The fair is here and the bass have stopped biting. That means hunting season is almost here! Four popular hunting seasons will begin in the next few weeks and for many hunters it marks the beginning of hunting season.
Squirrel, early Canada goose, teal, and mourning dove seasons all start in the next week or two. Mourning dove season opens Sept. 1 and stays open until Nov. 3. It then reopens on Dec. 17 and runs until Jan. 11. The daily bag limit is fifteen. Squirrel also opens Sept. 1 and remains open until Jan. 31 with a daily bag limit of six. Early Canada goose and teal seasons open Sept. 7 this year. Goose season stays open until Sept. 15th with a daily bag limit of five and teal season runs until Sept. 22 with the daily bag limit of six.
Teal are one of my favorite ducks to chase. These little ducks are the speed demons of the waterfowl. They are built for mach speed and can humble the most talented of waterfowlers. The reason that we have an early duck season just for teal is because they are the earliest migrators of the waterfowl. They are wimps when it comes to chilly weather. The first night of cooler fall weather can get these guys packing up and heading south. They travel from their breeding grounds in Canada all the way to winter in the marshes of Louisiana and some even cross down into Mexico until spring returns.
There are two species of teal that are typically found passing through Ohio and they are the green winged teal and the blue winged teal. The green winged teal is a little heartier than its cousin and can be seen around later in the fall. The blue winged however are usually gone by late October.
Hunting these guys can be quite fun but there are very few areas around central Ohio that offer good opportunities. Your best bet is to head up to the marshes near Lake Erie like Magee or Pickerel Creek, but one cool night like we typically get during the fair can send some teal our way. They are shallow water feeders so look for flats and the backs of feeder creeks if you want to hunt these birds. It doesn’t take much to decoy them. A dozen hen mallard decoys are all you need. I prefer hen decoys only this time of the year because the males haven’t plumed out their colors yet and both sexes look like hens this time of the year.
Remain camouflaged and keep your calling to a minimum and you will have a chance to shoot at these daredevils, if you are in the right spot. Just be sure that you clearly see that patch of blue or green on the wings before pulling the trigger. Many wood ducks are shot during teal season because of poor identification and it is a violation to harvest any duck other than a teal.
Early goose season has become very popular for waterfowlers as their large population provides ample opportunity for hunters to harvest a few birds. Scouting is the key to being successful. Finding where they are feeding is your best bet. Look for them in cow pastures, freshly cut hay fields, wheat stubble, and once the corn silage starts being chopped, you will be sure to find them there. Take along as many decoys as you can afford and set them up into small family groups. Stay hidden as best you can and a few carefully placed honks on your call and you should do well. Some of our resident birds have been around long enough that they have become quite wary of hunter’s spreads, so be sure to keep hidden and remain motionless.
Both teal and geese require non-toxic shot so leave the lead at home. Using steel shot greatly reduces your killing range. Take the time to walk forty yards in the yard and get used to seeing objects at that distance. The most common mistake first time waterfowlers make is shooting at birds that are out of range. All this does is educate the birds or worse yet, cripple one. Clean, quick kills should be the goal of every hunter.
Mourning doves are another bird that will humble the best of shooters. These birds are dipping and diving at highway speeds that can frustrate any shooter. Again, the key is finding their food. Sunflower fields are the best but few farmers plant them in this area. ODNR has several areas where they have planted sunflowers on wildlife areas to attract doves, so they are a good place to start. Wheat stubble fields and fresh cut silage fields are a good bet as well. The birds will go to the fields to feed both in the mornings and evenings. Just set yourself on a bucket along the flyway of the field and have fun.
Another good option to find birds is farm ponds that they are using for watering holes. The birds will need a drink after feeding and the shooting can get hot at midmorning. Evenings can be good as well but you are usually limited to a flurry of shooting right at dusk before the birds roost for the night.
I am a big advocate of using a dog to retrieve your downed birds to reduce game loss and I encourage you to take your retriever along. Just remember that September can still be quite hot and it won’t take long for pup to get overheated. Take lots of cold water; sit in the shade, and give pup lots of breaks. Learn the signs of heat exhaustion in dogs and seek immediate medical help if any signs are displayed.
Many a youngster’s first harvest of game comes during squirrel season. It is a great time for father and son to spend in the woods learning safe handling of a gun and developing woodsmanship skills. A hunter can have success with either a rifle or shotgun, depending on which you prefer. As with the birds, finding their food is the key. Concentrate on the nut trees and look for fresh cuttings as you walk through the woods. The biggest challenge in the early season is seeing them through all the leaves. Keep your noise to a minimum and remember patience is the key.
The fun starts in September! Get out and enjoy the early season hunting opportunities. Until next time, Good Hunting and Good Fishing!
Ken Parrott is an Agricultural Science teacher with Northmor High School.