There are over 20 species of teal found throughout the world. Just three species, Blue-winged, Green-winged and Cinnamon, call North America home. These smaller ducks fly fast and maneuver quickly, causing some hunters to call them “turbo ducks.” Teal season opens early, and is the first hunt of the year for many sportsman. As was the case for me and three friends in Iowa.
Shawn Jenkins, a development director for the National Wild Turkey Federation, invited me to join himself, Ryan Krogh and Hunter Voigts on an opening day teal hunt just south of Des Moines. Hunter had scouted the birds and knew a large group of around 200 teal were frequenting the marsh. He wasn’t the only one privy to this information, as the public property was loaded with hunters on September 1.
During most waterfowl seasons, shooting begins a half hour before sunrise. But with teal you can’t shoot until sunrise. The thought behind this is to help with duck identification, so hunters don’t accidently shoot other species. As we waited in the cattails for 6:41 am to arrive, group after group of teal worked above our head. When the first shot rang out, the birds lifted of the water in a massive wave and flew towards us.
Mesmerized by the beauty of the scene, the four of us held our shots until it was almost too late. I’m not sure who fired first, but the spell was broken and we collectively dropped a half-dozen birds. My lab, Willie, and Ryan’s lab, Avery, went to work picking them up. Just like that, fall hunting season had arrived once more.
It doesn’t matter what kind of bird hunting you’re doing, whether it’s upland or waterfowl, watching dogs work is one of, if not the best parts of the experience. We should all be lucky enough to occasionally be as passionate in our pursuit of an aspect of life as a Labrador retriever is about fetching ducks. Having been bred for just this reason, they literally live to retrieve. Watching a lab slosh across a marsh with a duck in its mouth on the way back to you is as good as it gets.
Teal hunting isn’t the large-scale affair waterfowl hunting often becomes later in the season. A dozen decoys will do fine in a small puddle of water. Ideal teal habitat is shallow sloughs, marshes and drying out flooded fields. Teal like slow moving or still water. They don’t mind mud. You rarely need a boat for teal hunting. A good retriever is great, but not necessary.
There are many places to teal hunt on public land. Backwater sloughs off big rivers and large agricultural ditches are a few of my favorite places to find early season teal. There are a number of state areas and federal lands that have excellent teal hunting in every Midwestern state, and most of them do not hold drawings for teal season.
It is usually warm outside in early September, so you don’t need nearly as much clothes and equipment, and hunting spots are often easily accessible. Since it can be a social affair and because there is often a lot of action, teal hunting is great for introducing youth or new hunters to duck hunting. For those of us with a few years under our belts, teal hunting is the perfect way to begin another long season.
See you down the trail…
Pic: Pic: Brandon Butler (left), Willie and Shawn Jenkins with a pair of opening day Blue-winged Teal.