There were good numbers of “big ducks”, brown ducks” and wood ducks winging across the marsh on opening morning of the early teal season Wednesday. But not many of the target species.
No matter. Early teal season isn’t about shooting ducks. Rather it is a celebration of Wisconsin’s rich waterfowl tradition. At least 50% of teal are migrants from Canada’s prairie provinces, with a large percentage of blue-winged teal pushing through before the regular duck season opens.
DNR waterfowl specialist Taylor Finger said, “Back in 2013, a teal banded at Horicon in June was harvested about eight months later down in Argentina.”
This duck was a green wing teal, which probably hatched here in Wisconsin.
Many green wings from Canada push through here in late October or early November.
This factoid and wet, smelly retrievers is what the early teal season is about. A cold soft drink might taste better than hot coffee, but coffee must be consumed in the marsh.
The ambience of coffee steam mixes well with the pungent aroma of marsh mud in September, toasting the arrival of another season to the sound of a mosquito string quintet—or maybe an entire bug orchestra.
Bugs and chest waders that leak just above the knee matter not. The water is warm on the socks, at least.
Focus is on the sky and the dancing brown eyes of a Lab, which bring a smile to the hunter’s face in confirmation of the primeval man-dog bond.
The whoo-eek call of a squadron of wood ducks, heads bobbing as they scoot over the decoys brings a whine and shiver from the dog.
Statistics from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimate about 25% of ducks shot by hunters during the early teal season are non-legal woodies.
Finger said stats for making this expensive mistake are only about 6% in Wisconsin—because this is Wisconsin, where our outdoor resources are held in the highest regard.
Initial reports from over on the Mississippi River say teal hunters there had a fairly successful opener. Locally, the best public opportunity is Lima marsh, according to wildlife biologist Jason Cotter.
“Oxbow sloughs off of Sugar River in the Avon bottoms PHG are probably holding more ducks now,” Cotter said.
“But most of these birds are wood ducks.”
Sheet water on private ground offers the best action for these early migrants. Teal aren’t the smartest webfeet.
Knock down a couple out of a bunch of these little whistlers and other birds in the flock are liable to make another pass over the blocks.
Dad revealed this wisdom on an early season hunt back in ’62.
He’s been gone from the marsh for 30 years now, but still whispers with the sound of webfoot wings.
A pack of wet, smelly dogs are waiting across the rainbow bridge with the old man. I’ll be there soon enough. But right now a temple in the tules is close as a hunter can get.
Ted Peck, a certified merchant marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org