When being a mother isn’t as you imagined it would be



I dreamed that as a mother…

  • I would have children that loved vegetables
  • They would wear adorable vintage clothing that I made by hand
  • I dreamed that I would churn my own butter and cook every meal from scratch
  • I’d keep a spotless house and have a massive garden with some hens
  • I would do elaborate crafts every day with the kids (that would go just as planned) and write my own homeschool curriculum
  • They would go to bed at an early hour and sleep through the night
  • Everyone would be joyful and happy all the time.

So fast forward several years later…

  • I have a brilliant, three-and-a-half-years-old daughter who refuses to touch a vegetable (Aspergers + sensory issues)  and is terrified of the potty. I have a two years old daughter who thinks its ok to try to scale the rock fireplace and is so enthusiastic about life that she tends to make massive amounts of mess with … well… everything she does.
  • Their clothes are well loved and used and are by no means anything that I have made by hand.
  • Food …. well … I do try to make it all from scratch, but frankly most days we grab something quick from the freezer or Taco Bell.
  • My house is barely in the tidy category. Our grass gets in pitiful condition before it ever gets mowed, much less a garden planted or a place for hens created.
  • Crafts are rather infrequent and never go as planned. The girls are just now liking me to read to them so we are not getting very far with homeschooling preschool
  • My husband and I are co-sleeping with the babies in separate beds because its the only thing that works for us at the moment, therefore no one goes to bed at a decent time or sleeps through the night.
  • I am just now coming out of a 3-year Chronic Post Partum Depression battle. So between a wife of a seminary student, a mother, a family member, a church member, a writer, an artist etc – stress is pretty high, so “happy all the time” is rather laughable

But we ARE joyful. We are so immensely grateful and blessed. My little family by no means resemble the Von Trapp family, all smiling, and lined up in a row – but we can say that this is God’s best for us. This is His perfect plan to help us grow in holiness and for His glory.


I have had the opportunity to discuss this very topic with a group of 650 women. And astonishingly enough, everyone had virtually the same story: motherhood is ridiculously difficult. Nothing prepared me for how physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting it is. The vast majority of the group said that they struggle with feeling like a failure, that they are going through a serious struggle with guilt, and shame.

According to this Gallup Poll,  Stay at Home Moms are slightly more likely than moms employed outside the home to feel negative emotions on a daily basis and to have been diagnosed with clinical depression.

The discussion with the group of women continued on for some time. Everyone was asking “Why? Why is this so common? Why is staying at the home to raise up children for the Lord so closely connected with failure, guilt, and shame? Why is such a noble and honorable calling bringing so many women into clinical depression?”

Shame and Guilt are not from God. They are the result of sin. We first see these emotions in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve sinned, they did not trust God is who He says He is. And in doing so, were filled with shame and guilt and tried to hide from God. Guilt and Shame drive us away from God. It makes us want to hide. When we as believers sin, God loves us enough to discipline us – which makes us feel Convicted. Conviction drives us TOWARDS him in repentance, not away from Him to hide.

Maybe, we get focused on what we think is best, instead of trusting God to give us His best.  We want a life that is easy and comfortable. But God wants us to become more like Christ, which most likely won’t be easy or comfortable – but it will be more beautiful than any scenario we can dream up. All because we will be able to see and reflect the beauty of Christ.

Maybe, we think that we have to do good in order to be loved instead of trusting God and obeying as a response to His love. We can never be good enough. One tiny sin against the All-Holy, Creator of Everything deserves eternity in Hell. We cannot do penance enough to pay for the price of even ONE sin.

Perhaps, we forget that we are not the Holy Spirit. How easy it is to want to bring conviction to our children – instead of trusting God with their souls. How quickly we get angry when they sin. How often do we worry about what they are turning out to be – when in fact, we are not responsible for their choices. We will be held accountable for training them, not for the choices they make.


We can trust God with the souls of our children. We do not have to mold our kids into what God wants them to be – He will do that. God knows exactly what He has created these children to be, and what their futures will hold. He knows every hair on their head. He will arrange everything to be exactly like it needs to be for their sanctification too. We don’t have to worry about creating the Fruit of the Spirit in their hearts – that’s the role of the Holy Spirit.

