By Paul Wait
The experimental September teal season hunters in Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa have enjoyed for the past three seasons will continue in 2017.
In 2014, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service authorized a special September teal season in those three states, as well as Minnesota, dependent on whether waterfowl hunters could correctly identify and target only teal. The states were required to monitor hunters for compliance. Minnesota chose not to participate, but Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa duck hunters were afforded the opportunity to experience early-season teal hunts, much like states farther down the flyway have had for many years.
The experiment was supposed to last three years. However, because of changes in the timing of when USFWS sets duck seasons, the evaluation process won’t be complete in time to determine the long-term fate of September teal seasons for these states. As a result, the USFWS has authorized September teal seasons to continue in 2017, according to Barb Avers, waterfowl and wetlands specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
“The teal season is still considered experimental for 2017, and we anticipate knowing in June whether we will continue to have it in 2018 and beyond,” she said.
Michigan, which has offered seven-day teal seasons each year since 2014, is bumping it up to 10 days this fall, Avers said. The daily limit is six teal.
“The teal season has been quite well received by our hunters, and the comments and feedback have been positive,” she said. “Blue-winged teal migrate early, so expanding it to 10 days gives hunters two weekends and increases opportunity.”
Wisconsin, which has taken seven-day teal seasons throughout the experiment, will offer the same in 2017, according to Taylor Finger, assistant migratory game bird ecologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Teal hunting in the Badger State will open at 9 a.m. on Sept. 1, and then start at sunrise Sept. 2 to 7, with the shooting hours ending at 7 p.m. Hunters can take six teal daily.
Iowa’s teal season will also mirror the state’s previous offering. Hunters in the North and South zones will have nine days, Sept. 2 to 10, while Missouri River Zone hunters will have 16 days, Sept. 2 to 17. The daily bag limit is six teal.
The teal season has been popular in Iowa, said Orrin Jones, state waterfowl biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
“We found participation was 50 to 60 percent of the state’s waterfowl hunters,” he said.
Iowa hunters were quite successful, shooting an estimated 45,000 bluewings in 2014 and 32,000 in 2015 during the early season, harvest totals that ranked second (behind Louisiana) in the Mississippi Flyway, Jones said.
“We’re looking at the additional year of the experimental season as an opportunity to learn what our hunters want,” he said, noting that Iowa is surveying its hunters to solicit that information.
Blue-winged teal, with a population estimate of 6.7 million in 2016, are the second-most abundant breeding duck in North America. The estimate puts bluewing numbers 34 percent above the long-term average. Green-winged teal, which are also legal to hunt during the September season, were estimated at 4.28 million in 2016, the highest breeding count on record.
With teal thriving, the Central Flyway duck production states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming were again rewarded with the option to add two bonus blue-winged teal to their daily bag limit for the first 16 days of the 2017 regular duck season. The bonus teal opportunity has been allowed by the USFWS each season since 2014.