On the Fly… Early Teal Season is in Full Swing

For the avid Texas wingshooter, September is life in the fast lane. It opens quickly with dove – arguably one of the swiftest of all gamebirds – and picks up speed when teal roll through the state.
If you missed the opening day of early teal season last Saturday, it may be that it flew by as fast as did the little ducks.

While dove hunting usually takes center stage in September, Texas Parks and Wildlife biologists say hunters shouldn’t overlook the opportunity, not to mention the challenge of teal hunting.

The wet late summer was bad for the opening of dove season, but all the water has been good for the early arriving teal. It seems a little unusual to be sitting in a duck blind in short sleeves in mid-September, sweating and swatting at mosquitoes between flights of clustered teal.

Last year, about 30,000 hunters took advantage of the early season. According to Dave Morrison, TPW waterfowl program leader, hunters harvested about 95,000 birds. “As is the case with all duck hunting, water is the key to success,” says Morrison.

“Teal are showing up on ponds, which is earlier than usual, Morrison noted. “It’s still pretty dry across most of the state, but where there is water, you are probably going to see some birds this year.”

There are three species of these small puddle ducks. Although green-winged and cinnamon teal show up in the bag, blue-wings make up about 96% of the teal harvest during the early season. Like mourning dove, blue-winged teal migrate early, coming through Texas from late August through October. Early teal season was established to provide hunting opportunity on a species that was lightly harvested because its migration is earlier than other ducks.

Because teal numbers remain well above the long-term population goals in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, Texas is allowed to conduct a 16 day early hunting season. The U.S. fish and Wildlife Service estimates that there are 5.8 million blue-wings in this year’s breeding duck population. This year, the early teal season runs September 15-30 statewide. Legal shooting hours for teal are 30 minutes before sunrise to sunset. The daily bag limit is four, and the possession limit is eight ducks.

“Hunting teal is usually hit or miss, depending on weather conditions,” said Morrison. ‘What impacts teal season the most is the timing of the cool fronts in September. With a 16 day season, we have the opportunity to bracket the fronts coming through later in the month.”

Hunters along the coast can also take advantage of fall equinox tides that typically arrive in September, according to TPW biologist Todd Merendino in Bay City. “We’re holding some fresh water on Peach Point (Wildlife Management Area) and prospects for big ducks at Mad Island WMA during the general season are looking pretty good. Overall, once the equinox tides start coming in, we should have a pretty good season.”

In addition to the above-mentioned sites, almost 50 other units of public hunting lands covering more than 500,000 acres are available during the September teal season. A $40 Annual Public Hunting Permit is required. These permits are available wherever hunting licenses are sold. A map booklet and dove supplement detailing location and hunting restrictions on public lands will be issued upon purchase of the annual hunting permit from a TPW office or mailed within two weeks if the permit is bought at a retail license outlet.

Teal hunters are also reminded that a $7 special Texas Waterfowl Stamp and a $15 Federal Duck Stamp are required to hunt teal. In addition, certification in the Harvest Information Program is mandatory in order to hunt any migratory game bird in Texas. HIP certification is free of charge and is completed at the time of hunting license purchase. Hunters are asked a few simple questions about their migratory bird hunting activity last season and about their plans for hunting doves, ducks, geese and sandhill cranes this year.
Before the early teal season ends, I intend to take advantage of the brief season to test my shooting skills at hitting the speedy blue-wings.

I’ll have to hurry to make a hunt, and I may have to speed up my shotgun swing to have a chance at a tasty duck dinner.