This mindset of having to work-work-work will lead to unbearable guilt and fear. How many times have we as mothers laid awake at night, going over every tiny mistake we made, and being absolutely obsessed over own every failure? Worrying that we are scaring our children for life? How quickly we fail to trust God’s Faithfulness!

Maybe, it’s because we have forgotten the Gospel. I am a wretched sinner, who deserves Hell, but God in His Grace and Mercy paid the penalty for my sins on the cross so that I might repent and believe in Him and be reconciled to Him.

Trusting God quietens our fears and places our focus on Him instead of at our own selves. Trusting God brings peace, joy, and hope. It is only when we trust God that we can do our children any good at all. God is doing more good than I could ever imagine (Eph. 3:20. God has promised to exalt the humble (Jam. 4:10) and to reward our faithfulness (Col. 3:23-24.).


God has chosen ME to be the mother of my children. I can trust that He is doing good TO ME, passionately, actively – He wants to sanctify me (Heb. 12:10.) And though I don’t understand it all – I have to trust that I am the best choice for them, and they are the best choice for me.

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13”

We are commanded to “Train up our children in the way they should go…” (Prov. 22:6.) Which is living out part of the Great Commission in our very homes. There is not a more significant calling than to pass on the legacy of our faith to the next generation! So even when things are chaotic and not at all the way we imagined it would be – we can cling to joy, and hope, knowing with full assurance of God’s sovereign goodness.



The Nursery Dilemma

“No, thank you, we would rather not put our kids in the nursery…”


It’s a line that my husband and I almost dread having to say when we visit a different church and even occasionally at our own church. It’s usually followed by a well-meaning, but a rather critical question – posed by someone just double checking us, just to make sure.

– Yes, we are sure.

Then comes the real test – the church service. Will our kids behave?! At least somewhat?!

What if my toddler (who happens to have autism) has a massive meltdown because of being over stimulated from the extra long car ride, or the new smells, or sounds?

What if my baby (who is struggling with her molars coming in) just won’t be pacified or distracted?

At every little noise that the children make during the service – my husband and I flinch. The tension from the well-meaning church member is almost palatable. I felt their eyes burning holes in the back of my head. I am glad that we don’t have to visit other churches often.


This is a very strong personal conviction my husband and I have. After all, we will be held accountable on Judgement Day for what we taught them – and we want to teach them to love Jesus and His Bride. For us, that means keeping them in church with us and not in the nursery or children’s church.

We want our children to be in the entire church service with us. We want them to hear the worship service and the sermon.  Even though they won’t understand all of what is being said. They are taking everything in.

Those little eyes are watching. They are watching us worship. They are watching their church family worship. They are seeing lives changed, their loved ones cry out to God with heavy burdens, the whole church family rejoicing at a sinner repenting. Why would I want to take them away from all of that and stick them in the nursery?

Our babies will see if we are scrolling through Facebook or are really paying attention to the sermon. We want them to see how important church is – how important being with the body of believers is.


We want them to see that we don’t go to church just because its fun,  or just because we get something out of it – but because we love Jesus and He died for the church, so we want to obey Him by “not forsaking our own assembling together… but encouraging one another” (Heb. 10:25.)

Keeping babies in the church service is HARD. They wiggle, cry, fidget, try to wander around, get dirty diapers… it is a REALLY hard thing to do. Not to mention the just-before-nap-time-fussiness that tends to occur around 11 am.  I don’t get to hear very much of the sermon at all, I’m too busy wrestling with kids and trying to make sure they don’t find someone’s purse to rummage through. It is so easy to get discouraged, to think that it would be so much simpler if I stayed home or put them in the nursery.


A few weeks ago, my toddler mentioned she was scared of the monsters in the shadows (thanks Scooby-Doo.) I told her there were no monsters and not to worry. I had all planned out to remind her about the God is Bigger than the Boogie Man song. She interrupted me to say “Jesus will keep me safe! He loves me!” with that she rolled over and fell right asleep.

Yes, its dreadfully hard – but so worth it.

We are blessed to have friends who truly love our babies and often help with them during the service. I snapped this picture of one of my dearest friends holding my youngest. If you see a family struggling with their babies – instead of insisting that they put the babies in the nursery or children’s service, why not ask to sit with them and love on their babies?


When I Stopped Writing… Lessons learned in the shadows

I have always dreamed of being a writer.

