September in Mississippi is a wonderful time that signals the start of the fall hunting seasons. Magnolia hunters take to the fields in droves for the mouth-watering morsels we call mourning doves, but they aren’t the only feathery foods we can hunt in September.
Hunters will also be out and about in search of resident Canada geese and migrating teal. Thank goodness old Noah didn’t like to eat teal as much as many Magnolia State hunters do. The world would’ve lost its last pair of bluewings in one sweep of the fork.
So put your taste buds on hold and read along as we discuss September waterfowl hunting opportunities here in Mississippi.
The 2007 early teal season was one of the best in a long time for Mississippians, due in part to late-summer rains and the third-highest bluewing numbers since 1955. Will the 2008 season be as good?
According to the latest surveys, bluewing numbers dropped 1 percent from the 2007 survey, but that’s still 45 percent above the long-term average (LTA). Green-winged teal are up 3 percent from last year and 57 percent above the LTA, which is the second-largest population ever for the second-most harvested bird.
Mississippians hunters will get 16 days to target teal this year, from Sept. 13-28. The limit is four birds per hunter per day.
Timing is of the essence when dealing with the fall teal migration. Blue-winged teal can come through weeks before or after the season is scheduled in Southern states, so it’s a real treat when the main push happens during those few calendar days we are allowed to hunt the little boogers.
Green-winged teal may also be present during the September season, but they are rare. Blue-winged teal don’t like cool weather at all, and will leave the prairie pothole region of Canada and the U.S. at the slightest hint of a cold front. Their passage through the Southern U.S. may linger for several weeks, or it may happen in a flash.
The little birds, whose wintering grounds lie farther south than most other North American duck species, eventually make their way to coastal areas of Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Guyana.
Where to hunt?
The first step in achieving a successful teal hunt is to find an area they are likely to use. Shallow backwater areas of lakes and reservoirs, as well as cattle ponds, borrow pits and shallow sloughs are areas that bluewings prefer.
Areas that had water in June may be bone dry in mid-September, so scouting a large area is very important. James Staten, a pro-staffer for Avery and Zink Calls, likes to begin scouting on rivers and lakes in his area, checking out the shallow water first.
“I have found that teal, unlike late-season big ducks, like more open-water shallow flats rather than true duck holes,” he said. “Usually we start by checking out the points coming off islands that lead into big shallow mud flats.”
Abandoned catfish ponds are also excellent areas to find teal. They usually have ample cover around the levees, and are only a few inches deep. The common denominator in these shallow mud-flat areas is that they are rich in invertebrates. Teal, like other dabblers, will feed on plant matter, but invertebrates make up more of their diet than other puddlers.
Teal hunting is carried out in typical puddle-duck fashion. A small spread of decoys can be used, and it generally doesn’t matter what species. There are a number of teal decoys on the market, but most any decoy will do.
“We tend to use about 15-20 teal (early-phase mixed with a few bluewing), and also we put in five or six (gadwall) or mallard hens,” says Avery pro-staffer Wesley Hamm.
Hamm says they usually have some local mallards and gadwall that hang around their area, and he believes that using a few decoys of these species makes a more convincing spread.
You don’t need many decoys — two dozen is plenty. Teal will respond to a call, and most hunters use their favorite mallard call.
“I have found that just speed up your cadence and use the teal peep whistle, and you should get them to work your spot well,” Staten said.
Shallow water mud flats can be great for the teal but torture when you have to wade through the knee-deep muck to pick up downed birds. For this reason, a pirogue or a good dog is a necessity.
Just remember that gators will be out at this time of year, and sending a dog on a line can get really ugly when gators are present. If gators frequent the areas you plan on teal hunting, you should probably leave the dog at home.
Resident Canada goose populations have swelled in the past few years in many areas, and complaints from golf courses, cities, landowners and farmers have prompted many Southern states to open early hunting seasons.
