Many hunters throughout the midwest are relatively new to early season teal. Traditionally, such a pre-season warm-up was a southern tradition, as no early teal seasons were offered up north. Michigan, Wisconsin and others were long ago termed “production states”, meaning early season hunting wasn’t an option. The thought was that species identification would be too difficult with all the “brown ducks” around, and lots more than teal would be killed.
That all changed last season when the USFWS offered early teal seasons to many northern states. Several jumped on board, and results were promising. As published here, studies in Michigan found the season lightly hunted, yet successful.
Most teal seasons in this part of the world are still experimental, so to speak, as multi-year studies are required. But things are certainly pointed in the right direction.
As we enter our second year of this new pursuit, some hunters are finding great success, while others are a little confused as to what it takes to experience consistent action. After a recent opening-day mega-swat, resulting in full limits relatively quickly, I interviewed Michigan hunter Jose Garza, and was let in on a few secrets.
1. Hunt like it’s regular season.
One would think that early season birds would be easy to fool. It seems like just yesterday, little kids were feeding wild ducks bread crumbs in the park, right? Garza clarifies that teal, even early on, are extremely elusive. His recipe for success includes dedicated scouting prior to the opener during times of peak activity - often very early and late. And make no mistake, hunters must be concealed well to fill bag limits. “The biggest difference I see between our success and other hunters' struggles is our attention to camouflage” Garza explained. While others are convinced that a marginal job of concealment will work on early birds, Garza’s group takes it to the extreme, just as if hunting late-season, educated mallards. Such attention results in birds up close.
2. Get a Good Shot.
Teal aren’t easy targets to hit. Despite not really being much faster than mallards, teal are much smaller, and perform incredible aerial maneuvers. In addition, early teal season often brings out guns that have had far too little action during the off-season. Face it, we’re all guilty of less than adequate time at the range. For these reasons, Garza’s group gets in tight to their decoys, plays the wind correctly, and banks on extremely close gunning, often less than 15 yards. Such tactics, when combined with proper shotgun loads like 3-inch #4’s, result in a higher ratio of successful shots.
3. Pattern the Birds.
Teal are very selective about their feeding habitat. If you’ve ever watched blue- and green-wings feeding in a marsh with other ducks, you’ll notice the little birds like the densest cover, and usually stay put, as mallards and others loaf around. While different locales offer different food, Garza has found that hunters need to find whatever makes up the local favorte and hunt close by. During his recent outing, Garza found the birds favored short, coarse weeds mixed in with lily pads in mud he termed “as mucky as oatmeal”. Other areas didn’t offer the floating vegetation, and didn’t harbor teal.
4. Have the Right Equipment.
As in our above example, early season may offer special equipment consideration. Garza found a mud motor mandatory for his recent hunt. In other locales, hunters simply cannot retrieve the little birds without a good dog. Perhaps layout blinds will be needed for shallow waterholes that are normally fully flooded later in the year. And never forget mosquito repellent. In any case, early teal season brings with it unique circumstances that are often characterized by extremely shallow water, dense, thick cover that may require trimming, terrible mud, bugs and heat. But it’s all worth it once successful. Remember, nothing compares to properly prepared teal, or the chance to get in the marsh a few more times each year.
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.