When I was four, I wrote my first book – complete with construction paper cover and illustrations. I was an avid reader before entering Kindergarten. The more I read, the more I felt compelled to write. I filled journals cover to cover with my thoughts, ramblings, heart-pourings, and poems. By the time I was ten, I wrote a short novel, but I couldn’t bring myself to finish the last chapter (knowing the fate my hero would face was too painful.) And here I am now – 32 years old, and the burning desire to write is stronger than ever.

Several years ago, I stopped writing for a time. Here is why and what I have learned.

Since childhood, writing has been cathartic – even therapeutic.  I use it as a method of putting my thoughts in order. It was a tool to help me learn to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5b) by taking inspiration from Davids style of writing.

Many of the Psalms written by David follow a pattern. He uses writing to pour out his heart and find expression of the pain, frustration, fear, and depression he is facing. And then he focuses his thoughts – and pen – towards God: His character and statutes. By doing so, he is able to find solace and emotional healing in resting in God’s Sovereignty.

But even good things can be marred and tainted because of sin… even something as seemingly innocent as writing in a journal. 

During a particularly dark period of my adult life, my writing became increasingly self-focused. I poured my heart out on paper, each line dripping with the intense sorrow that comes from a deep depression. It felt good to empty out the emotional torment. I thought I would burst if I didn’t.  I trusted that feeling and relied on my emotions to determine the truth of my situation, believing the lie my sinful heart spoke.

“The heart is more deceitful than all else, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”  (Jer. 17:9)

In doing so, I allowed my focus to be inward instead of focusing on Christ. It was hard – it is such a discipline to stay focused. Our sin nature constantly is driving us to focus on our self – driving us towards self-idolatry.  Focusing inward made the darkness of depression all the more unbearable. Which turned into a vicious cycle – of needing to write all the more and being driven deeper and deeper inward. I was spiraling out of control.

The Lord placed several things in my life then that drove my writing to a screeching halt. I bucked against it – I was even bitter about it. But various circumstances would arise to keep me from sitting down and writing.

I was so focused on my pain that I couldn’t see God’s mercy in the moment.

God is safe to trust but I didn’t believe it was true for me. So I wallowed in the muck and mire of self-idolatry. The Lord was so merciful and patient with me. I wanted to hold on to my pain and find comfort in the shadows of depression – but God wanted me to find comfort, rest, and solace in Him. He wanted me to understand that the suffering was for my good, my very sanctification, and for His glory.  Even though I don’t always understand why, I can trust Him.

So five years ago I started writing again. Writing is still a balm to my soul. And now I write so that I can help others know Him more – because that is all that matters anyway.

A Guide on Plants Poisonous to the Touch

Plants can ruin your day

Spending time in the woods is a wonderful way to help eliminate stress. There is not hardly anything so peaceful as the cold earth under your feet and the first light of dawn peaking over the ridge and through the trees. One horrible experience for many hunters is to get good and nestled in a hide of undergrowth waiting on a buck to walk by and to leave with only a terribly itchy rash caused by unidentified poisonous plants. This guide is meant to help you prevent that from happening. The old adage of “leaf of three let it be; hairy vine no friend of mine” can be helpful – but if you go solely by that then you’ll be avoiding many safe plants needlessly.

Poison Ivy & Poison Oak

Poison Ivy and Poison Oak are plants that are often confused. They are both a part of the Toxicodendron genus and Anacardiaceae family. Both have three leaf sets that join together at a central reddish point and alternate on either side of the stem. The middle leaf is often slightly longer (this is more noticeable in Poison Ivy) than the two side leaves. Poison Oak is not quite as common as Poison Ivy as it prefers sandy soil. It seems to be most common in the East and Northwest.


Poison Oak’s leaves can sometimes have rounded lobes – those that look rather similar to an oak leaf. Poison Oak leaves are not always lobed like oak. They can also be rounded, or scalloped, or toothed. Sometimes they are shiny and other times dull.  Sometimes serrated and sometimes not. Poison Oak can grow like a shrub, on stalks close to the ground, or on a vine. It’s not hard to see why this plant is so easily misidentified. These toxic plants will imitate the leaf shapes of the plants around it. If the plant gets full sun, it tends to grow like a shrub. If it is in the shade in the woods it tends to be a vine or on short stalks.

