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story.lead_photo.caption A hunter surveys the sky during an early season teal hunt sunrise. Photo by Contributed photo
Brandon Butler
It's hard to believe we're starting to talk about duck hunting, but with the teal opener less than a month away, we'll be swinging on whistling wings before you know it.

For those of you who waterfowl hunt at Missouri Conservation Areas, there are some changes going into effect this year you need to be aware of.

The 2019 Missouri Teal Season opens Sept. 7 and runs through Sept. 22. You may hunt blue-winged teal, green-winged teal and cinnamon teal. The daily bag limit is six and the possession limit is 18. A limit may be comprised of any combination of the above-mentioned teal species.

To legally hunt teal, you must possess a small game hunting permit, migratory bird hunting permit and a federal duck stamp. You may use shotguns, 10-gauge or smaller. Shotguns that hold more than three shells must be plugged. And you must use nontoxic shot only. You cannot hunt waterfowl with lead shot.

The Missouri Department of Conservation has made changes to the waterfowl reservation system. Beginning this year, 50 percent of daily hunting positions for the managed-hunt areas are allocated through online reservations, with half of these reservations assigned from preseason applications and the other half assigned from weekly applications during the season. The other 50 percent belong to those who show up for the "poor line," which refers to those hunters who stand in line to take their chances in the daily early morning drawing.

"Under the changes to the reservation system, if an area offers 20 daily hunting positions, five will be allocated through preseason reservations and five through in-season reservations," said Lauren Hildreth, who coordinates managed waterfowl hunts for the MDC. "The remaining 10 positions will be allocated to hunters from the poor line the morning of each hunt."

According to the MDC website, the preseason reservation period runs from Sept. 1-18 with results posted Oct. 1. The in-season weekly drawings will take place Monday afternoons with a seven-day application period that opens the Tuesday before and closes the Monday of the draw at 3 p.m. Successful hunters will be notified via email or text message after the draw with their hunt date, location, and pill assignment. "Pills" designate the order hunting parties select their hunting locations on the area. The lower the number, the sooner hunting parties get to select their hunting location.

Another change is all applicants for waterfowl reservations must have their required permits to apply, and their federal duck stamp to hunt.

"These changes give waterfowl hunters the most flexibility for hunting on our intensively managed wetlands," Hildreth said. "Some hunters want to plan their hunts well in advance, so the preseason reservations are ideal for them. Some hunters want the flexibility of week-to-week planning, so the weekly in-season reservations are great for them. And many hunters want the flexibility to try their luck with the same-day morning poor line for each area."

Teal arrive out of nowhere and often buzz the decoys before you have time to raise your shotgun. These fast-flying small ducks are the waterfowler's first opportunity of the season, and many of us have a hard time shaking off the rust and limiting out. No matter. Just being in the marsh again, hunting ducks, is enough to stir the soul of any dedicated waterfowl hunter.

Teal hunting isn't the large-scale affair waterfowl hunting often becomes later in the season. A dozen decoys will do fine in a small puddle of water. Ideal teal habitat is shallow sloughs, marshes and drying out flooded fields. Teal like slow moving or still water. They don't mind mud. You rarely need a boat for teal hunting. A good retriever is always nice, but again not necessary.

Since it is usually warm outside, you don't need nearly as much equipment and hunting spots are often easily accessible, teal hunting is great for introducing youth or new hunters to duck hunting because there is often a lot of action. For those of us with a few years under our belts, teal hunting is the perfect way to begin another long season.

See you down the trail.

III

Brandon Butler, the director of communications for Roeslein Alternative Energy, is an outdoors columnist for the News Tribune. Contact him at outdoors@newstribune.com.

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