We stood waist deep in marsh water
waiting for daylight. Suddenly there were a few shots to the west and then all hell broke loose as hunters opened up on one of the most challenging birds to hunt–teal.
Hey, geese are fun and woodies are prolific but with mallard numbers way down many Michigan waterfowlers have made the switch to teal hunting. To sweeten the pie Michigan is taking part in a 3-year early teal season because federal studies indicate continental blue-winged teal populations have grown in recent years.
The USFWS recently completed a teal harvest assessment indicating teal populations can sustain additional harvest beyond regular duck migrate south prior to the regular duck season. The special early teal season gives waterfowlers an opportunity to extend their season and enjoy fast-paced shooting excitement during warm weather. However, many Michigan duck hunters missed the early teal season because they didn’t know it existed. Don’t miss early teal season this year, the shooting opportunities are better than regular duck season in October. The Michigan DNR is conducting a 3-year experimental early teal season and this could be your final opportunity to sample this splendid hunting opportunity.
The special early teal season opens statewide again this year on September 1 and runs 7 days until September 7. The bag limit is 6 birds per day and possession limit is 12 birds, which can include Blue-winged or Green-winged Teal. Hunters will need a Michigan waterfowl hunting license, HIP, Federal Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp and Michigan Base License.
The first hour of early teal season is a hoot as gunners begin shooting at flocks and birds swerve throughout the marsh. Some fly cattail height and zoom over decoys like mig jets with their tail feathers on fire while other flocks climb to the heavens and swoosh over open pockets of water exceeding speeds of 60 mph. This is the brand of duck hunting where you need to keep your head turning to spot distant dots in the sky that quickly merge as teal blasting your direction. Many swoosh past at lightning speed and you don’t even get your gun to your shoulder and they are gone, out of range, dipping and diving in and out of sight at supersonic speeds.
Teal are a riot to hunt. Unlike mallards they don’t cruise over decoys at high altitudes. Instead they dive bomb decoy spreads like miniature kamikaze ducks flying at unrealistic speeds. Some hit the water inside your decoy spread with a solid plop. Others bank, circle at jet fighter speeds and zoom past your blind like they have jet engines attached to their tiny bodies. The swooshing sound of their wings can sound like an attack jet plane diving toward earth. Teal are bold, blitz into your decoy spread and blast out before you can shoulder your shotgun. They challenge your waterfowling skills in every way and test your marksmanship. Put simply, teal are difficult to hit.
I remember the old special teal season when I would drive from Midland to Saginaw Bay and we would set decoys on the water bordering large marshes. My favorite haunt was Quanicassee State Wildlife Area east of the Saginaw River and Nayanquing Point found north of Linwood. The shooting fun was absolutely fantastic as endless flocks of Blue-winged Teal would strafe our decoy spread.
Blue-winged Teal are slightly larger than their green wing cousin and they tend to gather in large flocks, 6-30 birds and migrate across Michigan earlier than other ducks. Saginaw Bay is covered with them in late summer and come September many gather in groups up to 100 birds. The shooting on the September 1 opener is absolutely spectacular and you can count on burning up more shotgun ammo in one day than the rest of the entire duck season.
The same holds true for most Michigan large open water duck hot spots along with large marshes and connecting Great Lakes waterways. Migrate teal tend to congregate in cattails, flooded grasses, coon tail and large marshes bordered by open water. They like to cruise the edges of open water in flocks, dashing in and out of bays and zooming over marshy points and fingers of land. My number one all-time super teal hunting spot is at the tip of Fish Point at the end of Ringle Road where a long finger of land sticks out into the huge expanse of Saginaw Bay and hundreds of teal buzz the point like no other.
For this brand of hunting you need plenty of shells. Smart hunters switch from #2 mallard loads to #4 duck loads that offer more pellets and a denser pattern. Forget that extra full or full choke and go with a modified choke tube that gives you a wider pellet pattern when shooting at birds that are decoying. Perhaps the most endearing trait of teal is how they challenge your shooting skills. They don’t just fly by and offer broadside simple shots. Instead they dive into your decoys, zoom up and down, fly directly at your shouldered weapon and blitz past at such close range you can feel the air move from the rush of their wings. Teal fly fast, seldom in a straight line and switch direction at top speed and often leave unprepared gunners in their dust.
Teal are suckers for just about any decoy spread. I’ve taken them over mallard decoys set in marshes, Woodie decoys in sloughs and bayous and floating goose decoys. Fact is when teal spot decoys they like to fly over the spread at Mach 2 speeds, lower wings and zip close to the spread. Sometimes they make abrupt turns and circle back to land in decoys. When it comes to sucking flocks of teal from long distances I’m absolutely sold on MOJO Blue-Winged Teal electronic spinning wing decoys. The fast spinning wings give off white flash that mimics landing ducks and wild teal dive for the unmatched action. The MOJO teal comes with bright blue patch on shoulder of wings, realistic body paint job and ultrafast wing rotation. The ultrafast rotating wings mimic wild birds and draw teal like no other. They help you fill your possession limit quicker than standard decoys and give you a leg up on those using traditional static, non-moving decoys.