Poison Oak also has hairs on both sides of the leaves, whereas Poison Ivy only has hairs on one side. It can grow six feet tall and can have yellow, white, or green berries. In the fall, the leaves turn bright red and in the winter the leaves fall off. Poison Oak has leaves that are 2-8″ long and  1-5″ wide.


Poison Oak and Poison Ivy lack thorns – which is a key feature in distinguishing it from wild blackberries (which can have three to five leaves per stem.) The vine can get up to 2″ in diameter and 40 feet long. The vine appears “hairy” from all the tiny roots sprouting from it. They are also often confused with the Box Elder. The Box Elder has leaves that are arranged opposite each other along the stem instead of alternating like on Poison Ivy. Climbing Hydrangea vines are also hairy, but their leaves only have a couple of shallow teeth or are smooth. The Climbing Hydrangea also has leaves positioned opposite on the stem.

Poison Ivy grows in all the US states except Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon, and California. It can grow 4′ tall as ground cover on stems or as a hairy vine. Its berries tend to be a greyish white. Poison Ivy can grow in shady areas but tends to prefer more sunlight, so you’ll find it more often on the edges of the woods. The leaves can be 1-4″ long, but in great conditions can double that. Poison Ivy’s leaf shapes are just about as variable as that of Poison Oak.


Poison Oak and Ivy Plants actually have quite a number of useful purposes. It can survive in fairly toxic soil that can’t sustain a lot of other plant life. This provides habitat and brush in which to hide for small critters and bugs. Over 50 native bird species use Poison Oak and Poison Ivy for shelter, nesting materials or the berries for food. Many insects consume the stalks and leaves. Deer, bear, elk, raccoons, horses, rats and squirrels will eat the leaves.

Many Native Americans utilized Poison Oak and Poison Ivy Plants. The Chumash Indians consumed the leaves, stems, and roots. They were able to do so by building up an immunity. Only 15% of the population is immune to the Urushiol Oil, their T-Lymphocyte cells simply do not recognize Urushiol. I built up an immunity to it over the years too. However, many people are extremely allergic to Urushiol, so I don’t recommend you trying to become immune. Many people report the opposite effect – overexposure causes them to be more sensitive, their T-cells recognize it very quickly and formulate an immune response quickly.


When the skin comes in contact with Urushiol, it causes a chemical reaction with your skin that can develop into an allergy response. This can be as simple as redness or a patch of tiny, itchy, clear, blisters. For some, this goes away in a couple of days. For others, it can become a problem for weeks. These lesions can pop up within minutes to up to 21 days after initial exposure. Severe reactions include fever and difficulty breathing and occurs in 10-15% of individuals and these reactions require medical treatment usually in the form of steroids.

When you come in contact with Poison Oak or Poison Ivy Plants a great way to prevent an immune response is to remove the Urushiol. Changing your clothes and washing with dish soap (scrubbing for several minutes) and then rinsing with rubbing alcohol removes a great deal of the toxic oil.


If you start to notice a bit of redness, then you can apply Lavender Essential Oil. Jewelweed (also known as Impatiens or Touch Me Not) is a native plant whose juices neutralize Urushiol. The Homeopathy remedy Rhus Tox in is made from extremely diluted Poison Ivy and can be helpful in alleviating the rash. Also after the rash sets in witch hazel can help in drying up the blisters. Aloe can help heal the damaged skin and apple cider vinegar can help alleviate the itching.

Poison Sumac

Another Toxicodendron is Poison Sumac. It grows like a small shrub or a small tree and branches out at the base. Poison Sumac Plants prefers wetlands and higher pH soil. It has berries that look similar to Poison Ivy’s, that are greyish white. Its leaves and bark are smooth. Poison Sumac has 7-15 leaflets per stem. The leaves are oblong with pointy tips and have red veins. It is a very pretty leaf! Each leaf is 1’4″ long and up to 2″ wide. They are arranged in pairs along the stem.


Many people confuse Virginia Creeper with young Poison Sumac. While people who tend to be highly sensitive to Toxicodendron may find themselves slightly sensitive to Virginia Creeper, the Virginia Creeper is not generally considered a toxic plant. There are non-toxic varieties of Sumac. These prefer well-drained soil and have red berries in the fall.


