By Wade Shoemaker
Blue wingers. Blue rockets. The most notorious word to be autocorrected as real. Teal. Blue winged-teal to be specific. They are, for a lot of us, the first chance at helping manage the migration. These speedsters show up seemingly uninvited but the reality is they always have an open invitation and a place at our table. Literally.
Each year most every outdoorsman looks forward to September. Most all have their respective reasons, but for us Wingmen in the south, it's teal. Like previews before a featured movie or the prelude to a good book, these little speed demons ease the itch on our trigger fingers and seem to get our gears going for the big show.
There's less pressure here. With more wiggle room for mistakes it makes the early season just that much more welcomed. These birds are less educated and even less likely to play with our emotions. We all know that no matter what we'll be toyed with by some ornery bunch who believe they're better than the rest, but the majority will be way more friendly than their counterparts of late autumn.
They require fewer decoys but quicker swings. A well placed bead isn't going to cut it. A swift well placed bead is more like it, it’s almost a tradeoff of less strategy but more skill. While teal may not be the hardest to hunt, they most certainly aren't the easiest to hit. A back peddling bird in your decoys isn’t the same as a group of acrobats in unison as they fly. Some pre-early season clay shoots could be the difference between a whiff and a whack. Left to right and right to left. None of that straight away stuff, teal test your reflexes.
The aesthetics of these hunts are MUCH different than the ones we long for over the summer. Leaves are like color swatches of green clinging to trees and bushes whereas in a couple months from the early opener the colorful fallen leaves litter the forest floor. Temperatures will vary from cool mucky mornings in t-shirts during September to having to give serious thought about layering options later on in November. Instead of "only shoot drakes," in September, it really is a, "if it's brown, it's down" kind of outing. Plumage will hardly be noticeable for another month or so.
There’s a topic in waterfowling that everyone wants to talk about but hardly anybody ever gets right, and that’s hunting on a budget. Now, I understand that some feel their “budget” is frugal enough for the majority of us, but I’ve seen some of these “waterfowling on a budget” articles and been left with a “fowl” taste in my mouth. I’m still not sure if it’s from envy that their budget hunt is one I can’t afford yet, or if I’m offended that they unknowingly made me feel like I’m living in poverty. Either way, the knowledge they drop is solid for the most part, and I’ll use it one of these days!
I’m not here to give you a hard sell on a low budget hunt, but I am absolutely here to let you in on a little info about early season teal. I may get scowled at or chastised for this, but somebody has to say it: you do not need new teal decoys, to shoot teal…. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with them, but they aren’t necessary. Save your money and buy more shells. Remember, these birds are more brown than anything, so a brown decoy will work just fine. Toss out a dozen or more hen mallards with one or two or however many spinners you care to carry and get ready. But just know that at some point, someone will shoot your spinner. Don’t be upset, it happens.
As far as supplies, less is more. I’m sort of a minimalist so this is my wheelhouse. Hunts are usually short because teal are “morning people” and when water is scarce, like it is known to be in September, you can just about bet the bank that you’ll be walking more than little bit to get to your hole. This is where being a minimalist is really handy.
So, let’s take a quick look at my minimalist early season teal kit.
· Small blind bag - I prefer the Lock n Load from Rig Em Right $74.99
· Teal call - Haydel BT-85 $12.95
· Shells - no preference for teal just #4 or #5 steel shot
· Two Thermacells – yes, two, I live in Louisiana; $24.95 each
· Don’t forget the Belvita and fruit snacks - Welch’s brand, you’ll thank me later.
If you’re reading this, I’m betting you’ve already got some mallard hen decoys laying around and I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say you already have shells. If you’re like me, you haven't always had the luxury of a blind bag or Thermacells, so you’re going to stuff the ammo in your pockets, because waders are absolutely optional for early season, strap your call around your neck and cram a can of “OFF” alongside your water in another pocket, assuming you don’t forget the "OFF" in the truck. Don’t feel bad, we’ve all done it and will do it again.
Whether you’re walking, riding an ATV, or floating a boat to your hole, it doesn’t matter, there’s PLENTY of opportunity to be found. Teal are huge fans of shallow water with insects and crustaceans. Snails, clams, vegetation, and grains are all a large part of their diet. Shallow water is good for them and for you, especially if you’ve opted for the “waderless” approach. Those old tennis shoes will do just fine.
If we're being honest with ourselves, early teal season is a trial run. A trial to see if we've still got what it takes to handle the hunt that we’ve been waiting for all year. The early teal season is a prelude to the prodigal. Meeting it with open arms to put the season in it’s rightful place. Even though duck season leaves us each year, it returns, like that biblical son, to be welcomed with overwhelming zeal that begins with early teal season.