Enveloped in darkness, we waited in the warm, humid boat as various frogs,
reptiles, bugs, and other creatures of the marsh added their voices to the
natural cacophony heralding a new day in this diverse wetland.
Above us, rapidly beating unseen wings whistled over our heads until we
heard the sound of something splashing into the pond in front of us. In the
distance, faint whistles and high-pitched squeals trumpeted the movements of
other birds as small, twisting shapes rocketed over the grass before vanishing
into the still dark sky.
As legal shooting hours began, distant muffled man-made thunder rolled across
the marshes, punctuated by loud blasts from other hunters only a few hundred
yards away. After months of waiting, another hunting season had begun with the
opening of a new September teal season.
"The September teal season is one of the first opportunities to get back
into hunting after months of spring and summer," explained Jeff Dauzat of Fin and Feather Guide Service (504-818-2176/http://finandfeatherguides.com/) who
hunts the delta marshes along the Mississippi River south of New Orleans. "There's nothing like seeing the
sun come up, hearing the frogs and other wildlife waking up, seeing the ripple
on the water and hearing the whistling wings overhead for the first time in
months. That really gets us back into the rhythm of things for the regular
season. True sportsmen live for that moment."
A harbinger of fall, blue-winged teal migrate much earlier than other ducks,
sometimes arriving on the Gulf
Coast by late August.
Consequently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allows some states to hold
special September teal seasons to increase the harvest of this underutilized
"For many people, teal season is the kick-off for a new hunting season,"
explained Jud Easterwood, the waterfowl project study
leader for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. "Teal
have very long migrations. Some of them go all the way to South
America so they leave earlier than other ducks. Frequently, blue-winged
teal are long gone by the time the regular duck season opens. Hunters bag
mostly blue-winged teal in September, but occasionally, they bag a green-wing."
Hunting teal in September closely parallels waterfowling
later in the fall, only warmer and often with more bugs. Sportsmen still need
to set up blinds, toss out decoys and remain stealthy. Since teal typically fly
at first light or before, hunts seldom last long. In a good spot, teal hunters
might head home with a limit before the sun even cracks the horizon.
Fast and tremendously agile, teal often fly in small, tight flocks that
maneuver as one unit. Teal erratically zoom over decoys, making extremely
challenging targets. Their unpredictable flight characteristics endear teal to
most waterfowlers. Often flying extremely low, they
may appear out of nowhere and vanish just as quickly. Frequently, sportsmen
look over their decoys and see nothing. Moments later, they notice several teal
swimming in the decoys and can't figure out how they arrived without notice.
"Teal don't really circle," Dauzat explained.
"They twitter along over the marsh, see the decoys and dive-bomb in. It's not
like trying to work a mallard that circles and circles and never commits."
Of course, sportsmen must find teal before they can hunt them. One day, teal
may swarm a pond like a whistling tornado. The next day, sportsmen may see
empty skies. To find teal, look for food sources. They often eat aquatic
vegetation such as duckweed, pondweeds and grass seeds. They also consume large
amounts of aquatic invertebrates found in shallow wetlands.
On public land, scout out three or four places to hunt in case other hunters
also found that pothole. Many rivers can provide good public hunting. Lakes and
coastal bays typically belong to the public and allow shooting. A pop-up blind
on a small boat makes a good mobile shooting platform.
In most states, sportsman may only shoot blue-winged and green-winged teal
during the September season. In some states west of the Mississippi, hunters may also bag cinnamon
teal. Depending upon the hunting location, sportsmen might also spot wood ducks
during teal season. In Gulf
Coast marshes, waterfowlers might also find non-migratory mottled ducks. Hunters
may also see early migrating shovelers, which also
have blue patches on their wings, or other species. Make absolutely sure of the
target before pulling the trigger.
Despite the heat, this "pre-season" to duck hunting can give sportsmen more
opportunities afield to make more memories while polishing their shooting and
calling skills as a tune-up to the regular season a couple months away.
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