Poison Sumac berries grow in clusters at the base of the stem that hang down like grapes. Staghorn Sumac and Winged Sumac have red berries that grow at the tip of the stip in clusters that point up. Poison Sumac also has smooth and hairless stems whereas the non-toxic varieties tend to be fuzzy.

staghorn sumac

Poison Sumac has very high concentrations of Urushiol and many people consider it one of the most toxic plants in America. Its prevention and treatment are the same as with Poison Ivy and Poison Oak. It is not as commonly found as Poison Ivy or Poison Oak because of its preference for wetlands. There are connections between certain food allergies to severe Urushiol allergies. So if you have a bad reaction to pistachios, mangos or cashews, it probably would be best for you to avoid Toxicodendron!

Poisonwood & Manchineel

Is not a tree that is very often encountered by hunters – unless you’re in southern Florida. It is in the family Anacardiaceae, which is the family to which Sumacs and Cashews belong. The Poisonwood Tree is an evergreen flowering tree that produces Urushiol oil like Poison Ivy and Poison Oak.


Poisonwood Tree grows to be 25-35 feet tall. The tree has a short trunk with long arching branches.  Its bark can vary in color from a greyish hue to dark reddish-brown, depending on the age of the tree and the habitat. Older trees tend to flake off the bark in patches. Poisonwood Tree bark also looks like it has oily patches, which is actually sap. The leaves are green and very glossy with the underside being duller. Each leaf has a bright yellow central vein. They grow in groups of about 5, but the number can vary a bit. It grows a cluster of yellowish orange fruit that hangs. This fruit is food to a large number of local and migratory birds. The endangered White Crowned Pigeon particularly seemed to be fond of this fruit.

Even the rainwater dripping off the leaves can contain enough Urushiol to cause an allergic contact dermatitis. In fact, only one billionth of a gram of Urushiol is sufficient to cause a reaction in most people. The Urushiol content in the Poisonwood trees leaves, bark and sap are 100 times more potent than other native plants like Poison Ivy and Poison Oak.

Another plant native to Florida is the Manchineel Tree, also known as Beach Apple. It’s also known by the Spanish name manzanilla de la muerte, which translates to “little apple of death”  Ingesting the fruit can be fatal. Every part of the tree is highly poisonous.


Manchineel is in the family Euphorbia, which makes it related to the Poinsettia. The Poinsettia is toxic to consume, but the Manchineel is toxic even to touch. Many Outdoorsmen have mistakenly walked under this tree and the leaves simply brushing against their face was enough to cause temporary blindness. The milky white sap leaves burns on the skin. Hippomane mancinella, which translates to “little apple that makes horses mad.”

It grows amongst Mangos and its root system helps to stabilize the sand erosion. It can grow up to 49 feet tall. The leaves are about 2-4″ long and are shiny green.  Unfortunate individuals claim that the fruit is very sweet, but soon after swallowing it starts to burn your throat until you feel your throat starting to swell. Interestingly enough, the black-spined iguana is able to consume the fruit where many other birds and animals are not able to. Even more baffling, the iguana is not native whereas the native species are unable to consume its fruit.

Though there are no deaths recorded in modern literature, historically there are numerous accounts of the fatalities from this toxic tree. The Caribs were known to poison the water of their enemies with the leaves from the Manchineel tree. Famous explorer Ponce de Leon supposedly died from an arrow coated in Manchineel sap.

Parsnips & Hogweed


Several plants mentioned in this section closely resemble one another. Wild Parsnip, Queens Anne Lace, Giant Hogweed, Poison Hemlock, Elderberry, and Angelica plants all have wide leaves with a tall stem and a cluster of pale flowers. Most act as biennials – meaning the first summer is spent growing their leaves and the second is for flowering. Several of those plants can be seen here.

Wild Parsnip, Cow Parsnip, and Hogweed plants are very toxic and very problematic when they come in contact with your skin.  Their sap contains toxins that cause severe burns when exposed to sunlight.  Giant Hogweed has the most severe reaction of the three and can even cause blindness.


