Coastal Teal Kick-Off
Teal season begins Sept. 14, and there are some public places along the coast where you can spend some time in the waders.
As I’m typing this story, the temperature outside is nearly 100 degrees. It is hard for me to believe that in just a few short months, I will likely be laying in a muddy jonboat, freezing half to death, wearing numerous layers of clothes under my waders, waiting for the warm sun to rise over the Georgia marsh.
Yes, duck season is coming, but it’s still going to be a little while yet… or is it?
The often-overlooked early teal season presents hunters with an opportunity to harvest some birds long before the traditional duck season starts, and a limit isn’t hard to come by as birds haven’t been pressured in months. The even better news is that you don’t need a big lease of land or have to be a member of a hunting club to get in on the action.
The only downside to the early teal season in Georgia is that it’s going to be hot… and I mean hot!
Altamaha WMA, located just outside the town of Darien, has more than 3,100 acres of waterfowl impoundments that are carefully managed year-round for optimal wildlife habitat.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Robert Horan, a WRD wildlife biologist, for this story, and you could hear the passion in his voice as we talked about the upcoming early teal season on Altamaha WMA.
“We work hard during the off-season to manage habitat for the upcoming year, and things look pretty good for early teal season. We have some areas we are still working to get finished, but all in all, things are looking good at the WMA,” said Robert.
The waterfowl area of Altamaha WMA is broken into three major sections.
Butler Island is a quota-only area that is closed during early teal season and will be open during the regular duck season.
The next section, Rhetts Island, is located down the river from the Champney River boat ramp. This area is accessible only by boat and requires crossing over a dike to enter.
“Rhetts Island in its entirety is still undergoing repairs from storm damage last year. We are working hard to have it completely ready to go before regular duck season, but it is likely during early teal dates, repairs will be ongoing,” Robert said.
“I want to point out that you can still hunt Rhetts while it’s being repaired, but access may be difficult.”
The third major area of the Altamaha Waterfowl impoundments is Champney Island, and the ponds in this area offer walk-in access, making them prime hunting areas for hunters with small boats or kayaks.
“The Champney Island section tends to get overlooked by hunters, in my opinion. It offers up some great duck hunting, and you can drive in, park your truck and walk 50 or 100 yards to the water,” Robert said.
Hunters do not need a boat to hunt this area, but Robert did mention a small kayak is perfect for floating a small spread of decoys, your shotgun and a cooler to keep your drinks and any ducks cool during the often-hot early season.
“More and more folks are breaking out the kayaks for duck hunting. They are a great way to get your gear in and out, and they are easily camouflaged with burlap or using natural material to make a blind. An added bonus is they offer a seat if you get tired of standing,” said Robert.
If you do choose to hunt the walk-in section, Robert recommended hunters wear a life jacket until they familiarize themselves with the ponds.
“The water averages shin to knee deep in most places, but there are a few ditches and drops here and there. It sure doesn’t hurt to have one on to be on the safe side until you get used to the area,” Robert added.
“If I had to recommend two places for hunters to try and bag a limit of teal, it would be the West Champney and New Snipe ponds, both on the Champney section of the WMA. It is kind of hard to predict when the ducks will begin to arrive in large numbers. It could be a week before the early season, or they could start coming in heavy a week late. The prime hunting areas on the WMA change from year to year based on habitat, forage and hunting pressure,” Robert said.
Robert said that both New Snipe and West Champney have some great insect and biomass numbers right now that are sure to be magnets for this year’s crop of ducks. The ponds have remained full and healthy all summer and will be lowered just before the start of the early teal season for optimum hunting conditions.
“New Snipe looks really promising, as there is plenty of forage for the ducks at this time. It should have a bunch of birds on it this season,” said Robert.
Hunters wanting to drastically up their odds should spend a morning or two before the season to go out and watch the birds. By leaving the shotgun at home, and bringing a pair of binoculars and observing the duck patterns, a limit can be much easier to obtain on opening day.
“You have to do your homework on ducks,” said Robert. “Their patterns change constantly. What was a good spot last year may not have a duck on it now. The environment changes constantly, and ducks change with it.”
Robert went on to say that if the ducks get pressured, the river portion of the WMA can offer up some fast teal action.
“If you put in at the Champney River boat ramp, you can head out to the Intercoastal Waterway and find sloughs along the river and hunt them. They can be really productive areas for the entirety of duck season.”
Scouting is crucial when hunting sloughs along the river, and an early morning boat ride can help reveal duck hang-outs as they fly off the water as your boat approaches.
“A really great resource the DNR has available to hunters is the interactive maps online. You can look at them from your computer, or even better a smart phone while in the field. This is a great tool to help hunters in the field to view WMA boundaries, ponds, and it will even show your location on the map via GPS. It can be a huge help to hunters looking to learn the lay of the land,” said Robert.
Hunters can access the maps by going to gadnrwrd.maps.arcgis.com.
Early teal season dates are Sept. 14-29, and the Altamaha WMA Waterfowl portion is open for hunting on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays during the season. The daily bag limit is six teal per hunter,
One note worth mentioning, especially in the warm early season, is the presence of alligators. This coastal area is home to some rather large gators, and during September they remain active with the warm temperatures. Robert said that though there has never been an issue reported, it helps to pay attention to your surroundings, particularly when wading around the WMA at before sunrise.
Additionally, hunters may want to pass on using retrievers on the area until the normal duck season when alligators are less active during cooler months.
To get to the area from Darien, take Highway 17 south a mile and a half and turn right onto Massaman Road. The New Snipe and West Champney ponds can be accessed from this road.
Directly across Highway 17 is the Champney boat ramp that can be used for those who may want to try getting into Rhetts Island, or for those who want to give hunting along the river a shot.
With it still a few months yet before frosty mornings and the more traditional duck hunting, why not give the Altamaha WMA Waterfowl section a try down in Darien? Whether you bring the boat, wade in or decide to give a kayak a try, grab your thin waders or just some old sneakers and your swim trunks. It may be hot, but it’s time to hunt some ducks!
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