Throughout my hunting life I’ve tried a variety of hunting options depending on the species and field conditions.
When it comes to duck hunting, I haven't experienced a late-season mallard field hunt for quite a few years. It's not that I didn't enjoy such outings, but I’ve transitioned to more of an early-season style that often involves swatting skeeters instead of fighting flurries in November. Plus my style of hunting is a little more about a few decoys in a small slough rather than a full field setup.
Certainly, one style is not better than the other, and many waterfowlers pursue both with equal passion. As I’ve often written, that's the unique draw of hunting, where we can each tweak our hunts to our own interests.
If an ideal duck hunt means fully colored greenheads with a couple of curls on the tail, then odds are that an early season outing in southern North Dakota probably won't meet your expectations. Similarly, if you’re like me and would rather focus your duck hunting effort on North Dakota's bounty of blue-winged teal, you don't want to wait until the snow flies. That time of year might provide some chances for green-winged teal, but bluewings are an early season bird.
Fortunately, North Dakota's duck season opens a week earlier than it once did, providing more opportunities for blue-winged teal hunters. This year, the duck season opens Sept. 25 for North Dakota residents and Oct. 2 for nonresidents.
In most years the difference between “early” and “late” season is just a few weeks and many degrees on the thermometer apart, but if you’ve never experienced the thrill of a teal hunt, you might just find this early season option can produce a new kind of smile.
You’ll also be pleased to know that in most years blue-winged teal are number one on North Dakota's list of breeding ducks. In most years they are probably the most abundant duck in the state on Sept. 1, but that may not be the case on Oct. 1.
With the first few cold mornings of late summer and early fall, local teal start packing up and begin scurrying south. It's a shame that all the teal raised in North Dakota don't stick around for the bulk of the duck season, but in most years by mid-October the bulk of them have exited on their winter migration.
That's why based on federal harvest statistics blue-winged teal make up less than 10 percent of the ducks bagged in North Dakota, though they typically account for more than 30 percent of the ducks produced in the state.
From marsh hunting for blue-winged teal to field hunts for mallards, the pieces of the fall puzzle are left for each hunter to pick and choose how and when to place them. Unlike a real puzzle, there really is no wrong way. If you want to add blue-winged teal to your puzzle, now's the time to start planning some days in the field the first week of duck season.
Leier is a biologist for the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org