We waterfowl hunters are a strange breed.  We get up in the middle of the night, drive countless miles to set out decoys in the dark.  Then we sit or stand peering through puffy, sleep deprived eyes at the horizon to see dark spots in the sky.

As the dark sky begins to show signs of awakening with orange streaks, we are encouraged as the first flight of birds appears.  Gone are the monotony, cold, and sleepiness as we prepare to begin the morning’s shoot.

So it is during teal season, the first of the waterfowl season in Illinois.  Mosquitos buzz around your head and feast on your flesh.  Teal and the other small ducks are the first to migrate to Illinois, landing first in the Illinois River bottoms and later further south along the Mississippi, Kaskaskia, and Ohio Rivers.

Teal are like ill mannered relatives.  You do not know when they will arrive, or even if they will arrive in time for the season.  All conditions must be perfect.  As they arrive, the birds may spot another location that is more to their liking and drop in there for the duration.  Then for some unknown reason, they may just pick up and leave the area.

Puddle ducks, teal frequent freshwater slews and rivers.  They feed by dipping to get vegetable matter.  Once discovered, they spring into flight like the space shuttle.

The call of a teal is similar to that of a mallard in pattern, but much higher in pitch.  Hunters give a blue wing teal call during the season, as the blue wings are the likely of the two species to be encountered.

Teal work quietly, which requires callers to use a high ball only to get their attention and let them work in quietly.  If they are not responding, one can try a very fast, but soft, feeding chuckle as they close.  This will encourage them to drop right into range.

As for decoys, some teal dekes set in a few groups of 3 to 5 provide all the “confidence” they seem to need.  One can use about 15 teal decoys with a few mallards or pintails for color.  Even a bluebill will get their attention.  Teal do not like to have to fly over other ducks when they are landing.  They seem to be easily intimidated.  Be sure to leave an open fly and kill zone between the decoys spreads.

If the spread is working, the teal will drop in low, hard and fast.  If that is not happening, then something needs adjustment in the spread.  Teal do not land and then float into a spread.  They will be on the water immediately and take off the same.

One way to get teal to return to the spread is to use a teal whistle to encourage their curiosity.  They will turn and take another look at the location.  Use care in calling teal.  A little calling goes a long way.  Just use it to let them know you are there.

Use natural materials for your blind and stay hidden.  Listen carefully, as usually you will hear the little rascals before you see them.  Be prepared to shoot quickly.  Practice early before the season with clay targets, either the 90 mm or 60 mm size.  Learn to shoot fast at crossing targets.

Getting out early in the pre-dawn light is a pain but the dividends of great scenery and an early season for duck hunters makes it worth the effort.



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  1. Pingback: STRANGE PURSUIT OF EARLY WEBFOOTS | Don Gasaway's Blog

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