Here's everything you need to know to take more teal
The average blue-winged teal weighs a little more than a pound. Same for a cinnamon. And the world’s fattest greenwing probably never even hit the 1-pound plateau.
So why do these tiny creatures enchant waterfowlers so much? Let’s count the ways.
Teal attract us to first-chance, early season hunting, when the marsh is abuzz with the life of summer on the wane and autumn on the rise. They're tops in hunters’ bags continent-wide and are simple to hunt if you know a few setups and tricks of the trade. Teal are fun to shoot at (note the wording) and taste great cooked almost any way. And where or when else can you (sometimes) hunt waterfowl in shirtsleeves and possibly get a duck hunting sunburn?
Take a tour through Realtree.com’s “Ultimate Teal Hunting Guide,” and put more bluewings, cinnamons and greenwings on your strap this season. Then click here for more Realtree waterfowl hunting content, and check us out on Facebook.
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1 | Understanding Teal: Bluewings
Powder-blue wing patches flash as the flock turns. Teal! When the weather is mild, these sporty ducks dominate hunters’ duck straps across the continent.
Drakes and hens flash powder-blue wing patches. The speculum is green on a drake. Drakes in full plumage have a gray-blue head and white crescent behind their bill. Hens and eclipse drakes are mottled brown. Bluewings have a slate-gray to black bill. They have yellow to orange legs and feet.
Bluewings are 14 to 16 inches long. They weigh about ¾ to 1-1/2 pounds, averaging 1 pound.
Prairie and open country. They prefer small water, such as ponds, potholes and secluded marshes.
Mostly a plant eater. Bluewings prefers clear waters.
Taxonomically, blue-winged teal are extremely closely related to northern shovelers (spoonbills).
Photo credit: © Steve Byland/Shutterstock
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2 | Understanding Teal: Greenwings
A knot of twisting, turning dynamos rockets in to buzz your decoy set like a swarm of bees. Greenwings! They might be tiny, but these handsome teal make duck hunters’ hearts go pitter-pat.
Drakes and hens have prominent green speculums. Drakes in full plumage are beyond handsome, with a rusty-chestnut-colored head and a brilliant green swash through the eyes. Hens and eclipse drakes are mottled brown with creamy undersides. Greenwings have dark gray to black bills and brownish gray legs and feet.
Greenwings are about 12 to 15 inches long. They weigh ½ to 1 pound, averaging ¾ pound.
Greenwings like small water, but they’re most at home of all the teal on bigger water. They prefer extremely shallow water.
They mostly eat plants, especially the seeds of aquatic plants. Greenwings need very shallow water to tip up and feed on the roots of water plants.
Although many ducks tend to return to the same wintering grounds each year, drake greenwings are known to head to disparate places (Louisiana, Texas, Baja and California, for example) in different years to pair up with different mates and mix up the gene pool.
Photo credit: © Oleg Mayorov/Shutterstock
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3 | Understanding Teal: Cinnamons
Out West, duck hunters have the opportunity to take cinnamons along with bluewings and greenwings. But sprightly cinnamons have an allure all their own.
Drakes and hens flash powder-blue wing patches. The speculum is green on a drake. Drakes in full plumage are cinnamon colored, with orange legs and red eyes. Hens and eclipse drakes are mottled brown. Cinnamons have a slate-gray bill, and dull yellow legs and feet.
They're about 14 to 16 inches long. Cinnamons weigh ¾ to 1-1/4 pounds, averaging 1 pound.
They prefer freshwater marshes and lakes, but also coastal marshes. California is “cinnamon central,” but many birds are taken in the Mountain West.
They feed on the seeds of bulrush, saltgrass and other aquatic plants. Pondweed is another favorite food.
Because they are so hard to tell apart from blue-winged teal for most of the year, cinnamons are grouped with blue-wings in annual ducks counts and hunting surveys.
Photo credit: © Keneva Photography/Shutterstock
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4 | Teal Prospects for 2016: Bluewings and Cinnamons
Every year offers a great chance to hunt these abundant ducks, but this season might be even better. The 2016 Waterfowl Status Report from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service paints an exciting picture for teal hunting this fall across the continent.
Blue-winged teal numbered 6.7 million birds going into fall hunting seasons. Although that’s 22 percent lower than 2015’s count, it’s still 34 percent higher than the long-term average of 5 million birds.
An early spring in 2016 helped teal find breeding success. However, a dry fall 2015 on the prairies — where many of North America’s teal are produced — had cover knocked back, which might have affected blue-wing production.
Photo credit: Graphic courtesy of Ducks Unlimited
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5 | Teal Prospects for 2016: Greenwings
Green-winged teal numbered 4.3 million birds going into fall hunting seasons. That’s 104 percent higher than the long-term average and the highest estimate since surveys began.