Whereas most waterfowl migrate south in the fall and north again in the spring to nest, “resident” geese live in a particular area year-round. Geese are voracious feeders, and will stop at nothing to mow down a golf-course green or a newly-planted corn crop. State wildlife agencies across the Mid-South have opened up special, early hunting seasons in an effort to help reduce the numbers of these birds that have become a nuisance in many areas. Who do you think they rely on to get the job done? Hunters, of course, the greatest conservationists!
Mississippi hunters will have another 15-day season in 2008, from Sept. 1-15. Most of the geese shot in Mississippi during the early goose season are resident birds, but if you think that makes them easy targets, think again. Resident birds know their territory and can usually spot the slightest irregularity, e.g. your hunting setup, before they are fooled into flying within shooting distance.
Here are a few tips that can make your early Canada season a successful one.
Randy Dennis of Columbus says that constant scouting is vital to success when hunting geese. Dennis should know. When he and his wife, Anne, aren’t hunting Canadas in Mississippi, they take Mississippi to Canada. The Dennises freelance in Saskatchewan every year, and are quite successful.
But he really loves targeting Canadas in his home state.
“We find some birds, and watch them long enough to get a sense of what their pattern is — it changes every 2-3 days,” he said. “As young birds mature, their food sources and intake change drastically in a short time period. They go from bugs to grass, but they always need water.
“I may watch birds for three weeks before they get in a good pattern that I can capitalize on. It seems like I’ve had them alter their patterns because they saw me watching them, which leads me to believe they’ve learned to pattern us. So, be careful how close you get and don’t let them see you scoping them out. They know.”
Stephen Pitt from Olive Branch also harps on constant scouting.
“The things that I do during the early September goose season are to scout, scout and scout some more. You have got to scout everyday leading up to the day of the hunt because the geese can change at anytime.”
Likewise, Staten also recommends scouting fields with water holes early.
“Usually they will pick a field with a water source so that they can feed and loaf on it throughout the day,” he said. “In the early season, the temperatures are hot and the geese sometimes may not leave their first feeding field for most of the day, which is why having a pond on the field is a big key.”
After hatching, Canada geese will sometimes congregate in an area and raise their goslings in a large group. They remain in this “community group” until the young birds have learned to fly, and then usually split off into individual family groups. Staten says that when you find a feeding flock, watch them to see how they act and how quickly they feed in the field. This will pay off when it comes time to hunt.
Scott Turpen from Tennessee says the biggest “no-no” is to shoot a roost.
“Never hunt an established roost; by that I mean the geese have been roosting there 10 days or more,” he said.
“Don’t hunt their roost. Chances are, they won’t return until five minutes after legal shooting hours, anyway,” he said.
There are other spots where you can have success, according to Staten.
“If you don’t have access to a field or pasture the geese are using, then scout out the mid-day loafing areas or early morning staging areas,” he said. “Sometimes our local geese will pick out a spot on a sand bar or water hole where they stage up before the flight to the morning feed.
“What I usually look for in this case is an island on the river or shallow area of water usually with a sand bar that is in the direct flight path of the geese leaving for the morning feed. Look for droppings on the sand bar or goose prints in the mud or sand; feathers and just general sign are a good indication of a morning staging area or mid-day loafing spot. Be careful not to mistake the roost for this spot, though.”
Once you’ve established the birds’ flight and feeding patterns, it’s time to set up. You might get away with an odd-looking blind or a haphazard decoy spread with newly-arrived migrants during regular season, but when hunting resident geese, you really should pay extra attention to detail.
“We are hunting these geese on their home turf; everything has to appear as it does the rest of the time you’re not there,” Turpen said. “That’s why concealment is of the essence. Many people don’t give resident geese the credit they’re due.”
Turpen, like many waterfowlers, has grown to love hunting out of ground blinds because they hide so easily.
“As for blinds, I prefer the Avery Finisher blind as well as the Greenhead Gear (GHG) Ground Force blind. Even though these blinds are full-frame blinds, they are low profile and easy to make disappear with some Avery Killerweed and native vegetation.”
