Lansing — For the first time in nearly 50 years, Michigan hunters took to the state’s wetlands in pursuit of early season teal, and DNR officials believe the first season in a three-year experiment went relatively well.
“All reports we received from across the state from hunters is they really appreciated the opportunity,” DNR Wildlife Chief Russ Mason told Michigan Outdoor News. “I hunted personally on Drummond Island, and I saw teal, and everyone I ran into had a good time.”
Mason only bagged one of the small ducks, some of the earliest to migrate each fall, in the first of three experimental early teal seasons approved by the Natural Resources Commission this summer. The move was made possible after the three main teal-producing states – Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota – petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to bring back early teal hunting, which was eliminated by the federal agency in the 1960s because too many hunters shot at or killed non-target ducks. The USFWS oversees regulations for migrating bird species.
“The reason we have it is because the teal-producing states … collected an extraordinary amount of data that convinced them to do this,” such as teal reproduction rates, harvest rates, population estimates, and other data, Mason said.
“We were able to demonstrate convincingly that teal populations could sustain eleven times the harvest of this year,” he said.
USFWS officials estimate the nation’s blue-winged teal population at about 8.5 million and green-winged teal at 3.4 million, both well above long-term averages.
As a condition of the USFWS approval, DNR officials are tasked with monitoring the season to ensure no more than 25 percent of attempted kills involve non-target duck species.
This year’s season, which ran Sept. 1-7, went relatively well, officials said. The DNR set up 43 spy (observation) blinds in popular teal-hunting locations throughout the state, and the results were encouraging, said Barbara Avers, DNR waterfowl and wetland specialist.
“It looks like hunters were very selective and they shot less than 4 percent of non-target ducks within shooting range,” Avers said. “Of those 43 observation blinds, 93 percent of the ducks those hunters killed were teal.”
Hunters on Saginaw Bay and areas along Lake Erie shallows saw quite a bit of action, while those hunting in other areas of the state did “not so well,” Mason said.
“We did as may bag checks as we could on the observations, and we found hunters took 22 blue-winged teal, 19 green-winged teal, and three wood ducks,” Avers said.
“On nine (observations) there were violations, and most of those were for early shooting.”
Mason said the coinciding starts of early teal and goose seasons may have confused some hunters about the legal hours to shoot. Goose shooting hours start a half-hour before sunrise, and early teal hunters were supposed to wait until sunrise, but not all hunters did.
“The most common violation was shooting before legal hours,” Mason said. “Non-target take was quite small, which is what we were hoping for.”
Participation seemed strong, Avers said, but DNR officials won’t have an accurate estimate until after waterfowl surveys sent to hunters come back next spring.
“Anecdotally … it looks like participation was pretty good, especially on opening day and the weekend of the season,” Avers said. “We went out to certain locations to gauge hunters, and at least in southern Michigan it wasn’t hard to find hunters.”
“The feedback we got from the season was pretty positive,” she said.
DNR officials plan to do a more thorough analysis of their preliminary observation data this fall with the aim of submitting an annual report on the expanded season to the USFWS before the end of the year, Avers said.