For some waterfowlers, next month’s early teal season brings nothing more than a stifled yawn. After all, blue-winged teal typically roar south in true here-today, gone-tomorrow fashion as the first cool fronts of the autumn season sweep southward through the Central and Mississippi flyways.
Add in the late summer heat of September, not to mention the pesky mosquitoes and foul mood cottonmouths that like to hang out in the spots that teal frequent, and you can understand why some hunters choose to sit the early teal season out or meet it with a bit of half-hearted indifference.
That’s understandable, right? No, not so much says J.J. Kent, a waterfowl outfitter based out of Pottsboro, Texas (www.kentoutdoors.com; 903-271-5524), just an hour north of Dallas. Because for the wingshooter willing to get the basics right and to put in a little sweat equity, the early teal season can be duck hunting at its finest.
“The sound of them buzzing over the decoys, it does wonder for the heart,” said Kent.
Kent should know, having chased these flighty little waterfowl across the Central Flyway for a number of years since his initial hunt for early teal back in the 1980s near Sulphur Springs, Texas. Ever since that day, he’s been hooked on the prospect of propelling a load of number six steel shot in the direction of a group of bluewings doing their best “mach two” imitation of an Air Force fighter pilot turning on the afterburners.
Along the way, he’s learned a thing or two about putting a limit of early teal in the bag, be it the opening salvo or the final bell of the September season. To find early teal success, Kent says that the first key for a hunter is to be in the right spot, an area that has a mix of food and water, preferably in a shallow combination.
“Flats on a lake, a pond with a few inches of water next to a mud bank, or a river that doesn’t have much water flowing in it, that’s ideal for teal,” said Kent. “If there’s some vegetation in it, that’s even better.”
Once you locate the general area that the teal ducks want to be in, then it’s time to find out exactly where to toss your early bird decoy spread.
“If you can find their flight paths into and out of river systems and local lakes – and get in that line – you’re bound to have good results,” he added.
A second key is to camo up.
“They may be the early birds, but you’re still hunting waterfowl,” said Kent. “Since they can spot a hunter pretty easily, you need to be dressed in full camo, be wearing a face mask or face paint, and be in a well brushed shore blind or layout blind.”
Next, make sure that your decoy spread, which should number somewhere in the one- to three-dozen range, will pass a teal’s overhead inspection.
“Honestly, as far as decoys go, you don’t necessarily have to have teal decoys out to be successful,” said Kent. “Just some regular old hen mallard decoys will (usually) work.”
But what’s interesting to note is that the birds still have to be able to see the decoys to be lured into shooting range. Meaning that if all you’ve got out are plain old brown decoys, then the birds might not spot them.
“Even though the birds are wearing drab colors at this time of the year, I always want to have a few visible decoys out,” said Kent. “That will mean a few blue-winged teal drakes or pintail drakes so that the teal can see the spread.”
The guide also likes to have a bit of movement in his spread, something that he accomplishes with spinning wing decoys (where legal) like those made by Mojo. In addition to a mallard spinner or two, the North Texas guide will also deploy two or three Mojo dove decoys in his spread. That’s right, dove decoys, since the smaller dekes have rapidly spinning wings that mimic the quick wing beats of teal.
A fourth key for early teal hunting success across the flyways is working these teal in effectively with a call. Kent has always got the latest top-end acrylic mallard call hanging around his neck. But during the September early bird season, he’ll also have a teal whistle and a teal call on the lanyard that mimic the bird’s staccato quacks, whistles and peeps.
J. J. Kent uses high quality acrylic calls to pull waterfowl to his location. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
“Like any waterfowl, I call at their tail feathers when they’re going away,” said Kent. “But when they’re coming in, I generally leave them alone and don’t call much.”
The guide’s fifth and final key to bagging a limit of teal is to shoot the right stuff at them.
“I like to use open chokes like skeet or an improved cylinder when I’m teal hunting,” said Kent. “And through those chokes, I like to shoot number six steel shot. I’ve found that makes a deadly combination for teal buzzing by over the decoys.”
Especially for the hunter who is patient enough to wait for the birds to fully commit to a decoy spread.
“Can you lead a teal by too much?” said Kent. “Not really since they can fly by so fast. But if you let them decoy, let them slow down, let them start stopping and settling into the decoys, then that’s when the skeet choke or improved cylinder works best.”
Get it right – the location, the camouflage, the decoys, the calling and the shooting – and an early teal hunt can lead to some of the most enjoyable wingshooting of the fall season. Even as a number of the continent’s less serious waterfowlers are sitting on the sidelines and sipping ice-cold lemonade.
Kent’s lab poses with a retrieved teal. (Lynn Burkhead photo)