September season gives sportsmen a tune-up
By John N. Felsher
Enveloped in darkness, we waited as various frogs, alligators, birds, insects and other delta creatures added their sounds to the natural cacophony heralding a new day in this warm, humid wetland.
Above us, rapidly beating wings whistled unseen overhead, followed by the sound of something splashing into the pond in front of us. In the distance, faint whistles and high-pitched squeals trumpeted the movements of other birds as small twisting black shapes rocketed over the grass before vanishing into the still dark sky.
As legal shooting hours began minutes later, distant manmade thunder rolled across the marshes and bays, punctuated by loud blasts from closer hunters. After months of waiting, another hunting season had begun with the opening of the September teal season.
During teal season, sportsmen may only shoot blue-winged and green-winged teal. A harbinger of fall, blue-winged teal migrate much earlier than most other ducks, sometimes arriving on the Gulf Coast by late August. Consequently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allows some states to hold special September teal seasons to increase the harvest of this underutilized species.
“For many people, teal season is the kick-off for a new hunting season,” says Jud Easterwood, an Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources waterfowl biologist in Tanner. “Teal have very long migrations. Some of them go all the way to South America so they leave earlier than other ducks. Frequently, blue-winged teal are long gone by the time the regular duck season opens. Hunters bag mostly blue-winged teal in September, but occasionally, they bag a green-wing.”
Small, fast and tremendously agile, teal often fly in tight flocks maneuvering as one unit. These unpredictable, incredibly challenging flight characteristics endear teal to many waterfowlers. Often, teal fly extremely low and erratically zoom over decoys. They sometimes appear out of nowhere and vanish just as quickly. Frequently, waterfowlers look over their decoys and see nothing. Moments later, they notice several “decoys” swimming in the pond and can’t figure out how they arrived without notice.
Of course, sportsmen must find teal before they can bag them. One day, swarming clouds of teal might buzz around a particular pond like a whistling tornado. The next day, waterfowlers might only stare at empty skies.
Duck hunting in the north and on the coast
“The prairie pothole breeding areas in the northern United States and Canada looked good this spring so we should have at least the same amount of ducks coming down this fall as we did last year,” predicts Seth Maddox, a state waterfowl biologist in Scottsboro. “The Tennessee River Valley is the major duck hunting area in Alabama. Lake Guntersville is a very good waterfowl area and holds the most wintering waterfowl in the state.”
The largest lake in Alabama, Lake Guntersville covers about 69,100 acres and snakes about 75 miles along the Tennessee River through northeast Alabama into Tennessee. On Lake Guntersville, the Jackson County Waterfowl Management Area includes several public hunting tracts. These include the 8,507-acre Raccoon Creek WMA, the 2,069-acre Crow Creek WMA near Stevenson, and the 8,003-acre Mud Creek WMA near Scottsboro.
“The Jackson County area has a variety of waterfowl habitats with everything from flooded agricultural fields to flooded hardwood timber,” Easterwood says. “Raccoon Creek WMA offers some of the best public waterfowling in the state.”
Along the coast, many sportsmen hunt the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, which contains the 42,451-acre Upper Delta Wildlife Management Area near Stockton and the more marshy 51,040-acre Mobile-Tensaw Delta-W. L. Holland WMA at the upper end of Mobile Bay. From north to south, the delta transitions from bottomland hardwood forests pockmarked by numerous streams and lakes to cypress swamps and finally fresh and then brackish marshes. Many open bays and sluggish streams bordered by marshes in the lower delta can hold good teal numbers. Some better waterfowl hunting places include Chacaloochee Bay, Bay Delvan, Big Bateau and Little Bateau Bays.
“People can find many places to hunt in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta in different habitat types,” explains Thomas Harns, a state biologist in Spanish Fort. “Many people hunt north of the Mobile Causeway, but people can also hunt a lot of places south of the Causeway. People can hunt anywhere in Mobile Bay as long as they stay in open water and away from any houses. The waters off Grand Bay Savannah also hold some ducks.”
Hunting teal in September closely parallels waterfowling later in the fall, only warmer and frequently with more bugs. Sportsmen still need to set up blinds, toss out decoys and remain stealthy. Since teal typically fly at first light or before, hunts seldom last long. On public land, scout three or four places to hunt in case other hunters arrive at a prime pothole first. A pop-up boat blind makes scouting easy and provides a good shooting platform.
During teal season, sportsmen might also encounter some resident wood ducks in timbered tracts or mottled ducks along the coast. Hunters could also see some early migrating shovelers, which also have blue patches on their wings, or other species. Positively identify the bird before pulling the trigger.
John N. Felsher is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Semmes, Ala. He co-hosts a weekly outdoors show that is syndicated to stations in Alabama. For more on the show, see www.gdomag.com. Contact him through his website at www.JohnNFelsher.com