In general, green-wings breed farther north on the Canadian parklands and even the tundra, where 2016 nesting conditions were ideal.
Graphic courtesy of Ducks Unlimited
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6 | Special Teal Hunting Seasons
Teal are important to hunters during regular duck seasons across the continent. But special early teal seasons offer an extra chance to take birds at the juncture of summer and fall. Let’s look at a baker’s dozen top states with early teal seasons.
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7 | How to Hunt Teal: Finding Birds
For teal, look for the shallowest sloughs, marshes and backwaters — 6 inches of water is plenty, and a foot or so is good. Clear water promotes plant growth, which is what these little salad and seed eaters thrive on. Don’t overlook seasonal wetlands or flooded fields or pastures.
Bluewings and cinnamons prefer small bays or secluded ponds or puddles off a larger water. Greenwings often seem to stick to bigger water.
Scout for birds before the season or the day before your hunt. Use good binoculars or a spotting scope, and glass potential hunting spots from as far back as you can see ducks.
Photo credit: © rck953/Shutterstock
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8 | How to Hunt Teal: Setting Decoys
Simple layouts work best.
Put the wind at your back, and then set out two knots of seven to nine decoys each on either side of you, leaving about a 20-yard gap in front to serve as an attractive landing zone for incoming flocks.
Illustration © Ryan Orndorff
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9 | How to Hunt Teal: Setting Decoys II
Or work a cross-breeze. Put a knot of 11 to 15 decoys upwind of your hide, leaving a landing zone in front of you. It helps to push the pod of decoys up against the pond’s upwind cattail bank or shore, so incoming birds are forced to land in front of you instead of beyond.
Illustration © Ryan Orndorff
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10 | How to Hunt Teal: Calling, Adjusting Your Approach
Call sparingly. A mallard call works well if that’s all you have. Bluewings and cinnamons sound like tiny greenheads with bad colds, so adjust accordingly.
A little teal quacker is fun and better. Try Haydel’s BT-85 or Flextone’s Blue-Winged Teal Call. Flextone’s 6-in-1 Whistle reproduces great green-wing whistles. Just get the birds’ attention, and let the decoys work.
If action is slow, don’t sit and hope. Watch where teal are trading and landing, and then pick up and move. Teal often fly, especially in pairs or small groups, well into the morning. If you flush teal at a new spot, quickly toss out three or four decoys, hunker down and pull in a few returning birds before completing the setup during a lull.
Photo credit: © Bill Konway
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11 | Teal Tools
Whether you’re “doctor duck” or a “waterfowl wannabe,” bluewings and cinnamons, and the green-wings that often follow in migration, offer prime opportunities to score while keeping things simple. Mobility adds to your effectiveness.
Carry your shotgun and a 5-gallon green or camouflage bucket. Topped with a swivel cushion seat, your bucket doubles as your chair in the cattails or reeds. Stock it with a headnet, gloves, bug dope, water bottles, lunch or snacks, an extra shirt or jacket, and a couple of boxes of shells (non-toxic Nos. 4, 5 or 6 shot will do).
The ideal teal shotgun is the one you can swing fast and shoot best. A 20-gauge is nice and light, but a 12-gauge isn’t overdoing it. Choke down with an improved-cylinder tube to open up patterns.
Carry a mesh over-the-back sack with decoys. A dozen to 15 are plenty. Include several hen mallards (their size gets attention), and make the rest teal (hens and drakes). Teal decoys are ideal, but mallard blocks work just fine. Teal trust cautious, wary mallards and will come right in.
The best teal habitat has super-shallow water (think a foot or less, optimally). Wear hip boots and light waders. Most teal hunters walk and wade in to good spots, but you can paddle in with a canoe or kayak, or row a jon boat.
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12 | 7 Tips for Hitting Teal
Want to hear more of that pleasing little splash of a teal hitting water after your gun goes boom? Put these tips to work.
1) Get your cheek down on the stock. Feel that cool wood or composite on your cheekbone, and look right down the barrel’s rib.
2) If teal are buzzing past, tell yourself, “Butt, belly, beak, bang,” and keep swinging as you pull the trigger on “bang.” Don’t overthink things.
3) Don’t overestimate the wing speed of teal. Their small stature makes them appear faster than they are.
4) Teal fly like dodging, darting rockets. Let them set their wings before you shoot, and take ’em just before their feet hit the water.
5) Pick out one teal, and zone in on that bird. Target a bird on the edge of the group. Worry only about dropping a single bird, and don’t let the flock muddle you up.
6) Wait for the flock to get close, and then pull up to shoot with a natural swing rather than tracking the birds with your barrel (and thinking too much) as they come in.
7) Hold on to your gun, even during a lull in the action. Teal opportunities come and go quickly, and you’ll never get a shot off if you have to reach for your shotgun.
Photo credit: © Realtree