By. Travis Thompson
The time we wait for all season. 4 short weeks from now my state of Florida will kick-off the waterfowl season with early teal AND wood duck seasons . . . Let’s be honest, gang – there isn’t much better than shooting wood ducks in the morning and watching football in the evening.
Early teal and wood duck means you have to make hay while the sun’s shining – come late August and early September, you need to be readying yourself to take advantage of that southward migration.
Here are a few tips on how to successfully scout new waters for the early duck season:
- Food sources: This may be the preeminent factor in duck hunting – is there duck food there? In flooded timber, how recently (or soon) will it be flooded? Will there been pine seeds and acorns present? On a crop field, how much food is available . . . and when will it run out? In my Florida, are there native growing food sources, like hydrilla or duck weed? Early wood ducks – find the acorns, or find the mid-day post feed hides . . .Find the food, you greatly improve your chances of finding the ducks.
- How much water is there: Ask any duck hunter about the worst seasons he’s experienced, and oftentimes the reason will be “there was just too much water . . .” This means ducks are stopping and staying in places they would normally have no business . . . our season was like this 3 years ago – too much water meant the ducks spread out. While this didn’t mean it was a bad season, the birds weren’t as concentrated as we’ve seen them in years past. When scouting, keep in mind what should happen between now and opening day, and take that into account with regards to your local waters . . . Also, learn the “ins” and “outs” of El Nino and La Nina predictions.
- Are there any ducks: A few years ago, we skipped the opening weekend of duck season. The reason? No ducks! Always keep an eye out on the weather and the water – in Florida, we’re usually the last stop on the migration plan, so I like to see ducks showing up before I plan my trips. Early teal equals no ducks here, tons of ducks tomorrow . . . Some scientists believe teal are photoperiod migrators, meaning they move based more on day length than food or weather pushes. This isn’t too say that ALL teal move at the same time, as we’ll shoot bluewings from September all the way through the end of January; it’s more to say success is found in putting more time on the water and finding the birds. When we’re scouting in late summer before the migration, we look for resident ducks that are happy . . . for use that’s mottleds and whistlers . . . find these ducks and chances are there’ll be a few teal come opening day.
- Other waterfowl: Gallinules and coots are another sign of potential hot spots. Many ducks feed on the same food that attracts these birds, so a healthy population of gallinules or coots is always an indicator we look for . . .
- Cover: our puddle birds love to fly over cover until reaching their destination – look for berms, islands, cat tails, something that can provide a “safe” entry to those wary teal and woodies, but can also provide you with just enough cover. As the season progresses, our ducks grow wary of palmetto fronds being used for concealment – having natural cover is a big win. When scouting, we always take this into account while looking at different areas. We want to pattern the birds now, and carry that pattern through the season.
For us here in the southeast, early teal is six weeks away – throw a couple of bass rods in the boat and spend an afternoon trying to pin down a few spots before opening day, and your season will definitely be the better for it! After all, everyone wants to start off with a bang!