score if you have to venture among the sea of hunters on public ground.
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 pondweeds and tiny mollusks. High water can cover areas that would generally be productive. However, knowing the topography of the land and locating higher ground that might hold only a few inches of water can yield results.
This means scouting the evening (or morning) before a hunt and knowing exactly where birds are. When they have plenty of options, this is especially important because teal move quickly from spot to spot.
With the resources available on the Internet, scouting is no longer confined to physically exploring hunting areas. Google Earth, for example, is a fantastic 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 is to set 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 wear plenty of camouflage and sit still.
For years, hunters brought dozens of decoys for the early season, but that is becoming outdated. Set out a dozen decoys of any duck species. This 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.” I have no problem scoring limits of teal.
Fishgame.com blogger and duck dog trainer Brian Johnson believes it’s the quality of decoys that makes the difference.
“Real cheap decoys are just that. They are really cheap.” Johnson said. “They will not last, the paint will chip, they will crack, and the super cheap ones will turn on their sides in heavy wind. Before buying a cheap duck decoy, pay attention to the thickness, durability, and overall paint finish.”
“I understand that money gets tight. If that is the case, I encourage you to buy a few good ones instead of dozens of cheap ones—or repair your old ones. Take my advice on this one. This is coming from the first-hand experience.”
Johnson said duck decoys, for the most part, come with two options: weighted keel or water keel. The weighted keel will never land on the decoy’s side; causing you to have to go turn it right side up.
“I personally like the way the weighted keel rides in the water. However, if you are packing dozens in on your back, I don’t think they are the way to go. The water keel is much lighter. My main consideration on keels is this: if you walk to your blind, use the water keel. If you use a boat or vehicle to carry them, go with the weighted keel.”
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 seen hunters a few ponds away call too much and push birds right to me.
Part of a successful hunt on public land is to use 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. 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. Also, note that improved cylinder or modified chokes work great for teal, especially in close quarters.
Chicken-fried bluewing breast meat is my favorite of all waterfowl dining options. I am hoping to get out there and collect some and enjoy this brief, but exciting time in the field.
Now you can check into Texas public hunting lands with the free My Texas Hunt Harvest App. Available on the Apple App store and Google Play.
Hurricanes cause terrible damage to coasts, bays and wetlands. Rebecca Hensley is leading a team to monitor and preserve these valuable coastal assets.
—story by CHESTER MOORE