September bird hunting in Ohio normally features an early teal season. (Ohio’s 2009 early teal season begins on September 5 and ends September 20 with a four bird limit.)  Do you care?  Probably not, because few waterfowlers indeed take advantage of this first opportunity to bag some ducks.  Most don’t know where to find such early arrivals, and the rest are too busy building blinds and refurbishing decoys for more serious hunting.  But these small, fast flying waterfowl are worth the effort for several reasons.

One is that they just might be the tastiest waterfowl that flies, so good that back in the 1800’s they were shot by market hunters for sale to the finest restaurants in New York, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.  I’ve eaten a good many of the one pound birds, and came to call them “butterballs” because their meat almost melts in your mouth.  Just for the fun of argument, I rank wood ducks No. 2, followed by canvasbacks, redheads, and grain fed mallards in about that order.

Two, they don’t require huge blocks of decoys and laboriously built blinds.  A shotgun, good boots, and the necessary stamps are all that’s required.  Because bluewing teal and the far more rare greenwings don’t care much for big water.  They feed on the seeds of water plants, the plants themselves, aquatic insects, and a little grain or soybeans.

So, look for them on the little waters.  They love old farm ponds placed well back in the north 40, ponds that are shallow and have lots of weed beds.  A friend of mine and I once had a regular route of old ponds that we’d hit every afternoon.  This pond would have nothing, the next maybe a small flock or a couple of birds, and so on.  Often enough we could fill a limit before dark just by quick checking 8-10 ponds.

 The very best hotspot we ever found was an ancient pond that lay in the middle of a woodlot.  It was only a couple of feet deep, and half filled with buttonball bushes.  The early teal loved it, overnighted there, left in the morning to feed, came back, left again in early afternoon, and came back before dark.  We weren’t dumb enough to ambush them at first light, which would have caused the whole flock to disappear forever.

Instead, we came in mid-afternoon, and caught the birds flying in by singles, pairs and small flocks.  As soon as we bagged our limit, we left in a hurry, leaving later arrivals to fly in undisturbed.  It’s a good technique.  Another great place for teal and wood ducks was a swampy bottom laced with tiny channels.  We’d toss out half a dozen decoys to draw those afternoon birds to one spot, and take great care that we shot no wood ducks until the regular season arrived.

Other favorite places might surprise you.  A farmland drainage ditch over a mile long, for example, was a steady producer of teal.  It was only a few yards wide with little pools of water along its length, and our standard tactic was to sit somewhere with binoculars, watch for afternoon birds to pitch in, then make a stalk.  We did much the same on a couple of wildlife areas that had small, weedy ponds, just sitting and glassing the area for customers.

It’s a simple business and the rewards are great.  Walk a little, glass a little, check out a number of farm ponds, and wait for the little guys to come dipping and jinking into range.  They’re a great way to start any waterfowl season.

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