By Larry Dablemont
A teal is a duck… a little duck about half the size of a half-grown chicken. Most of them have a wingspan just shy of 24 inches and a weight just shy of a pound. There are blue-winged teal and there are green-winged teal and to the west of us there are cinnamon teal.
During most of the teal season, which runs through most of last half of September you most generally see only the blue-winged teal, but there are a few green-wings mixed in with them some years. That is unusual; because green-winged teal migrate so late most years that there are people hauling used Christmas trees out in the lake when they make their big flight. They come with the late mallards usually. That seems odd to me, because both species are very similar in nesting and feeding and all other things. But as a rule blue-winged teal head southward with the first little cool snap in the northern prairies, and the green-wings wait until there's a blizzard somewhere. Teal are fascinating little ducks, and to my way of thinking they are better eating than anything that flies and sits on the water.
Most years there won't be many teal hunters take advantage of the season. Hunting them gets into some work. You need steel shot and special gun barrels, and decoys and a boat and waders and maybe a good dog if you have one. A mediocre dog will work too if that’s all you have. And you need a state migratory bird stamp and a federal duck stamp in addition to a hunting license.
Blue-wings like to fly early in the morning and late in the evening, and they like shallows and mud flats and smartweed if it is available. When you hunt them, you will likely see a variety of early migrating shorebirds and it is a fascinating thing to see. It is also likely that you will see some other species of ducks, especially wood ducks, a few pintails and shovelers and maybe a gadwall or a widgeon, so you'd best know your species. Hunting September teal is complicated by the fact that most ducks are drably colored in late summer plumage and not so easy to identify.
If you drop a duck that isn't a teal during the special teal season, you are a federal violator, and that's serious. The Missouri conservation department people aren’t really sure what a September blue-wing looks like either. On their website concerning teal season in past years they show a drake blue-winged teal in spring plumage. They look that way in April! In September they look like an entirely different duck, drab and grey and brown, and if you aren’t really familiar with how different ducks fly, you can confuse a teal and another drably colored species.
Another flying creature you will likely see on a teal hunt is the mosquito. Sometimes mosquito flocks numbers into the thousands. They seldom have a poor hatch. You might also encounter a watersnake or two when you hunt teal. But when you have a squadron of blue-winged teal sweep across your decoys, you are very likely to think of the mourning dove as an easy target.
Teal seem to be very fast, even if they aren't. You seldom lead one properly, but the good thing about teal hunting is, there are often several in a group and therefore you might get one that is flying behind the one you are shooting at. Six teal makes a good meal for two. That’s what the limit is… six daily and 18 in possession. I like to cut the breasts up in small, finger-sized slices and fry them with Lawry's seasoned salt and onions. They are also very good when grilled on a stick with onions and peppers, and little strips of bacon.
Problem is, this is a great time for a day spent fishing. I like fishing after the crowds are gone, and there won't be a soul out there but me. But it is rough on me when I am fishing this time of year and watch a flock of teal winging past me. Makes me want to hunt ducks.
My dad and I use to hunt teal a lot when the season first became a reality back in the sixties. We would float the river with a blind on the bow of our boat and find quite a few. They were never as wary as woodducks and mallards and fairly easy to sneak up on. Trouble is, some of the best smallmouth fishing we ever had was during the floats we made on the river hunting teal. So there were times it was harder to watch for them. In Missouri the teal season ends on the 27th and in Arkansas it ends on the 30th. There is still time, and I am going one day this coming weekend… I don’t care how good the fishing is.