Wild Parsnips are found in most of the United States and are the only one on the list that can have yellow flowers. It is an invasive species. It prefers sunny areas and calcareous soil but is easily adaptable to the environment. The stem is grooved and hollow. Its leaves have saw-tooth edges and resemble celery. Parsnip is a root vegetable closely related to carrots. In fact, Parsnip looks like a pale carrot. It becomes very sweet if left in the ground until after the winter frost.  Parsnip root can be consumed raw or cooked and is very high in minerals particularly potassium. Wild parsnip can have yellow or sometimes white flowers in rosettes. It can grow 2-5 feet tall and has hairless, grooved stems. Great care must be taken in harvesting – proper identification and wearing gloves.

cow-parsnip-flowers-1764033__340 - Copy

Cow Parsnip, or Common Hogweed, is endangered in the state of Kentucky and is considered a special concern species in Tennessee. It can grow typically between 4-10 feet tall and has fuzzy, grooved stems. Cow Parsnip has thorns along its stem. Its leaves grow to be typically 1-1.5 feet wide and serrated. The palm-shaped, fuzzy leaves radiate at the end of the stalk in a semi-circle and are divided into three segments. Cow Parsnip blooms in May. It has white lacey flowers that grow in a flat top cluster and can be nearly 1 foot wide. There will be 15-30 rays per cluster of flowers. For most people, just touching the leaves of the Cow Parsnip will not result in any blisters – it takes getting the “juice” of the stems and leaves on your skin.

giant hogweed - Copy

Giant Hogweed is an invasive species that is native to Asia. It grows regularly to 6′ tall and can reach up to 18′. The stems are thick, hollow, have ridges and purple spots. Contact with the leaves causes phytophotodermatitis, which means burns and blisters when the area is exposed to sunlight. Its leaves can grow up to five feet in width. The smooth leaves have deeply incised lobes. Giant Hogweed has umbrella-shaped flower clusters that can grow over two feet in width. There can be 50 or more rays per flower cluster.


The other plants that look very similar need to be mentioned. Angelica is not toxic to touch and is only toxic when consuming extremely high doses of the root or essential oil. Its stems and roots are edible. It actually is very helpful medicinally for menstrual issues as well as digestive and respiratory, but great care needs to be taken in harvesting since it so closely resembles Poison Hemlock. Angelica can grow up to 9 feet tall and has a smooth, waxy, purple stem up to 2.5″ in diameter. The leaves are compound and can be up to 2 feet wide. Angelica has softball sized flower white flower clusters.


Poison Hemlock is deadly even if only a small amount is ingested. Its toxins can suffocate the victim in as little as 15 minutes. Native American’s once used Hemlock to poison the tips of their arrows. It typically grows between 3-8 feet tall and has a hollow, hairless, waxy stem. The stems have many branches and have ridges and purple spots. Poison Hemlock smells musty, almost like a mouse. Its leaves are bright, shiny and fern-like. Poison Hemlock leaves can be a foot long and 4″ wide. The white flower clusters are loose and lack the purple heart at the center. They are flat topped and are on all branches.


There are a few varieties of Hemlock. Spotted Water Hemlock grows about the same height and has smooth, hollow stems. It also can have purple spots or stripes. Water Hemlock has toothed, oval leaflets. Its white lacey flowers branch off the main stem.


Queens Anne Lace is an invasive species. Some people are sensitive and have similar burns and blisters as with the other species mentioned. Queens Anne Lace is very toxic when consumed. It grows up to 4 feet high. Queens Anne Lace has feathery leaves with fine hairs on them. Its stems are branched and hairy. Its dense, white flowers can be 5″ across. What is most helpful is locating the dark “heart” at the center of the flower cluster. This helps to differentiate it from Poison Hemlock.


Black Elderberry looks much more like a woody shrub than any of the others. It too has a white cluster of flowers. These flowers can grow up to 8″ across and the shrub can grow up to 8 feet high. The leaves are compound and can have up to eleven elliptical leaflets. Syrup made from the berries is a phenomenal tonic and immune booster. Its leaves are serrated and form on opposite ends of the stem, unlike the alternating leaf pattern of the Water Hemlock.  The berry clusters droop where they connect to their woody stems. This is helpful in differentiating it from the Dwarf Elderberry whose berry clusters stand upright.

Nettles & Stinging Flowers

The Common Nettle (also known as the Stinging Nettle)  and the Wood Nettle are two other native plants to look out for. The leaves and stems are covered in tiny hairs. Many of these hairs are soft and do not sting. But these Nettles also have many hairs whose tip breaks off and acts as a needle injecting multiple chemicals into the skin causing a painful sting. The beautiful green leaves can grow from one to six inches long. They are widely oval with coarsely toothed edges.


