Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
Despite widespread drought and receding water levels, Iowa waterfowl enthusiasts fared surprisingly well during this year’s special 16-day teal-only hunting season. The season kick off was somewhat dampened, however, as blue-winged teal staged a mass migratory exodus from the state on the very night preceding the September 1st opener. Although disappointing, Opening Day turnout remained high as hunters took to whatever water they could find. Success ranged all the way from very poor to very good, depending on where a person chose to go. Following the opener, hunter success quickly improved as migrating teal continued to arrive in the state during the remainder of the 16-day season.
Season highlights included three significant [teal] migrations resulting in substantial numbers of ‘new birds’ invading Iowa wetlands. One of the more spectacular flights occurred on September 6th when, triggered by rapidly falling temps, light drizzle and gusty northwest winds, thousands of migrating teal arrived from the north. It was a day to remember. For those who were on hand to witness the spectacle, six-bird-limits were quick in coming as a steady procession of southbound teal poured into the decoys. The show continued well into the morning, and teal were still flying when I finally decided to pick up the decoys. While shooting some souvenir photos, I was amazed when a flock containing a dozen or so blue-wings piled into the decoys, splashing down just several feet from where I stood. After deciding that they didn’t like the looks of me, the teal returned to the air and quickly disappeared over the windswept cattails. A minute later, those same birds came roaring back and, for a second time, landed in the spread with me still standing in plain sight bagging the decoys. Those are the kind of days that duck hunters dream of.
As this year’s season neared its conclusion, the final – and perhaps the most dramatic — invasion of migrating teal arrived on September 14 and 15. On northern Iowa’s 35-county prairie pothole region, the overnight increase in teal numbers was spectacular. Hunting along the western fringe of the state’s pothole region, retired DNR Conservation Officer, Ken Lonneman reported seeing more flocks of teal than he had encountered during any of the season’s previous 15 days.
Tossing out decoys 100 miles to the east, retired Police Chief, Dave Thomas was also viewing the spectacular migration. “We saw hundreds and hundreds of migrating teal, and some of the flocks were huge,” said Thomas. Although decoying teal were plentiful, Thomas noted that bagging his final [sixth] bird turned out to be somewhat of a tricky proposition. “I finally bagged my sixth duck from a flock that must have contained at least 50 birds,” says Thomas. “Since I only had one duck to go, I had to be very careful not to bag more than one bird with my final shot,” he noted. “I finally spotted a teal that was well on the outside of the group. I fired, and that was that. It was an incredible day.”
Although the majority of those newly arriving blue-wings continued their migration, hunters managed to encounter fair to good numbers of teal the following morning, September 16 – the season’s final day. I enjoyed the season finale by hunting on a public marshland near Clear Lake. And although I didn’t see as many birds as I had during the migration’s peak, there were still enough ducks flying that I was able to collect five teal plus five bonus snipe.
Despite ongoing drought and declining water levels, this year’s September teal season will be remembered as a well-attended fall highlight.