Disappear is exactly what you want to do when setting up on these wary, resident birds. Many hunters setup on sandbars in rivers to catch the geese after they’ve fed and are picking up grit and water later in the morning. When hunting these bars, dig a hole and partially hide yourself or your blind below ground level. Some wily hunters have even gone so far as to spray paint their blinds with sand and rock-colored paint. If the bar has no vegetation, simply looking like sand is the best way to hide.
“The hunts that I have gone on water set-ups, we always set up on points because the geese seem to always hit the points first to land,” Pitt said. “It only takes a dozen to two dozen decoys to do the job.”
Turpen recommends using full-body decoys for confidence.
“Usually I’m hunting a land/water set-up, like a pasture pond. I like this because I can use my GHG full-bodies along the shore to give the geese that added confidence of seeing geese on dry land. Nothing shows a goose safety more than another goose with its feet dry.”
Staten echoes Turpen and Pitt in that putting out too many decoys can spook a flock of resident geese.
“Try to set up in small family groups, and don’t bunch your decoys,” he recommended. “We usually put out around one to two dozen decoys at the most in the early season.”
Most hunters use a variety of decoys in their spread to imitate a relaxed, natural-looking flock. Obviously, if you’re hunting water you will have to use floaters, but if you’re hunting a pond edge, sandbar or shoreline, try to mix up your spread. By strategically placing a few floaters in the water, sleepers or resters on the shoreline and feeders and sentries on the higher ground, you can create a realistic spread that looks both safe and inviting to the local birds.
“Set the most realistic spread you can, and blend in to whatever surroundings they’re used to,” Dennis said. “Don’t introduce something different looking — that’s a dead give-away.”
Dennis also suggests keeping calling to a minimum.
“No need to call,” he said. “That’s just something else that makes you move; they know that, too. Once they lock on to your spread, shut up.”
Staten feels the same about calling early geese.
“In the early season, we try not to do too much calling,” he said. “If you’ve done your homework on scouting and made everything look natural, then just little clucks and soft moans should do the trick.”
Staten recommends a little calling to get the birds’ attention.
“If the geese are real vocal, then I may call a little more but still not over doing it as it is the early season. Usually the young geese of the year will be following the lead of the older birds, and if you can get their attention, you should have the whole flock.”
Turpen likes to call a little more, depending on what the incoming geese are doing vocally.
“If they’re quiet, then I’m quiet, but I will throw a moan or a moan cluck combo at them as they draw near just to give some life to my decoys. If they start to meander off, then I’ll get more vocal to keep them on track.
“This is also an excellent time to use a flag like the Avery PowerFlag. Just a few flaps are usually all that’s needed to get them to turn back. I’ll bring the flag up and flap it down like a goose stretching his or her wings or one landing.”
Turpen uses a more vocal approach when the geese get close.
“But no matter how much calling I’ve done, I’ll always start clucking really aggressively when the geese get anywhere from 80 to 50 yards out. Real geese don’t remain quiet if other geese are coming in; they’re going to defend their spot by calling aggressively at the incoming geese.”
In summary, scouting is probably the most important aspect of an early season goose hunt. Keep track of resident birds on a daily basis starting two to three weeks prior to the season and continuing into the season. Watch their feeding patterns, note how many birds are using a particular field and what times they are going to feed, water and roost.
Steer clear of the roosts and avoid at all costs the urge to hunt them. If you do, you’ll more than likely disrupt the patterns of the birds in your area, and you’ll have to start all over in the scouting process.
After you pattern the geese, make your hunting setup as close to natural as possible, and put out a decoy spread that mimics the flocks that have been using the area. Limit hunting each spot to once or twice a week at the most. Practice your calling now, and use the call sparingly if you aren’t confident in your abilities.
The same rules apply to early Canada goose and teal hunting as do other waterfowl seasons. You must use non-toxic shot and a shotgun capable of holding no more than three shells. Legal shooting hours begin 30 minutes before sunrise and end at sunset. Electronic callers are not allowed in Mississippi during the early Canada season. The daily Canada goose limit is five during the September season; the teal limit is four (blue or green-wing). All hunters must have at least a small-game hunting license and both state and federal waterfowl stamps. Youth under the age of 16 do not need licenses or stamps.