By Bill Cooper
Early reports of teal flights for the September opener were skeptical at best. Teal nest in the prairie pothole regions of the Dakotas, which were fairly dry this year. Teal nesting numbers rise and fall each year with the amount of precipitation received.
Waterfowl hunters feared the worst as teal season neared. However, Ducks Unlimited reported that good hunting opportunities would come to some areas in the Central Flyway.
Blue-winged teal production was down in South Dakota this year as compared to previous years, when bumper crops were produced due to plentiful water in the pothole region. Rocco Murano, chief waterfowl biologist with South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, stated weeks ago that hunters should not be discouraged about population numbers.
“There was real concern heading into the spring nesting season as blue-winged teal are one of those duck species which are closely tied to the prairie region,” Murano said.
Based on what he saw in early September, Murano believes that bluewings fared reasonably well, considering how dry conditions were. “We had just enough water in our seasonal wetlands to support duck production,” he said.
Matters in North Dakota didn’t offer as much promise. North Dakota’s spring and summer surveys showed dramatic decreases in the number of both wetlands and ducks, according to Murano.
Teal migrate through Missouri during late August and September. By early September larger than normal numbers were being reported as far south as Texas. Murano reported seeing nice pockets of birds in east-central South Dakota.
Matthew Garrick is the waterfowl program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and hunted teal during the first week of the season in the Sandhills region south of Valentine. “Where we found water, we found teal,” he said. “Conditions were dry, but those who traveled some miles found areas that received rain and they were holding ducks.”
Nebraska biologists banded a lot of young birds and most of the teal Garrick shot were hatch-year birds, which is considered a good indicator of nesting success.
Much needed rains came to the Rainwater Basin in central Nebraska providing much-needed moisture for the earliest migrating teal. The rains spurred growth of moist-soils vegetation. More rain will help make this food source available to later migrating teal and other ducks as they begin their annual migration southward.
Kansas teal hunters benefited from better-than-average local teal production. The statewide teal population also received a good boost of birds arriving from the north.
Oklahoma biologists reported good waters sources and saw the first good migration of teal in early August. Teal found good supplies of moist-soil plant production around Oklahoma reservoirs. Expectations are for a good teal season and regular duck season which follows.
Missouri maintains an abundance of waterfowl management areas, especially in the northern half of the state. The Missouri Department of Conservation owns 14 managed waterfowl hunting areas. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also owns several waterfowl refuges, parts of which are opened to public hunting.
Managers of these duck hunting areas have means to flood areas where crops and most-soil plants grow and provide food. These areas are very attractive to early migrating blue-winged teal. Some green-winged and cinnamon teal also utilize the important waterfowl areas.
Teal hunting in the south central Ozarks has been on a downward trend over the last five years. Expectations were not high among area waterfowl hunters for the Missouri teal season.
I hunted several days during the Missouri teal season reach ran September 11 through the 26th. Pleasantly surprised, I saw more blue-winged teal in area lakes, ponds and rivers than I have seen in five years.
I elected not to hunt the opening weekend, because of normal hunter numbers. However, I made my first trip on Monday, September 13. Disappointment reigned as I failed to see a single bird.
Not to give up easily, I returned on Tuesday and flights of birds poured into my hunting location. However, most were well before legal shooting hours, which begin at sunrise. During regular duck season, shooting ghouls begin 30 minutes prior to sunrise. The late start for teal season is because they are the only duck in season at the time and officials want to make sure that waterfowl hunters positively identify birds as teal before they pull the trigger.
I only had two groups of teal cross my decoy set after shooting hours began. I managed to scratch out one bird per group, because my shotgun jammed both times, allowing me only one shot per flight.
Teal hunters watch the weather closely, as they know that birds will migrate in front of a cool front. Like many duck hunters, I go when I have the time available, regardless of the weather. That style of hunting produces more goose egg days, but they are all enjoyable.
I had one morning foiled by a mishap of another hunter. He fell in the water as he was putting this bag into the lake. His boat drifted away and he, too drifted with the wind. Fortunately he wore his personal flotation device and managed to make it to shore. He summoned my help to retrieve his boat, which ate up the better part of two hours. Teal poured into my decoy set during my absence.
My next hunt brought a reprieve from the misfortunes of the previous day’s hunt. A few birds came in early, but shortly after shooting hours a group of 12 to 15 birds buzzed our decoys and a friend and I managed to take three birds.
The brief teal season proved highly encouraging with the numbers of teal I saw coming down the flyway. I hope it was a precursor to what will come down the pipe during the regular duck season in November. That is when the most plentiful duck species in the country migrates, the mallard.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Cooper is an award winning outdoor writer and inductee of the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Outdoor Communicator. He is the host of the Living the Dream Outdoors Podcast, which can be found on most social media platforms. He lives in rural St. James and can be followed at www.facebook.com/ outsidealways.