Early Birds
Field & Stream|Volume 125 - Issue 3, 2020
Just because the first wood ducks and teal of the season are unpressured doesn’t mean they’re easy
T. Edward Nickens

THE TEAL boiled over the far edge of the Arkansas ricefield, each flock a giant smudge on the horizon that formed and dissipated and reformed into the shapes of giant black commas and dark towering thunderheads rising above the distant trees. I needed three more birds for a limit. There might have been 600 in a single flock. I tried not to look at the ground because, at my feet, spent shells littered the rice dike—their sheer volume a candy-apple-red reminder that I should have spent more time on the skeet range over the summer.

I’ve never thought it was fair to start off this way. You’d think the early birds would be gimmes, but they are not. There should be an easier on-ramp to duck season. Snow and ice were months away, and most hunting seasons hadn’t even opened. I hadn’t gotten my groove back yet, but these teal couldn’t have cared less. They were living it up in a world of waste grain and bugs.

Now another inkblot of feathers rose off the September sheet water, swirled for a moment as if gathering its wits, and streamed straight for the decoys. I tightened my hands around my shotgun. This looked like a repeat of the first teal flock to swing my way: Empty blue skies were suddenly filled with shotgun blasts, feathers, and hoots and hollers— and there was not enough to show for it. Not on my end of the blind, at least.

HUNTING HOMEWORK

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