By Bill Cooper
Teal are on the move. They begin their migrations from breeding grounds in the prairie pothole regions of the U.S. and Canada in mid-August as the primordial urges spurred by shorter day length stirs their will to travel.
The Missouri teal season began September 10, effectively getting thousands of hunters back in the game. Only dove season, which began September 1, begins earlier in the fall.
Teal are the smallest of the ducks, weighing in at four to six ounces. Fast flyers, which travel in tight formations, they are a serious challenge for the shooting skills of avid waterfowl hunters.
As the days begin to shorten and the nights hint at autumns return, blue wing teal begin their annual migration towards winter haunts. Early season teal hunts give some long-awaited solace to those die-hard waterfowl hunters who have waited, planned and plotted for a chance to pursue these highly prized ducks once again.
September teal hunting is a popular tradition for many duck hunters. The sport requires minimal equipment, and teal are great ducks for youngsters to hunt, because they decoy so readily.
The majority of our hunting takes place on shallow moist soil sloughs, small ponds, lakes, and flooded rice fields. In the Ozarks, teal hunting can be productive along rivers and streams.
Fifteen-year-old Nick Karmann, of Rolla, and I teamed up for the opening day of teal season this year. Nick and I met at a Missouri Department of Conservation lake last year. He was duck hunting from the bank, a sure sign of a hunter who loves the sport and may be a beginner.
I invited Nick to tag along with me and we enjoyed several late season duck hunts together last year. We planned well ahead for 2022 and agreed to meet for opening day.
Waterfowl hunters are Weather Channel aficionados. Cool fronts are a godsend, and it looked like we were in for a major migration event on opening day. Temperatures were dropping up north and heavy weather accompanied the predictions.
I arrived early at one of my favorite teal hunting spots, expecting there to be several boats at the launch. Fortunately, I was the only hunter there. I launched quickly and slowly motored across the lake under the light of a full September moon, the Harvest Moon. I secretly hoped the full moon would shine on us favorably and give us a good duck harvest to begin our waterfowl season.
I slowed to a stop on a shallow point where I have hunted for over 40 years. Memories of past hunts, friends I’d shared them with, and dogs which had accompanied us flooded my mind with the pleasures, joys and mishaps of dozens of hunts.
Teal often fly all night when there is a front moving down. A full moon makes their travels easier. Teal are famous for zooming across decoy sets very early, well before legal shooting hours. Normal duck seasons allow for shooting 30 minutes prior to sunrise. Teal shooting hours, however, begin at sunrise, which was 6:44 a.m. on opening day. Since teal are the only duck species in season, authorities want to make sure that hunters can readily identify them.
I carefully placed my decoy set, scattered across the shallow water flat. Teal love shallow water, as they feed on aquatic plants and associated invertebrates. Too, shallow water vegetation often serves as a resting and sleeping places for tired, migrating birds.
Nick arrived at 6 a.m. He chattered excitedly as he climbed in the boat and we headed to our chosen spot. Only one other hunter had arrived at the lake, good friend Pat Ybarra from St. James. He set up on the opposite end of the lake. We all hoped we might push ducks to one another.
The rising sun painted a gorgeous picture in the East. “There’s some teal,” Nick whispered.
I couldn’t see them. I told Nick I was pleased to have him along. His young eyes would certainly benefit our hunt.
Minutes later Nick spotted another group of birds. They swung across the arm of the lake we were hunting. I estimated that there were at least 75 birds in the flock.
Nick spotted another flight and another only seconds later. “It looks like we are in for a good flight day,” I said to Nick.
“Man, this is so cool,” Nick said.
“It’s truly a wonder of nature to watch birds migrating like this,” I responded. “You would think the place would be crowded with people just to watch such a gorgeous sight.”
Legal shooting hours were still 20 minutes away. We continued to watch four groups of birds working the lake. Each would zoom across the lake, dipping very low as if they were going to land. Then they would rise and turn in unison as if orchestrated by an unseen conductor. Nick experienced the magic show that attracts people to waterfowl hunting.
Ten minutes before shooting hours a group of 40 birds zoomed across the lake 10 feet above the water and were headed straight for us. “Did you hear the sound of their wings?” Nick asked. “That was so cool.”
The large bunch of teal circled one more time and splashed down into our decoy set. The tiny birds jostled for position as they swam among the decoys. Momentarily a dozen birds lifted off, flew 20 yards and landed in the shoreline weeds 10-feet from the boat.
Nick checked the time. Shooting hours had arrived. I told Nick to flush the birds and take his first shots of the morning. His shotgun roared and two beautiful blue-winged teal tumbled. Elated, Nick grinned from ear to ear.
The next hour became a duck hunters dream as birds poured into the lake. Shooting was steady and Nick enjoyed the duck hunt of his life. When I called it a day, Nick had his first limit of six teal. Being the older, slower shooter, I had taken 4.
Take a kid hunting.
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.