Results vary for teal and goose hunters as waterfowl season opens

·5 min read

At age 13, Jackson Davis of Owatonna is a seasoned duck hunter.

Returning to the cattails last weekend for Minnesota's second-ever early teal season, he patiently waited for sunrise as ducks flew by and sometimes into a dozen of his decoys on a Freeborn County lake. A slight wind gave the spread some bounce.

"There were plenty of birds around,'' said Jeremiah Davis, Jackson's father. "We knew we were in for a good morning.''

The same was true for other waterfowlers in many parts of the state as the first big weekend of fall hunting arrived amid mild, cool mornings. The experimental five-day early teal season opened last Saturday, coinciding with the beginning of Minnesota's early goose season. Dove hunters and bear hunters opened their seasons Sept. 1. The main waterfowl seasons start Sept. 24 while the two-day youth waterfowl hunt takes place this weekend.

Steve Cordts, waterfowl specialist for the Department of Natural Resources, said early goose hunting has been predictably slow — hampered by reduced survival of goslings this spring. Adult birds are more wary of hunters than young ones.

"Not a ton of young geese this year … but pretty good numbers of teal," Cordts said.

Based on various field reports, he said southern Minnesota teal hunters probably fared the best. Still, good results were reported elsewhere, especially in the north-central region and west of there. Blue- and green-winged teal are early migrators, and last year's inaugural early season produced a 70% satisfaction rate for the 13,000 hunters who participated.

This year's turnout may have been lower because overall duck stamp sales through Labor Day were down about 12%, year over year. This year's water levels are generally better than a year ago, but water is still low in some areas.

"We had plenty of opportunities to shoot our limit, but we got enough,'' Jeremiah Davis said.

He and Jackson shot from their canoe on Saturday and Sunday mornings, harvesting a total of 14 bluewings. They shared the lake with plenty of hunters on Saturday morning, the elder Davis said, but only half as many hunters showed up on Sunday.

A hunter from the start

Jackson started hunting ducks seven years ago and tells his parents that waterfowl season is his favorite time of year. This summer he attended Woodie Camp in Fergus Falls, a famous youth camp for aspiring duck and goose hunters. He outscored everyone when it came to species identification. He also came home with a new duck recipe requiring an Asian fusion marinade and char-grilling. Duck is one of his favorite foods.

"When it was time for him to pack a hobo meal for scout camp, he chose duck hearts,'' Jeremiah said.

The father-son team would like to see the early teal season made permanent. Cordts said the decision will be made after one more year of observation to address concerns that early-teal hunters might be killing wood ducks, mallards and other non-target species. There are also worries about overharvest and potential conflicts with wild rice gatherers.

As was the case in 2021, DNR placed observers in "spy blinds'' throughout the state to measure compliance with teal-only regulations and a half-hour delay in shooting hours to help hunters better identify their targets. In the main duck season, shooting can start a half-hour before sunrise. The study period is required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"We had plenty of people out in spy blinds," Cordts said. "Hopefully we will do three years of this and decide after that what happens. All the other states in our flyway have a teal season.''

A woman taking on teal

Megan DaMitz, 26, of Morristown is ready to make teal season an annual tradition. "It's just a fun way to kick off the fall,'' she said.

In her third year of duck hunting, DaMitz slept on the edge of a swamp last week on the eve of opening day. She was accompanied by her boyfriend, Dylan Brody, and their friend Dan Stroh.

Their chosen hunting location on public land in Rice County was devoid of other hunters this year, and water levels were down compared to a year ago. But ducks were circling their decoys before dawn — lots of ducks, DaMitz said.

"By shooting time, we were surrounded by ducks,'' she said. "It's great because you sort of watch the whole world wake up around you.''

The group bagged eight blue-winged teal, half of which were shot by DaMitz. "I got the first one of the season and I shot four,'' she said. "It's fun to get started early in the season.''

Brody said DaMitz is trying to recruit other women into the sport. Part of the attraction for them is getting closer to nature and making meals from the kill.

"It's fun to harvest ducks, but watching them just be ducks in a decoy spread is a pretty cool thing,'' Brody said.

In written reports this week by DNR conservation officers, there were lots of accounts of good teal hunting beyond southern Minnesota.

In the Elbow Lake area, northwest of Alexandria, most hunters encountered by Conservation Officer Ryan Brown were lucky enough to get their daily limit. Similar results were seen a little farther north around Fergus Falls by Conservation Officer Andrew Goodman.

"A high number of teal hunters were checked with limits the first two days of the season while early goose hunters checked were nearly skunked," he wrote.

But even in southern Minnesota, success was spotty. Conservation officers in the Mankato area and Slayton said low water levels reduced the number of huntable sloughs.

"Early goose and teal hunters had little success over the openers,'' Conservation Officer Jamie VanThuyne reported Tuesday. "Hunters reported seeing fewer birds than they expected. Low water … made access difficult and caused certain areas to be crowded.''

Josh Moriarity of Claremont was among the fortunate. Equipped with four kayaks, he led his wife, Amy, and their sons Hunter, 14, and Bo, 11, to Rice Lake in southern Minnesota on Opening Day.

A year ago, the family limited out on teal for three days in a row. This year, the weather was almost too nice, Moriarity said. Still, they harvested nine teal and one goose in an early-morning hunt that lasted until 11 a.m.

"It's a another great opportunity to get the family out,'' he said.