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Homra Guide Service

Folks refer to it as the “early duck season” around most parts of Tennessee. When you rise and shine in the wee hours of the morning any duck season is the early season however!

Waterfowlers are always anxious this time of year when summer begins to lose its grip and a little north wind signals autumn’s arrival is knocking at the door. Such is the mood of duck hunters as the season transitions toward fall and the opportunity to hit the marsh, swamps, mudflats and backwaters is here.

Fowler Guide Service

Volunteer State duck hunters get a chance to kick start the winter season when the early wood duck and teal seasons arrive each year and it begins with a bang. Time to test the chest waders and hip boots for leaks!

This year Tennesseans will again have a 5-day wood duck and teal combo season, followed by four more days tagged on the end that are teal only times. Dates for this year’s segments are September 12-16 for the combo with the teal only portion taking in another weekend and running up through September 20.

Daily bag limits will again allow six ducks of which not more than two can be woodies.

Timed to coincide with the annual migration of blue-wing teal that blow through the area, the season is a hit and miss at times as teal are known for their “here-today-gone-tomorrow” reputations. Adding the wood duck to the season gives waterfowlers more opportunities.

Parker Guide Service

Tennessee is one of only three states in the Mississippi flyway that get the early wood duck added to the bag. Both Kentucky and Florida also have the combo season. However, the other flyway member states get another week added to their teal only seasons, giving them a wider window of opportunity to catch the blue-wing migration that can come and go on short notice.

According to the 2015 Trends in Duck Breeding Populations report released earlier this summer by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, blue-wing teal numbers are good and similar to last year’s fall flight. And, the species is 73 percent above the long-term average so the little darters are doing just fine.

Once early cool snaps hit the breeding grounds of Canada and the Dakotas blue-wing flocks waste no time in packing their bags and heading south. West Tennessee’s abundance of sloughs, swamps, watershed lakes and big water such as Reelfoot Lake and Kentucky Lake’s where unlimited shallow mudflats with shallow vegetation offer havens.

Cameron and Hanna Homra
Homra Guide Service

Short stopovers for migrating teal happen in mid-September but weather patterns can really play a role. Overnight changes with north winds trigger the movement, which is why hunters should be out there before the sun comes up should good weather present itself.

Small decoy spreads will do the trick on most outings. A couple dozen teal decoys or even half woodies and half teal spread works fine. Most of the time teal or roaming woodies will respond well and motion decoys or spinning wings seem to help too, especially in the wee hours before a bright sun takes over.

Calling techniques can help too if you master the unique shrill cry of the woodies or that unique chirp sound of pacified teal feeding among shallow moss and other aquatic vegetation. Most hunters, however, let their decoys do the work for them.

In the early season you can hunt just fine from boat blinds or other temporary setups. Pulling up a few bushes and wading shallow water or cutting cane to forge a small blind to break the outline works fine. Staying still and a little face paint or camouflage face mask will aid the cause.

Some use the early season as a dress rehearsal for the forthcoming winter season, hoping to polish up the retriever pup, get the kinks worked out of the stubborn starting motors or perhaps introduce a youngster to his or her first duck hunt.

There are many attributes to the early duck season and odds are even the novice and veteran hunters alike will have a little rust to shake loose since seasons ended back in January.

Darting woodies among the branches and the “swish” sound of rapidly descending teal that just did a fly-by on you in the limelight will test your skill, patience and judgement when calling the shot.

Wood ducks and teal will humble you. They’re fast, small and smart!

Here’s hoping the early season helps set the stage for many great mornings to come in the great outdoors.

By Steve McCadams

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