Teal Time LEAVE THE WADERS BEHIND FOR THIS WARM-WEATHER DUCK HUNT

Sleep is hard to come by the night before the opening of early teal season. It might be the rough ground of the campsite, which my back hasn't felt since the end of deer season. Or the high-pitched whine of tree frogs that my suburban ears have become unaccustomed to. More likely, it's my anticipation of the hunt. In my mind's eye I see birds tolling through the marsh, 10 yards away. I worry about missing, which is too often a fact of life when shooting at teal.

The pigeon-sized birds are the first to fly south, filling the coastal marshes and flooded fields along the way. Action is intense in eastern North Carolina's Pamlico Sound, where birds dart in and out of marsh grass patches and shooting windows are limited to fractions of seconds.

The mainland shores of North Carolina's sounds are littered with public impoundments and open water for early-season hunters. It has become tradition to re-acclimate ourselves with the outdoors and the hunting seasons to come by pitching a tent, swapping stories and practicing our shooting skills on blue- and green-winged teal.

Pamlico Point is a state-run series of impoundments in the Goose Creek Game Lands. There, we swing on teal while most hunters are seeking doves in cornfields.

In fact, I've heard early-season teal hunts described as dove hunting over water. The nimble birds change directions like houseflies, often evading steel shot time and again. Like a dove field, habitat is a must for a successful teal hunt, and the impoundments are typically in pristine shape.

With good growth of aquatic vegetation and the right weather conditions--a front to move the birds--the ducks pour into the impoundments. Filling limits (usually four) is common, but so is missing on seemingly easy shots.

LOW-MAINTENANCE HUNTING

Duck hunters are obsessive about their gadgets. From motion decoys to numerous calls, we load ourselves down with stuff. I'm drawn to the challenge of early teal because I only need a few items for a successful hunt.

Because the marsh foliage is still thick and green, there's no need for a blind. Often a swamp stool set in the marsh provides enough cover. Just standing in the grass will suffice, if it's tall enough. Teal don't spook as easily as other ducks.

Probably the most convenient feature of the season is the warm water. This eliminates the need for bulky, insulated waders. A pair of hip boots or, even better, just an old pair of sneakers is all that's needed to trudge through the muck.

Some hunters find it necessary to set decoys as if they were field generals arranging infantry in battle. Luckily teal don't require an overwhelming display of plastic bobbing in the water. All you need to bring them close are 12 to 24 decoys set within a couple of feet of the bank.

Goose Creek Game Land hunts are by permit only during "high-pressure" hunting days. Information on permits, seasons, campsites and other public lands can be found at the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (www.ncwildlife.org; 919-733-7291).

For more regional information, go to www.outdoorlife.com/regional