Tag Archives: late season duck hunting

Big Time Teal Hunters

Green winged teal flock

Teal committed and coming into the decoy spread.

In your lifetime you may never meet a hunter who declares they are a big time teal hunter. Think about it, a big time teal hunter sounds a lot like like a big time bluegill fisherman. Or a devoted carp fly fisher. You meet goose hunters, deer hunters, elk hunters,grouse hunters, pheasant hunters, or the like. I  have yet to meet someone who introduces themselves as a big time teal hunter. Too bad, because teal are a blast and I love hunting them.

Teal are fast and teal are small. Teal are quick to dodge, twisting in the wind and slicing through the decoys like few ducks can. Look at their wings as they drop in from up high, tucked back like little fighter jets. As far as ducks go, teal are reportedly not one of the fastest species. I call B.S. on that statistic. Teal may not fly the fastest 40, but they are quick when it’s game time. Throw in a nice stiff breeze, say 20 mph, and the day quickly turns into the best wingshooting I know of. Divers like blue bills can rip the air like teal, but they don’t dodge like their puddler brethren.

Green winged teal flock

Teal dropping in and gaining speed for a closer look at the decoys.

It’s so satisfying to flash your barrel through a bird and connect when they make their initial supersonic pass through the dekes. It takes a good shot from a hunter to drop one.  Get on him, swing through and slap that trigger and slap it again if you have to and hopefully he goes down! And when you miss you usually laugh and say, “How did he…?! I guess I was behind him.” You know you’re missing as you’re pulling the trigger but you can’t help it.

Green winged teal flock

Teal leaving the spread, minus one.

Picking a bird, or as we say “target acquisition”, out of a decoying flock is usually the problem with teal.Far out from the decoys they line up so nice and straight, but as they start to break down into the spread the chaos begins.They maneuver and drop as they dump speed from their wings, cutting up and rocking side to side. It’s like letting loose a giant covey of quail with a 50 mph head start over the decoys. Plus, the drake green-wings are not always an easy drake to pick out compared to other ducks. Fortunately, teal are accommodating and social, they LOVE to zip through and check out their impostor buddies.

Green winged teal flock

Late season teal zigging and zagging as they come in.

yellow lab with a duck

Sugar retrieving a drake GWT.

So I’ll just come on out and say it, I’m a big time teal hunter. I love ‘em. Just like I love fly fishing for carp in the summer. I’ll take these little guys any day of the week, especially when December and January come around.

duck hunters with ducks

Late season teal success, with a few slow ducks thrown in for good measure.

Late season duck hunting tactics, a short video

This short video is from our late season duck hunts on the ice. These hunts were filmed over the last couple of weeks of our 2011-2012 waterfowl season. Thanks to Troy, Rob, Bryce, and Max, they are patient friends!

Late season duck hunting tactics: Go lightweight to get to the birds.

Farmington Baby duck hunt

Late season duck hunting

Late season duck hunting is officially under way here in Utah. Early December is when we usually see our first hard freeze of the year . All of the major marshes in the state are frozen to the point where they are impassable with a boat and many of the ducks and geese head either south or west for warmer temps. So is it time to give it up chasing ducks? Hardly! Now is the time to use different tactics and approaches for late season waterfowl. Food sources and open water become even more important than ever, but it”s also more difficult to get to the birds because of the ice. Setting yourself up to travel to the birds with lightweight decoys and gear is essential for success.

We are lucky enough to have a 100-day season to hunt waterfowl in Utah,which is great because we get to hunt in so many different weather conditions. The last 40 days of the season involve freezing and thawing periods, which present a ton of opportunities for us.  I enjoy this time period for many reasons. First, there is a lot less competition in the marsh from other duck hunters. I would guess that at least 95% of the duck hunters in the state have quit chasing ducks and geese by by the time the ice sets in. Second, even though duck numbers are down, the birds that remain are mature, colorfully plumed birds. Picking out your drakes during late season hunts is as easy. Greenheads and pintails glow this time of year! Third, it takes years of hunting and chasing these late season birds to really figure them out, it is physically demanding and hard hunting but it’s extremely rewarding. And finally, the best flight of the day usually occurs between noon and 5:00 PM, which is really hard to beat.

Late season sprig

The tactics we use are straight forward enough, which includes a lot of scouting, glassing for birds, and looking for the water that remains open in the area you are hunting. This sounds obvious, but it can come in the form of culverts, warm springs, melting mud edges, creeks, and rivers. We also focus on the areas birds are coming to feed in, not roosting water. You need to keep the birds in the area so don’t bust the roost!

Late season duck hunt, SoftShells in the shallows

As far as food sources, there are some key food types the birds feed on in the marshes, some of which may be new to you if you’ve  never hunted the state before. These include midge larvae, alkali bull rush seeds, salicornia plants (pickle weed), and the remaining pond algae.

The hunt we really take advantage of involves two food sources that come together for the birds when the sun starts to melt the ice at midday- midge larvae and alkali bullrush seeds.  The midges are bright red in color, and they become active when the sun warms the mud and melts the ice, and the ducks really take advantage of them. In addition to the midges, the melting ice makes it easier for the ducks to access and feed on the alkali bullrush seeds as the edges of small open water areas open up even more . We hunt these areas in coffins or with lay-out blinds in combination with our SoftShell Decoys:, the cover is typically very low and the water very shallow. Decoys on a stake work perfectly in this set up. Experience has shown 2 to 3 dozen decoys is enough, being on the “x” is the key. I’ve also stopped bringing spinning wing decoys on these hunts because they don’t seem to work as well in the late season- they’re not worth the weight to haul out with us. It’s not uncommon for us to walk over a mile to get to our hunting spot, which is why having lightweight gear is so important.

Max walks across the ice with Ruby and a pair of pintails.

So have you given up for the year? Too cold or too far to walk? For selfish reasons I hope so, but I think you miss out on some of the most rewarding hunts of the year.


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