It’s early, and we’re all getting antsy. Sure, doves help some – actually, doves help our collective shotgunning mental states quite a bit. Same with early, aka resident Canadas; however, it’s just not the same. But it’s getting close, where here IT refers to opening day of the regular season.
But in the meantime, there are teal – and if you’re not a fan of teal…well, it’s my way of thinking you’re not a fan of duck hunting. Teal present a conglomeration of everything that is waterfowl and waterfowl hunting – speed, challenge, decoys, a little calling, not to mention some of the finest eating, I’d venture to say, on the planet.
What’s more, teal populations, according to avian number crunchers with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are sky-high. Blue-winged teal numbers stand at 9.2 million, up three percent from last year, and up an astonishing 94 percent over the long-term average. Greenwings are estimated at 3.4 million, a 20 percent jump over 2011. As for cinnamons – all I know, and I’ll admit unscientifically, is I saw plenty of the handsome little devils while on Utah’s Farmington Bay in June, and even more on Idaho’s Blackfoot Reservoir during a bowfishing expedition there.
Where will the little speedsters be this week? They’re here in Iowa already; however, they’re having trouble finding water, thanks to Mother Nature’s decision to hold back anything remotely resembling rain over the course of the past three months. I’m sure some blue-wings have passed the Hawkeye State on by. That’s fine, considering that Iowa, like Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have no early teal season. That may change, but for now, it’s squirrels and doves in the Upper Midwest.
But Tony Vandemore in central Missouri has teal. Vandemore made his own water, and the birds have responded. “It’s dry here,” Tony told me, “but we have water, and the migration has definitely started. I expect to see more birds come the full moon [31 August/1 September]; I always do.” Some pintails have made their way down to central Missouri, said Vandemore – not surprising, as they’re early migrants like the smaller blue-winged cousins.
Over Kentucky way, call-maker Field Hudnall sits 40 miles northeast of Louisville on the Ohio River. “We’re not seeing much of anything right now,” the calling champ said. “Lots of local geese, and some wood ducks, but there’s no migration to speak of. We’ll know more, though, after this weekend (1 September) and the start of our early goose season.”
Right now, the question for teal hunters at the southern end of the flyway is what impact Hurricane Isaac will have both on habitat conditions in Louisiana and Mississippi, as well as on transient teal already on southern marshes. “With the rest of the flyway so dry,” said Rod Haydel of Haydel’s Game Calls, “we were looking at a banner teal season. We’d had quite a bit of rain in southwest Louisiana, and most everything was full. The problem with Isaac is going to be the storm surge pushing saltwater into the freshwater marshes, and the resulting vegetation die-off. No vegetation, no feed, no ducks. That’s in the long term. As for Isaac itself, I anticipate the heavy rains will scatter the birds, pushing them into the rice fields rather than onto the marshes.” Louisiana’s teal season opens 15 September, and continues through the 30th.
Up north and across the border, our Canadian brothers in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario begin their traditional duck seasons in September, anytime from the first to the third week, depending on province and zone. “I’m definitely seeing more birds this year,” said Mike Hungle, a flyway manager for Avery Outdoors and resident of Regina. “Mallards, mostly, but lots of teal. Teal numbers are way up. And the sandhill cranes are starting to move into the (Regina) area now, so it’s getting close. A couple more weeks, and the first snow geese will be here.”