With The Declining Numbers Of Mallards-Make The Switch…
We stood in the waist deep water in the middle of the Maple River waterfowl flooding waiting for the guns to announce duck opener. Suddenly there were a few shots, and then all hell broke loose as hunters opened up on one of the fastest flying ducks in the world–teal. Hey, if you think jumped partridge, mallards or acrobatic doves are hard to shoot, try hunting lightning-fast teal that buzz your decoy spread like runaway jet fighters. Their speed is impressive and their twisting, turning, darting flying tactics will leave your heart pounding and gun empty.
I’ve long been a teal lover, ever since my father took me on bluewing teal hunts in September. Hey, Michigan’s DNR is really missing the boat by not allowing a September hunt to harvest these early migrants who vacate Michigan before duck opener.
With the declining numbers of mallards, I’ve made the switch to teal on opening weekend. I’ve changed hunting tactics, found new hot spots and the result is fast-paced duck shooting that reminds me of days of old when birds filled the sky and shooting a box of shells was no big deal. Today duck hunting is different, we have a riot hunting one of the fastest moving birds with wings and at days end we enjoy the fantastic flavor of these diminutive delicate sweet-tasting ducks.
Opening day is such a hoot! I hunt with my son, Zach, and neighbor Scott Goldammer from East Lansing. We get to our spot around 3 a.m., set out decoys, enjoy hot coffee and food, relax in the comfort of camouflage chairs we carry on home made arm straps and we wait for first light. We are hunting the heaviest pressured spot in the state, and when the shooting starts we are counting on flocks of teal buzzing our spread. This is pass shooting at its finest. The birds don’t get a chance to land because shotguns are booming in every direction and teal simply turn on the afterburners and zip around the marsh like miniature migs out of control. More birds will blow past you at lightning speed than you will actually drop. Sometimes you will be watching a flock when a new flock will zoom overhead, and before you draw and shoot; they are out of range and blitzing past more hunters.
For the first hour of opener the teal shooting fun is exhilarating, worth the sleepless night and year-long wait. Legal shooting time was only minutes away and we hadn’t seen any teal we hoped would arrive on yesterday’s cold front. Then as the woodie hunters started booming in the flooded timber and mallard hunters opened up in the marsh, teal zoomed our way from every direction.
Suddenly there was the sound of a jet fighter swooshing air and half a dozen teal cut over our spread, banked right and made a mock speed turn past Zack. He raised his gun, dumped a bird and the rest zigzagged low to the water and out of sight. Scott opened up on a pair that passed overhead and a beautiful male green-wing splashed in the water. I came up gunning on three birds that flew directly at me, when the thunder ended we were all looking for downed birds.
Scott was wading back with his bird when another blew in. Zach and I were barely reloaded. “Get’em!” I shouted and we both doubled again. In less than an hour we had downed our limit of teal. What a start to the season.
Not all duck hunts start and end this fast but we have done our scouting and located a teal magnet, a funnel area, a high-traffic teal magnet that offers terrific action. Our teal shoot is a bonus hunting opportunity and a great way to jump-start the regular duck season.
Teal use both large waters and small ponds, including lakes, marshes, beaver ponds, gravel pits, etc. They feed on aquatic vegetation and small invertebrates in shallow areas and frequently rest on muskrat houses and mud flats bordering shallows.
The best way to find them is scouting a day or two before season. Take your waders, a good walking stick, and binoculars and cover some water. If teal are around you will see them especially as darkness approaches and birds become active in the cool evening breeze. Sometimes large flocks will appear following a cold front. Other times finding birds is a boom or bust proposition because teal are driven by cold fronts and the outlook can change quickly. One thing is certain, by the second week of duck season their numbers have significantly declined in Michigan and taking your limit is almost out of the question. Now it becomes time to concentrate on mallards or geese.
I’ve tried plenty of tactics on teal and my deadliest trick is to turn a muskrat house into a duck hotel. I clear vegetation using a rake, make the pile even higher and put a couple full body resting mallard decoys on the big hump. Since Michigan teal are not in winter breeding plumage I use smallish mallard decoys and place them in the open water around the mound. More importantly, I set up a couple water motion decoys in the open water to make the area look like resting birds surrounded by feeding friends. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve used teal decoys but the problem with most is they are painted in winter breeding plumage and they are teal size-small. It has been my experience that birds have trouble seeing the itsy decoys at long distances. With my set up birds see the big clump with big mallards on top, zero-in for a better look, pick up the water motion and circle the spread, giving us ample shooting opportunities.
My favorite water motion decoy is the Super Wonderduck Tornado made by the creative Mr. Walter Solomon at Wonderduck Decoys at (800-876-1697). It gives maximum water motion, runs on two D-cell batteries for 31 hours, has an adjustable head and paddle and easy on/off switch. Once ducks see the Tornado splashing water like ducks gone amok over food, they cup wings and dive close for a better look. Wonderduck Tornado is designed to spin in a circle, like a dog chasing its tail, which mimics the feeding action of ducks gulping chow off the water surface. It gives you maximum decoy motion and sends ripples of water though the spread that makes stationary decoys come to life. Use one and I guarantee you will be impressed with the tremendous water and sight motion it gives your spread. Use a Wonderduck on a bluebird day when decoys look dead and it will bring them to life, draw birds like a magnet and provide fast-paced shooting fun when other hunters are pickin’ their nose.
Locations That Work
The trick to decoying teal is you want to be in open water, preferably a location where they can circle, drop low to the water and swing into your spread. The number of decoys I use depends on the location, four dozen works in most situations. On one pond I set out only a dozen decoys. Well, make that 13 because I used a baby MOJO spinning wing decoy set on a high pole in the middle of the spread. Teal are drawn to MOJO spinning-wing decoys like magnets and at first light several teal zoomed into the spread, set wings and landed. Soon a second flight dove headlong into the decoys and in a matter of an hour I was fast running out of shells. Obviously, birds were using this location.
Too Much Calling
I get a kick out of some Michigan duck hunters. They blow a mallard call at every duck they see–woodies, gadwall, even teal. Truth is, teal make a higher pitched call than a mallard. I call them with my mouth and (I’m amazed at how well they respond to the high pitched call that mimics their sounds). My experience has been that the louder and more frequently you call, the less likely teal will respond and fly your way. Most mallard hunters would be best off to leave their call around their neck.
Forget That 3 ½ Inch
Teal are buzz bombs of the duck world and fly past at lightning speed, dart unpredictably in any direction; thus earning the reputation as the trickiest targets in waterfowl shooting. However, they are easy to bring down. A couple pellets in the target will cause them to splash down. This is why I prefer to use 2 ¾ shells in #4 loads and my modified choke. Most of my shooting is inside 30 yards and I don’t like the punishment that the big loads dish out. My father’s favorite teal choke was improved and on more than one occasion I’ve seen him dump birds that other hunters blew past with super tight, super powerful heavy loads.
I’ve had great teal hunts in Michigan. I’ve shot them over farm ponds, open water, jumped them in marshes. Several times I’ve hunted teal in the morning and geese in the afternoons. What a fantastic way to enjoy an October day!
Opening morning last year was one of the best ever. The fast-paced shooting action and spectacle of many birds at close range combined for a super experience. It was great to see my son and friend in the early morning light shooting at fast-flying blurred feathers. Watching them shoot, reload and chase downed birds was sort of a carnival-like atmosphere.
What about you? Are you still searching empty skies for flights of mallards? Isn’t time to make the switch to teal? Guess what, they are the real deal.