State hunters can take aim at migrating teal
Monday at 9 a.m., Wisconsin waterfowlers will get their first shot at early migrating teal.
The WDNR is participating in a three-year experiment permitted by federal wildlife managers, which allows harvest of this vanguard of webfoot migration in a special season which runs through Sept. 7.
After tomorrow morning, daily shooting hours will be sunrise to 7 p.m. with an aggregate daily bag limit of six bluewing or greenwing teal allowed.
The concept of an early teal season is not a new idea. The first early teal season in modern times was back in the 1960s when DNR waterfowl expert Kent Van Horn was just 3 years old.
Wisconsin wasn't allowed to participate in this season because up to 100,000 bluewing teal nest here every year. Hunting in nonproduction states such as Illinois was allowed—and has been allowed every year since I was a high school kid growing up in northwest Illynesia near the Mississippi River.
One major argument put forth in waterfowl-production states such as Wisconsin was that hunters would have trouble telling the difference between teal and hen wood ducks when these small webfeet come whistling into decoys at Mach 2.
This is the same mindset that still persists with walleyes and saugers on the Wisconsin River system, where a slot limit prevents an angler from harvesting a potential state-record sauger.
Saugers of record dimensions are swimming in our namesake river. Although saugers come from the same family as walleyes, they don't grow as big as walleyes. Saugers also have distinctly different markings and color than those green-and-gold walleyes we love so much.
Anybody who can tell a pickup truck from a minivan can differentiate between a walleye and a sauger—or between a bluewing teal and a hen wood duck.
For those that can't, Wisconsin has had heroes in grey called wardens who have assisted in shortening learning curves for more than a century.
When my thirty-something daughter Jessica was just 5 years old, one of her favorite books was the Ducks Unlimited wingwatcher's guide. This booklet had detailed pictures of both hen and drake of every waterfowl species migrating through North America.
Jessica had no trouble telling wood ducks from teal when she was just 5 years old, both in print and on the wing. This, and the fact she could highball and chuckle almost as good as most guys I hunted with has always been a source of great pride in this old dad.
The DNR continues to believe most outdoor folks aren't as sharp as the average—OK, far above average—5 year old.
Bluewing and greenwing teal are the only designated species legal for harvest during this early teal season. There is no mention of cinnamon teal. Biologist Van Horn told me this is because they rarely migrate down the Mississippi Flyway.
There is a cinnamon teal shot near Bagley toward the end of the regular duck season that has been on my wall since Van Horn was in grade school—a point he found interesting in a recent phone interview.
But Kent Van Horn knows his stuff. My cinnamon teal drake looks an awful lot like a greenwing teal drake. Greenwings tend to nest in the Canadian boreal forest areas and not Wisconsin.
They come down the flyway late. Not as late as buffleheads and goldeneyes, but certainly later than bluewings, which, like mourning doves, signal autumn is right around the corner.
Tomorrow is our first shot at early teal in modern times. Canada goose and mourning dove season begin tomorrow, too.
Back when I was a kid, nontoxic shot was not an issue. All you needed to hunt ducks was a federal duck stamp. We are now required to purchase a state duck stamp, goose permit and be HIP registered—among other things.
I'm in favor of just about any measure which protects and enhances our natural resources. The state duck stamp and nontoxic shot are both good, common-sense ideas.
Regarding the HIP program and ever-increasing regulations, I'm not so sure. A major mentor in my life was an old game warden named Paul Hensal. He said as long as you regard interaction with the resource as a primary focus there would never be need to worry about a wildlife violation ticket.
The warden used to be the primary interface between outdoor consumer and conservation regulation. Now it's a website, with hunting and fishing hidden in the subtext.
The times they are a-changin'. But bluewing teal will be whistling into the decoys tomorrow morning. These birds really do make a whistling sound when they come pitching in. This music is nothing like the whoo-eek sound of a wood duck on final approach.
Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at email@example.com.