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Teal season is the kick-off to duck season. Because blue-wings typically arrive in earnest in late August and early September, it’s a chance for waterfowlers to shake off the rust after months without ducks. But because it’s been so long since we’ve shot drakes over the decoys, many of us are over-eager and throw out an obscene number of decoys. We figure, the bigger the spread, the more birds we will kill. Wrong.
I’m not saying you can’t throw decoys out and kill blue-wings. Of course you can. What I am saying is that you don’t need to haul all that gear into the marsh. September teal don’t care about floaters. They key in on motion. So you can kill them without setting a single decoy. Here’s how.
Show Teal Plenty of Motion
The public marsh I hunt every year is always bustling with hunters. Many of them lug every decoy they own into the complex. But they don’t need to. I do bring a dozen or two floaters with me just in case, because it’s so unnatural not to bring decoys to a duck hunt, but I run a strictly motion spread.
Typically, I’ll bring five Mojos: three are a mix of teal and wood ducks, the other two are dove spinners. I also add in six to eight Mojo Flock-a-Flickers, and either a pair of butt-up pulsators or on-the-water spinners that flick small bursts of water into the air.
I do this for two reasons. First, to have success duck hunting on public land, and even private land, you have to be doing something different than your neighbor. If ducks see two blobs of decoys and a pair of mallard spinners in every spread, then they see your circus of motion decoys, they’re going to key in on your rig. Second, blue-wing teal also don’t care about decoys. They want motion. They’re like a young mallard on opening day in North Dakota. They see that motion and don’t mind whether you’re hidden. Blue-wings see the flash of the spinning-wings and have to come in for a look.
There’s no real methodology to how I place the motion decoys. I just spread them out 20 to 25 yards away from the levee. If I am hunting solo, I simply sit on a bucket or lay down on the bank where I think the birds are going to center up. If there are two of us, I’ll sit on one end of the spread and put my buddy on the other. Playing the wind isn’t as important in teal hunting as it is hunting big ducks, but if you can set up with the wind at your back or a crosswind, do it.
Don’t Hunt the X on Public Land
On private land, you hunt where teal want to be. There’s no competition, so you might as well set up in the spot they are feeding or coming to loaf. Public land is different. Everyone wants to be on the X.
You need to spend extra time scouting. Finding teal is a good start, but learning where they traffic from roost to feed is more important. Your competition is going to know where the teal want to be, but they probably won’t know their exact flight pattern. If you can figure that out, and get under birds, you don’t have to worry about jockeying for the best spot. Knowing teal flight paths allows you to cut the birds off before they get to the holes where everyone else is set up.
Don’t be afraid to set spinners on dry land along those flight lines. Teal are early flyers and in that dim light around shooting time, they aren’t going to know the difference between land and water, they will just see motion and decoy to it. I figured this out years ago during a field honker hunt that was near a large wetland. A flock of green-wings landed on the hood of the pit right at shooting light, then whirred around our spread and came in again because we had two spinners going on either end of the pit. We were able to kill four out of that flock of five on their second pass.
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Set Up on Top of Your Neighbor
This goes against everything I have been taught as a public-land duck hunter, but hunting within 100 yards of another group is actually better for teal hunting as long as you do it safely. Blue-wings tend to buzz the spinners more than they actually decoy on top of them (though that’s not always the case) and also typically fly in good-sized flocks. The flock will come into your spread, you will shoot, and then any birds you missed will keep flying hard in a straight line or shoot skyward, so your pals down the levee or a group behind you on the other side of a treeline can get shots off as well; hopefully bagging a few birds in the process.
Teal hunting should not be competitive like it is for birds during regular duck season. It’s an equal opportunity endeavor, particularly since they are so fickle and can be here one day and gone the next (unless you hunt an an area where they winter, like Texas and Louisiana). I’m not suggesting you try and get a stranger to buy into this philosophy the morning of the opener—that’s likely a no-go. And don’t just set up on top of someone you’ve never met.
But I have gone up to other hunters—mainly in low water years when there are fewer places to hunt—and said, “Look, I’m just going to walk past you and setup a few spinners, and you can have first crack at all the birds. I’ll just shoot whatever you don’t.” And that has resulted in some pretty awesome hunts for me, plus a few new friends because they couldn’t believe I would actually pass on birds and let them shoot first in a public marsh.
You can also plan for this scenario by splitting a group of four hunters in half and setting up close to one another. I’ve seen up to six hunters hunting teal together, and it makes no sense to me. It looks like a firing line, and they kill fewer birds unless the teal all ball up on the spinner at once. At the very least, set the spread of motion decoys and have half the group hunt the front end of the rig and the other half the back end. It will make for a far better hunt.