Outdoors With Luke Clayton and Friends
Teal are the first and smallest of the duck species that follow the ancient migration route of the Central Flyway each year. They are a ‘stop over’ waterfowl that when, during peak migration, are often abundant but when Mother Nature gives them the clue to move farther south, they are gone in a wing beat! . The season to hunt them is short in Texas, Sept. 10-25. In years past, the opening of the season occurred later in the month and many of the “early” migration had already pushed its way down to the coast. Of course, teal are also hunted during the regular “big duck” season and shooting can be very good for late migrating birds, especially during the first split. I’ve shot teal in December and early February in North Texas. These birds obviously wintered farther north, thanks to warmer than normal winters. With such a short ‘iffy’ season, a non teal addict might ask, why hunt them?
For those of us that enjoy the sport of duck hunting, there are many, many reasons for getting up well before dawn in hopes of being ‘buzzed’ by a flock of teal attracted to the ‘peep, peep’ from our teal whistle and a well placed decoy spread. Ask most serious duck hunters why they hunt teal and the reply will be something like “because they give us an early, warm weather opportunity to duck hunt.” I can add a few more very good reasons: teal usually decoy well, making them great birds for the beginner waterfowler to hunt and, when wrapped with bacon and slow smoked over hickory wood, they are one of the most tasty of all the duck species. To my way of thinking, only the wood duck and mallard come close to the excellent flavor of smoked teal breasts.
Here is a ‘teal primer’ for newcomers to hunting these beautiful little speedsters of the marsh. Hopefully some of these tips will help make your teal hunt a success in the next few weeks.
When teal find the right conditions in the northern half of Texas, they often spend a few days before continuing their migration south to the Texas coast. Some migrate into Mexico and Central America. Scouting is a must in order to find concentrations of birds. Teal prefer shallow water only a few inches deep, either still or slow moving. They will flock to areas with falling water where mud banks are exposed, exposing small crustaceans and insects along the receding waterline. Primary migration routes each fall include major river drainages but teal will often fly up feeder creeks and tributaries in search of good areas to feed.
When scouting for teal around my home where there are many abandoned sand and gravel pits, I search out areas in the backwaters where creeks or ditches enter the ponds. Find shallow water with exposed mud along the shore and you are in prime teal habitat. Keep looking these type areas over until you find a concentration of birds. If you are hunting teal on larger watersheds, concentrate your scouting in the back of coves around feeder creeks. Once I locate birds, I back out of the area and don’t return until I plan to hunt. Then I pack in a dozen or so teal decoys well before daylight and make a quick blind from natural vegetations such as bull rushes or shoreline weeds. Large decoy spreads are not necessary when hunting teal. They are usually easy to decoy. The trick is to set your spread in an area where passing teal can spot them.
EQUIPMENT FOR TEAL HUNTING
Lightweight chest waders or hip boots will suffice on a teal hunt. The heavy, insulated waders need for the later duck season will be much to hot for late September. Calling can be helpful at times but it’s not always necessary. Teal are real suckers for decoys and they will usually come buzzing in once they spot what they think is a flock of their kind feeding on the water. I have found a motorized decoy such as the Mojo Mallard works well to attract teal. I have heard that the rotating wing dove decoys are also lethal for teal. If the birds ‘hang up’ and you feel you must call, use a mallard hen call and give a five noted ‘lonesome hen’ call, or using a teal whistle, give four or five ‘peeps’.
Many teal hunters downsize their shot size to #6 or even #7.5 shot non toxic shot. Steel is cheaper and preferred by most teal hunters. Shotgun chokes should be improved cylinder and definitely nothing tighter than modified. Most shots on teal are close, inside 30 yards as the birds work decoy spreads. Open chokes are the name of the game. Many teal hunters use the same upland shotguns they use when hunting quail or pheasant.
Of course, there is often good numbers of teal present during the regular duck season but then, they are taken as an ‘incidental’ harvest when shooting mallards, gadwall, or widgeon. To experience teal hunting at it’s best, plan a hunt during the special early season.
A GOOD TEAL RECIPE: Marinate teal breasts in Zesty Italian salad dressing overnight, then grill over hot coals until done. Baste occasionally with melted butter. Or, wrap marinated teal breasts with bacon and smoke until done. Teal breast, cut into strips and seasoned with fajita seasoning, make excellent fajitas. Chicken fried teal strips are also very tasty. To insure a good flavor, teal should be placed on ice as quickly as possible after harvested; temperatures are usually warm in lateSeptember.
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