Teal are the smallest of the duck species that follow the ancient route of the Central Flyway each year.
They are a “stop over” waterfowl that are here today, gone tomorrow. The season to hunt them is short in Texas: Sept.14-29 but the good news is that the daily bag limit has been increased to six birds.
With such a short “iffy” season, a non-teal addict might ask, “why hunt them?”
For those of us that enjoy the sport of duck hunting, there are many, many reasons for getting up well before dawn in hopes of being “buzzed” by a flock of teal attracted to the “peep, peep” from our teal whistle and a well-placed decoy spread.
Ask most serious duck hunters why they hunt teal and the reply will be something like “because they give us an early, warm weather opportunity to duck hunt.”
I can add a few more very good reasons: teal usually decoy well, making them great birds for the beginner waterfowler to hunt and, when wrapped with bacon and slow smoked over hickory wood, they are one of the tastiest of all the duck species.
To my way of thinking, only the wood duck and mallard come close to the excellent flavor of smoked teal breasts.
Teal are not necessarily “big water” ducks. I’ve enjoyed some of my best teal shoots on smaller farm ponds and sloughs.
Teal are “dabbler” ducks and love shallow water and muddy shorelines. Last year, I opened the season with my longtime friend Mark Balette down in Trinity County.
We were hunting a little 20-acre lake on his ranch and enjoyed some red hot shooting. Mark called two days after our hunt and informed me that there wasn’t a teal anywhere in the area. Such is teal hunting.
These ‘flighty” little birds require scouting the day before the hunt. When hunting the larger species of ducks, scouting a few days in advance of the hunt often produces good results. Not so with teal.
You have to check them out the day before the hunt.
Here is a “teal primer” for newcomers to hunting these beautiful little speedsters of the marsh.
Hopefully some of these tips will help make your teal hunt a success in the next few weeks.
When teal find the right conditions in the northern half of Texas, they often spend a few days before continuing their migration south to the Texas coast. Some migrate into Mexico and Central America. Scouting is a must in order to find concentrations of birds. Teal prefer shallow water only a few inches deep, either still or slow moving.
They will flock to areas with falling water where mud banks are exposed, exposing small crustaceans and insects along the receding waterline. Primary migration routes each fall include major river drainages but teal will often fly up feeder creeks and tributaries in search of good areas to feed.
When scouting for teal around my home where there are many abandoned sand and gravel pits, I search out areas in the backwaters where creeks or ditches enter the ponds. Find shallow water with exposed mud along the shore and you are in prime teal habitat. Keep looking over these type of areas until you find a concentration of birds.
If you are hunting teal on larger watersheds, concentrate your scouting in the back of coves around feeder creeks. Once I locate birds, I back out of the area and don’t return until I plan to hunt.
Then I pack in a dozen or somtimes even more teal decoys well before daylight and make a quick blind from natural vegetation such as bull rushes or shoreline weeds.
Large decoy spreads are not necessary when hunting teal. They are usually easy to decoy. The trick is to set your spread in an area where passing teal can spot them.
Equipment for teal hunting
Lightweight chest waders or hip boots will suffice on a teal hunt.
The heavy, insulated waders needed for the later duck season will be much too hot for late September.
Calling can be helpful at times but it’s not always necessary.
Teal are real suckers for decoys and they will usually come buzzing in once they spot what they think is a flock of their kind feeding on the water.
I have found a motorized decoy such as the Mojo Mallard works well to attract teal.
I have heard that the rotating wing dove decoys are also lethal for teal.
If the birds “hang up” and you feel you must call, use a mallard hen call and give a five noted “lonesome hen” call, or using a teal whistle, give four or five “peeps.” Many teal hunters downsize their shot size to No. 6 or even No. 7.5 shot non toxic shot. Steel is cheaper and preferred by most teal hunters. Shotgun chokes should be improved cylinder and definitely nothing tighter than modified.
Most shots at teal are close, inside 30 yards as the birds work decoy spreads. Open chokes are the name of the game. Many teal hunters use the same upland shotguns they use when hunting quail or pheasant. I do my teal shooting with 2.75 inch shells rather than the magnum 3 inch loads.
It doesn’t take a lot of shot to bring these birds down, the trick is hitting them. If you’ve never hunted teal, you will fully understand what I mean when you hear that first flight zoom over your blind.
Forget about shooting them on the first pass, wait until you can get ready and set to shoot, they will make at least one more pass over your decoys.
Of course, there is often a good number of teal present during the regular duck season, but then they are taken as an “incidental” harvest when shooting mallards, gadwall, or widgeon. To experience teal hunting at it’s best, plan a hunt during the special early season.
A good teal recipe
Marinate teal breasts in zesty Italian salad dressing overnight, then grill over hot coals until done. Baste occasionally with melted butter.
Or, wrap marinated teal breasts with bacon and smoke until done. Teal breast, cut into strips and seasoned with fajita seasoning, make excellent fajitas.
Chicken fried teal strips are also very tasty. To ensure a good flavor, teal should be placed on ice as quickly as possible after harvested since temperatures are usually warm in late September.
Listen to Luke Clayton’s Outdoors Radio Show at www.catfishradio.com. Email Luke via the website with outdoor news from your area.