Waterfowl biologists have claimed that bluebird days are the best flight days for migrating waterfowl. That claim held true during our recent annual teal season here in Missouri, which ended last Sunday.
I skipped the opening weekend of teal season, because a lot of fair weather hunters crowd the lakes and streams for the opener. Being retired from my day job allows me the luxury of hunting during the week.
I readied all of my teal hunting equipment a week ahead of time. Teal hunting is one of my favorite outdoor pursuits. The tiny 6-ounce ducks are the first migrators each fall. They begin showing up in Missouri in mid-August. The Missouri season usually begins around the fifth of September and runs two weeks.
I traveled a short distance from home to a 10-acre lake for my first teal hunt of the 2016 season. The lake is often covered with waterfowl during the regular duck season, so I reasoned that teal would be numerous there as well.
The morning air had a chill, a first hint that fall approached. Heavy cloud cover and a slight drizzle welcomed me as I stepped out the front door of my rural home. Thoughts of returning to the comforts of home and another cup of coffee crossed my mind.
However, this would be my first outing of the new hunting season. I would not miss it, rain or shine.
I paddled my olive drab kayak across the lake to the north end, where the water depth went from shallow to non-existent quickly. A watery jungle of mosses and smart weeds created the perfect habitat for teal. The minute birds love to loaf and feed in such areas.
I felt confident that I would connect with teal in this perfect location. Just as it became light enough to see well, I spotted a pair of birds flying straight at my decoys, perhaps two feet off of the water.
My watch indicated that 20 more minutes needed to tick away before legal shooting hours.
The pair of ducks turned to be wood ducks. A novice hunter could have easily mistaken the wood duck hen for a blue-winged teal. They look very similar. It is for that very reason that the Missouri Department of Conservation sets teal season shooting hours at sunrise, rather than 30 minutes prior, like regular duck season.
Teal are the only ducks allowed during teal season, therefore, it is paramount that hunters make positive identifications.
Wood ducks zoomed across my decoys off and on for two hours, but not a single teal showed up. The woodies were, no doubt, local birds. Teal are serious migrators and most likely were resting out the foul weather in some cozy location.
I traveled to another lake for days 2, 3, and 4. The lousy weather persisted. So did my goose egg. I had not collected one single teal in four days of hunting. Discouraging.
I skipped the next day, because the weather looked to be a repeat. The weather channel, however, predicted blue skies for the following day.
I left extra early to arrive in plenty of time to put out a little larger decoy spread. I sat up on a point of a lake, where ducks like to swing over the tip and circle the entire lake before swinging back to the point and committing to the decoys.
It promised to be a good day when I saw a flight of teal silhouetted against the night sky. Soon, I heard the unmistakable sound of air whistling across dozens of wings.
The sky blushed pink and blue in the east. Forty teal streaked across my decoys at 60 mph, hooked hard and circled back to set down. Wings fluttered just over head as dozens of teal put on the brakes and began to filter down into the set. I filmed the whole, as 15 minutes remained before legal time to shoot.
Flight after flight of teal zoomed up and down the lake. The aerial show, at 6:30 in the morning, proved to be as beautiful a sight I had ever seen in the wild. You can see it, too at: www.aoutdoorstv.com. Look under “Hunting Shows.”
A good size flock hooked at the west end of the lake as my watch read 6:52 a.m. I could shoot.
I peeped on my teal call and the birds turned in unison and bore down on my decoys. I managed two shots at the speeding birds. A trio of blue-winged teal summersaulted out of the sky and splashed at the outside edge of my decoys. I had my first teal of the 2016 season down.
Less than five minutes later, another flock snuck in from behind me and put distance between us quickly. I managed to swing on them and drop the last two birds in the bunch. I needed one more bird to fill a 6-bird limit.
I expected the bird to be difficult to get. I needed a bird separated from a bunch, so that I did not down more than one bird.
My wish came true a few minutes later. Two dozen birds swept over the decoys. One bird thought the flock would drop into the decoys. It veered off and did, in fact drop into the decoys, at the report of my shotgun.
My limit of 6 blue-winged teal had taken me all of 15 minutes to harvest. Just like the waterfowl biologist had said, “major flight days occur on bluebird days.”
(Bill Cooper can be reached at 573-263-4918 or email@example.com.)