The green-winged teal is North America’s smallest duck, and its cousins, the blue-winged and cinnamon teal, are only slightly larger. In addition, all three species are not only deceptively speedy, but they’re also devout believers in the attack pilot’s credo: “He who flies straight and level, dies.”
Given all of that, it’s highly unlikely that teal would fare any better in one on one competition against the mallard in the battle for the hearts and minds of waterfowlers than does every other species. But teal don’t have to compete with other waterfowl, because their tendency to migrate weeks earlier than other ducks provides ample justification for a special season.
This year’s early teal season runs from September 6 through September 21. The daily limit is six and the possession limit is 18. These are aggregate limits with no species or gender restrictions. Shooting hours are from sunrise to sunset.
Unless they are age or otherwise exempt, Missouri residents must have a Small Game permit, a Missouri Migratory Bird Hunting permit and a Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation permit. All nonresidents 16 or older must have a nonresident Small Game permit in addition to the state and federal migratory bird permits.
All teal hunters must use nontoxic shot and should not be in possession of lead shot no matter where they are hunting. This includes both private and public land where using lead shot to hunt doves would be legal.
Teal hunters absolutely must be able to identify their targets on the wing. On the positive side, the green-winged teal’s small size and iridescent green wing patches are unique. Both blue-winged and cinnamon teal have blue wing patches, but so do northern shovelers, and wood ducks. I strongly recommend using a good duck identification guide, but the teal’s rapid wing beat, the shoveler’s odd-shaped bill and the wood duck’s square tail and larger body help differentiate these three species.
The worst thing about the early teal season is that, while the dates of the season are selected to maximize the odds, predicting the peak of the teal migration through the state is impossible. Cool weather in the northern states that other waterfowl species would ignore is enough to send teal south, but water availability determines whether or not the birds will pause in Missouri.
The best thing about teal is that they migrate in small independent flocks and usually utilize every type of water from huge lakes and rivers to tiny marshes and streams. From a practical standpoint, that means that while teal certainly do visit managed waterfowl areas, it’s all but certain that a majority of the teal within 50 miles of any given Conservation Area won’t be on it.
If that makes you think avoiding the crowds in favor of jumping ponds or floating streams either on private property or on lesser known public lands might be a better way to go, you’re right. Hunters who prefer a more sedentary approach might try setting a small decoy spread–hen mallard decoys work very well–in a patch of open water within any type of permanent or temporary marsh.
My love affair with little ducks began on the banks of the Little Arkansas River back when I was in high school. “Little” was the operative word to describe this stream. It was easy for my buddies and I to walk both banks, giving the hunters on at least one side a shot at every duck we jumped.
I went to college in the heart of the Flint Hills, and it didn’t take me long to figure out that teal loved the watercress covered shallows of the cattle-watering ponds found in every pasture. Perhaps my most memorable encounter was with a flock of blue-winged teal I discovered resting safely out of range in the middle of a large pond. When I stood up, they flushed, but, instead of simply flying away, they flew by me bunched into a tight ball. I fired once, and four ducks–the limit at the time–dropped out of the sky.
Finally, there was the time a good friend and I set out a half-dozen decoys in the only opening in a pond that was otherwise covered with water weed. The water was just deep enough to let us hide in the weeds while sitting on short stools. The truth be told, we were buzzed by more wood ducks than teal, but we did manage to carry enough teal home to make a good meal. The water weed was in full bloom, making this the only time I’ve hunted ducks in a field of flowers