Another waterfowling trick that fools fast moving teal is water motion decoys. You know, the kind that causes watery motion, make ripples that resemble real swimming birds. Back in the day dad taught me to use a pull cord attached to several decoys with a bungee cord and heavy weight on the end. Those days are over for this duck nut and today there are several moving water decoys on the market and I highly recommend Wonderduck decoys found online at www.wonderduck.com. Once you use a Wonderduck it will change duck hunting forever and you will have more landing ducks and close range shots than with any other decoy.
You would do back flips if you could sit in the blind with me over my decoy spread. First, it is unlike any other because I custom paint decoys for added realism. I no longer use large decoy spreads with magnum decoys. Instead I use less than a dozen but most are motion decoys. A few stationary feeder decoys are placed in the moving ripples close to swimming Wonderduck and I use at least two MOJO spinning wing decoys. At 100 yards my spread looks like a group of ducks in a feeding frenzy with other ducks trying to land on the hot spot. I just want to tell you my spread sucks birds from the heavens like a ducknado and my shootin’ is kissin’ close. This deadly strategy really shines on bluebird days when the sky is clear and ducks can see the watery ripples and flopping wings at long distances. My strategy is unbelievably successful. Just ask the Michigan conservation officers who swoop in on me every fall because they hear all the shooting and see ducks falling from the sky like rain when other hunters are bored.
While the DNR is announcing this is the last year for the experimental teal hunt I hope they give waterfowlers more hunting opportunities and have yearly future early teal hunts. Perhaps they can continue with early hunts on larger marshes and waterways full of teal. Part of the dilemma is birds congregate in late August and begin migrations. By regular duck opener most teal, especially the larger blue-winged populations have migrated south. The early season gives hunters an opportunity to be outdoors when solid teal numbers are available. After all, isn’t it the responsibility of the DNR to encourage hunting, to provide increased hunting opportunities and allow sportsmen to enjoy Michigan’s great outdoors to the max?
My father, Ray Darwin, loved hunting teal and he had a special way to call them with his mouth. He would make a high pitched laughing sound that resembled the call of wild birds. Growing up in Midland County we would make treks to the shore of Saginaw Bay and he would make his laughing call at flocks flying far out on the open water to bring Blue-winged Teal kissin’ close. Sometimes flocks would ignore his call, other times they would turn our direction immediately, make a super sharp turn, bank hard and blast directly over us at 60 mph. Wow! It was fun shooting into flocks going top speed. I’m not good at laughing but can call teal using a regular duck call and making high pitched calls in short succession. The trick is to make high pitched rapid calls.
Back in the 60s dad would jump shoot mallards while wading the flooded reeds along the Bay. He was a duck stalking junkie and taught me how to silently wade through cattails and bulrushes and sneak close to unsuspecting waterfowl. This brand of hunting is very exciting and stalking wild ducks requires advanced hunting skills. The results were impressive and dad would fill his trunk with plump mallards. But his favorite duck for eating was teal and he preferred to roll the succulent meat in bacon and grill. The trick is to grill the bacon until it is done but don’t over-cook the duck. You want the flesh to be slightly pink in the middle, moist, so it melts in your mouth. Dad’s favorite duck for eating was a young Blue-winged Teal.
I also learned that pass shooting teal is a riot. The trick is to identify flight patterns and move into position where you are in easy range of flying birds. Unlike other puddle ducks, teal love to get up and cruise the shore throughout the day. They also like to fly low to water and cattails and often zoom over points that stick out into open water. For this brand of hunting you watch flying birds, identify locations where they fly, move to exact position and stand with your finger on the safety and gun in a ready position. This style of hunting requires you often stand on a muskrat house, island, point or on your tip toes to see over open water and the entire marsh. You want to be looking every direction, constantly scanning the horizon for tiny dots that resemble miniature jets. If you sit in a blind or relax in a chair, teal that are making ceremonial marsh flights will swish pass you before you can flip off the safety and shoulder your shotgun. The exact teal fly time is random but sudden wind, cloud cover; other hunters moving around can get birds moving.
I hope you schedule for a hunt on the early teal season opener September 1. Some folks will be out for the goose opener and hopefully will have the opportunity to bag teal that swoosh into their goose decoy spread. Others will be hunting teal and have geese come into range. Either way, September 1 is an ideal time to be in the waterfowl blind. Don’t miss it!