With the early teal season, which opens Saturday in Mississippi, there is always the worry that the peak of the blue-wing migration will fall outside the 16-day window hunters have at the early flyers.
“The good news is that, right now with the season just ahead, we have not had a big migration,” said Houston Havens, the waterfowl program leader for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.
But isn’t that also bad news?
“Yeah, it could be a little slow early in the season,” Havens added. “But there is a cold front coming over the weekend that should help. Blue-wings are always ready to move and although they winter high in the prairie pothole regions of the United States and Canada, they can move pretty quickly. One good front and they are on the move.”
The coming front is expected to drop high temperatures into the lower 80s over the weekend with overnight lows expected to dip into the 50s. In areas of North Dakota and Canada, the lows will dip into the 40s and that is usually enough to trigger a flight.
Blue-winged teal are the first ducks to migrate, and with the population well above the long-term average, a liberal season framework and bag limit is provided. In addition to the 16-day season, Mississippi’s daily limit has grown from four to six teal this year, and the possession limit has been raised to three times the daily limit.
“That’s a major change,” said Jacob Sartain, an avid duck hunter who is particularly fond of the September teal opportunity. “Going up to six teal and allowing us a three-day possession limit gives us the feeling of the regular duck season. It’s a better enticement for hunters, both for existing teal hunters and for new ones. There are some guys and girls out there who didn’t really think that teal hunting was worth the effort just to shoot four teal.”
And, it can be some hard work and hard hunting.
“We have found that providing shallow water habitat is essential,” Sartain said. “We prepare some of our converted catfish ponds for teal holes and it’s amazing how they will find us. The more work we do, the bigger the reward.
“And it can be uncomfortable for hunters because it can be really warm, and the conditions that you need for teal is also prime for water moccasins. You kind of learn to look around and keep your head on a swivel. But all that is tolerable if you have the birds, because the shooting can be fast, furious and a lot of fun.”
Private landowners who have developed proper habitat can expect to have a head start this year.
“We’re not in great shape, habitat wise, across the Delta,” Havens said. “We’ve been really dry lately and there is not an abundance of shallow water habitat that teal prefer. The first teal coming in will be on the move trying to find it, and where they do, they could be concentrated.
“We have one good report from our public lands, from Muscadine Farms WMA near Hollandale (converted catfish farm). We’ve got good teal habitat and we’ve heard reports of teal buzzing.”
Havens’ best advice?
“If it starts slow, don’t get discouraged,” he said. “It’s a 16-day season and things can change overnight. With this front coming, it could happen. The last time I remember us getting one of these kind of fronts in mid September, we got a migration of those bigger doves that we usually don’t see until the second and third dove seasons.
“I have to believe it would affect teal the same way.”
Teal season: Opens Saturday, Sept. 14, and ends Sunday, Sept. 29. Legal hours are 30 minutes prior to sunrise until sunset.
Daily limit: Six teal per day.
Possession limit: Up to three times the daily limit, or 18. Obviously, the full possession limit does not factor into the first and second day of the season.
Regulations: Non-toxic shot is required, and guns must not be capable of holding more than three shells at any time. In addition to a valid Mississippi hunting license (unless exempted), hunters must possess both a federal and state waterfowl stamps.