Although it’s far from a winter morning when bone chilling winds whip up whitecaps and waterfowlers have to wrap up and perhaps break a little ice around the blind before tossing out decoys, they’ll get an early shot at the season Saturday.
It’s the early wood duck and teal combo season and it kicks off a half-hour before sunrise Saturday morning for a short five-day stretch. Waterfowlers get another four days to hunt teal only after the combo season closes on Wednesday.
Each year states along the Mississippi flyway offer an early season for waterfowlers to hunt the early migration of blue-wing teal. Fortunately for Tennessee hunters, a portion of the season allows the taking of wood ducks, too.
Bag limit this year is the same as last year with a liberal six ducks daily bag that cannot exceed two woodies.
Blue-wing teal are the first waterfowl to begin the annual migration south each year. They leave their breeding grounds in Canada and the upper Midwest in late August and early September.
For southern states like Tennessee it’s a very short window of opportunity as to guessing just when the peak of the migration occurs. Weather always plays a big factor and some years we just flat out miss the migration here in the Volunteer State.
Other states have a much longer teal season but they don’t get to harvest woodies. So, it’s been a trade-off for many years from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; states with the wood duck combo season give up days in the teal season for some reason.
Locally, wood ducks have raised in the swamps, marshes and backwater sloughs for many years, although the numbers vary greatly from year to year based on water conditions.
Another factor influencing the early wood duck and teal season has been the availability of aquatic vegetation. Out on the main open waters of Kentucky Lake where shallow mud flats are abundant because of lower lake levels this time of year, had been hundreds of acres of Eurasian watermilfoil, pondweed, coontail moss, duckweed and other plants that provided food.
The last two years, Kentucky Lake has been void of aquatic plants, a scenario that has not only disappointed waterfowlers but anglers as well. Seems the abundance of grassbeds added life to the whole reservoir in a variety of ways.
Since the grassbeds have vanished, the number of early migrating teal have not bothered to flock or hang around the Kentucky Lake or Lake Barkley. There’s just not enough shallow vegetation to hold them.
Other areas like the backwaters of West Sandy wildlife management area have, at times, provided some decent wood duck hunts and sometimes holding a few teal as well.
Overall, it’s a roll of the dice for Tennessee duck hunters during the early season but it’s an opportunity they enjoy nonetheless.
It’s a chance to kick off the season early and perhaps polish up the pup or introduce youngsters to a beautiful sunrise while watching the skies for darting waterfowl. A chance to watch the marsh wake up with all its splendor.
This year’s season dates are Saturday-Wednesday for the combo segment and Thursday through Sept. 16 for the teal only portion. Hunters ages 16 and older are reminded to pick up the Federal Duck Stamp in addition to the state requirements.
STEVE McCADAMS is The Post-Intelligencer’s outdoors writer. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.