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It was a typical bluebird day of duck hunting. We had a few morning mallards on the game strap but the action had slowed to a stand still. My partner had already gone to his secret trick for bringing in ducks. That dip of tobacco didn’t help our cause on this day. It had been two hours since we even spotted a duck, let alone shot at one. I was seriously considering using my duck attractant. Nothing brings ducks in faster than the sight of a duck hunter with waders wrapped around his ankles. Just as I was about to unbuckle my shoulder straps, “stay low,” said my buddy. Teal were buzzing the lake and heading right for our location. In a flash, feathers, shell wads, and four bluewings lay on the surface.
Teal are perfect ducks. They’re not picky about calling and decoy spreads. They seem to be the most curious of all the duck species and enjoy coming to visit decoys. They are small but tasty. The best part about teal is the shooting. It’s fast and furious. They usually fly in flocks of ten or fifteen birds, but I’ve also hunted them in pairs and triples. The only thing wrong with them is that they are usually long gone in northern states by the second or third week of the season. Southern hunters get to seriously hunt teal while they are on the wintering grounds. But there is no reason those of us in the north can’t enjoy top flight teal hunting. Here are a few tips to help you bring more teal to the table.
When it comes to decoys, hunting teal is a piece of cake. Teal specialists buy teal decoys. But in all honesty, hen mallard decoys are awesome for teal. Think of them as a magnum teal decoys. Hen mallards do look a lot like giant hen teal. Fifteen to 20 decoys is plenty, but if you have more use them. If you are a little short, a few mallard drakes mixed into the spread isn’t going to hurt anything. In my experience, teal will only land in your decoys about ten percent of the time anyway. They literally buzz the decoys before moving on to another part of the lake. Being anatomically correct isn’t vital when it comes to teal.
Most teal callers will use whistle peeps. Drake bluewings whistle while greenwings peep-peep. Both greenwing and bluewing hens have a high pitched quack that is pretty difficult to emulate. You can buy a teal whistle, but I’ve used my wood duck whistle with great success. If you have an aversion to whistling at ducks, your trusty mallard call will work just as well. Teal often flock up with mallards in marshes and will usaully come right into a series of quacks.
As with hunting just about anything, scouting for teal can make a big difference. They generally are not open water ducks. They like shallow, weedy marshes. Find some smartweed, cattails, and wild rice and you will find teal. For some reason, they like mudflats too. One of my favorite teal hunting lakes has a bay with floating bogs and mudflats. That bay almost always has teal on it early in our duck season. Scouting the day before or day of the hunt is key. If a little weather moves in, the birds you saw last week could be hundreds of miles away.
If you did your homework, there is a good chance you will get a crack at some teal. One of the biggest shooting tips I can give new teal hunters is to avoid flock shooting. These birds will zip into the decoys at a high rate of speed and it’s tempting to just try to blow holes into the flock. Try to pick out individual birds and aim for the head. A smooth swing and steady lead is also important. I use a 12 gauge with four or five shot. A modified choke will give you some room for error while still offering consistent patterns.
One of the great things about teal hunting is that it doesn’t take a lot to knock them down. Teal hunts are perfect for introducing new hunters to duck hunting. A 20 gauge with some 4 shot is perfect for young hunters. Teal are pretty forgiving when it comes to movement in the blind as well. They are usually focused on the decoys and if a youngster gets a little excited they will still get a shot. Since it’s fast shooting, it’s also completely forgivable to let them claim a bird or two that fell to a more experienced barrel. Have fun out there!