Teal are little waterfowl, most of them a pound or less, and they're hardly hunted at all, even by dedicated duck hunters.
Why? I really don't know, because these fast flying birds have a lot going for them. Their season begins Saturday because they hate cold weather and head south before any other duck. So, give or take the early goose season, they're the only game in town for a couple of weeks with a long dry spell between until the regular season begins on Oct. 20.
Those few who choose to seek them should find plenty of birds, since blue-winged teal took advantage of improved water conditions in the north to achieve their third highest breeding population on record. Green-winged teal reached their second highest number, and even cinnamon teal (rare, indeed) were up a bit
If there's another reason to hunt these small puddle ducks, it's their table quality. Talking about which duck is best in the skillet or oven has started many an argument, but I've eaten most kinds and rate teal No. 1, so tender and flavorsome that some gunners call them "butterballs." Just for the record, I'd rate wood ducks No. 2, canvasbacks and redheads 3 and 4 in that order, and mallards a slow fifth.
If there's a problem, it's that most duck hunters don't know how to find some, and building a blind on big water with a huge spread of magnum blocks will bring in few indeed. They're not called puddle ducks for nothing, and shooting a limit of teal requires hunting for them. For example, they love little farm ponds, and like them even better if they're surrounded with cattails and have extensive weed beds. Our county has a goodly number of these, but you don't sit down along the shore of such a pond and wait for long hours.
A friend of mine and I once built a list of nearly a dozen such ponds, and each afternoon during the early season we'd hit them one after the other, slipping up quietly, crawling if necessary, and glassing each pond with binoculars. This one would have no birds, the next perhaps three or four, the next two nothing, and another a nice flock of 25 or more. We filled many a limit on those ponds.
Since teal love little waters, you shouldn't be surprised to hear that some of those waters favored for overnighting are small indeed. One of my best hunting spots was a long drainage ditch, a mile or better, that seldom had more than a foot of water in it and a width of more than eight or 10 feet. Our standard tactic here, since birds used the ditch every year, was to sit somewhere at mid-length and glass up and down until we saw a flock pitch in. Then slip down, walk in to the ditch, and take our shots as they flushed.
Swamps are favorites too, so long as there's a little open water here and there, and we found a dandy in a bottom one afternoon simply by accidentally seeing a flock appear and drop into nowhere. I got permission from the farmer and we quickly found that several large flocks were spending the night there. Our tactics changed at that point. We knew that teal (and many other ducks) would overnight in such places, fly out in the morning to feed, then return to loaf over much of the afternoon before flying out seeking supper and returning before dark in two's and three's and little flocks.
So, we hunted there in late morning or early afternoon, taking our birds, then leaving before the main flocks arrived. Had we shot them up at dawn or dusk the whole group would have left permanently. This way we had good shooting for nearly a week before the survivors wised up. It's a simple formula if you're itching to go duck hunting. Work the little waters and hunt until you find some. Then see if you decide to call them "butterballs," too.
Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at email@example.com
Ohio sportsmen can win thousands of dollars worth of cash and prizes while helping to protect hunting during the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance's 11th Annual Save Our Heritage Rally Sept. 15. Hunters, anglers, and trappers from across the Buckeye state will come together at the Aladdin Shrine Temple in Columbus to celebrate the state's outdoor traditions. Everyone who purchases an event ticket and attends the Rally will receive a single entry in the Grand Prize drawing for $10,000. Other prizes include an Alaskan fishing charter, a Canadian fishing trip, new firearms, and much more. Contact the Alliance at (614) 888-4868 to buy tickets.
Wild Ohio, the Division of Wildlife's popular television program, is now available on the Internet for viewing on demand at MyOutdoorTV.com. Wild Ohio features hunting, fishing, and wildlife interest stories specific to Ohio, and each 30 minute episode contains tips and information useful to all wildlife enthusiasts. Viewers can search for specific topics, including stories on Lake Erie, traditional archery, yellow perch fishing, or wild turkey hunting.
Ohio hunters will again enjoy a 60-day duck hunting season and a six-duck bag limit this year. The waterfowl hunting seasons are set to open Oct. 20 in both Ohio's north and south zones. The daily bag limit may not include more than four mallards (one female), two woodies, one black duck, one pintail, two redheads, three mottled ducks, two canvasbacks or two scaup.