Nettle grows up to 3-4 feet tall in the summer and dies down in the winter. Stinging Nettle tends to be slightly taller than Wood Nettle and is found throughout the US. Its flowers can be yellow, green, white, or purple. Stinging Nettle has leaves that are opposite each other whereas Wood Nettle has leaves that alternate. Wood nettle has flowers on the top of the plant and Stinging Nettle has flowers on the sides of its stems.

Wood_Nettle_(1026204623) (1)

Nettle is a frequently foraged herb. It tastes very similar to spinach and is high in nutrients such as Vitamin A, C, Manganese and can be up to 25% protein. By soaking the leaves in water the stinging chemical are removed. They should not be harvested after the plant starts flowering as it changes chemically and can cause digestive issues. Medicinally, Stinging Nettle has been harvested to treat kidney and cardiovascular issues among other things.


The False Nettle, Snakeroot, and Clearweed VERY closely resemble Stinging and Wood Nettle but lack the stinging hairs. Being able to tell the difference is very important when you are out in the woods.  Their leaves are very similar in shape. Clearweed is more smooth than Wood Nettle, False Nettle, or Stinging Nettle. And Snakeroot is somewhere in the middle as far as roughness.

Pilea pumila, 2015

Later in the year, the stem of Clearweed becomes rather translucent and flexible, which makes it more easy to distinguish it from its counterparts. Snakeroot has flowers at the top and Clearwood and False Nettle have flowers along the sides of the stems. When the Snakeroots flowers are fully opened, they resemble actual flowers much more so than any of these – but before they are fully opened it can be a little hard to tell!


False Nettle, Snakeroot, and Clearweed lack the stinging hairs and their leaves are paired in opposites along the stem. False Nettles leaves are slightly fuzzy and have a rough appearance. Other plants that rather resemble these are Self Heal, Marsh Hedge Nettle, Horehound, White Deadnettle, and Hemp Nettle.


Scorpionweed is found primarily in desert regions. It is a beautiful small purple flower. It got its name not because of the sting it leaves, but because the flower is top heavy and curls over much like a scorpion tail. Poodle-dog Bush is found in California. It stinks, but it has really pretty purple flowers on a long stalk. It also has tiny hairs that cause stinging blisters. Stinging Lupine also grows along the coastal region in California. It has tiny purple or dark pink flowers shaped in a whirl and stiff hairs that sting the skin. It will also cause birth defects if eaten by cattle.

desert plants

Tread-softly, also known as Finger-rot or bull-nettle, is primarily found in Florida but is all over the Southeast. The beautiful white five-lobed, trumpet-shaped flower sits on stalks covered in large spiky hairs. The seeds come in small spike covered pods that bob-white quail and other songbirds love. Its leaves are lobed and similar to an oak leaf. The roots are edible – but they can be four feet deep underground.  The leaves too when cooked are edible. They are harvested for many uses: insomnia, scorpion stings, brain function, diabetes etc.


Duck Hunting: An Introductory Guide

By: M. Ashley Evans

Duck Hunting
Duck hunting has become one of the most popular of the hunting sports around the world and has been throughout history. A mural in the tomb of Khum-Hotpe shows that the great Pharaoh’s of Egypt loved the sport and took great pride in their harvest. In America, duck hunting is very popular – thanks in part to our geography. Many bird species use the Mississippi River to navigate their migratory paths by – that’s why Arkansas is considered the “duck hunting capital of the world.”

Duck Hunters have their own sub-culture – it includes everything from dress code, to etiquette, the wearing of duck bands and specific breed of dogs utilized. These special people seem to get a thrill out of the cold and wet – and a big grin across their face when they hear flock of ducks calling as they fly in. So if you have the itch to snag some duck and are not really sure how to get started – this article is for you!

Conservation is a key focal feature for hunters. Ducks Unlimited is a famous international organization that stands in the forefront in non-profit conservation of waterfowl. This organization works hand in hand with hunters to protect not only the waterfowl species, but localized habitats, and thus the hunter’s way of life. It is through logistical harvesting that the hunters work to collect data for the environmentalists that prove to be an invaluable asset in the work of conservation.

In the late 19th Century a large number of our native waterfowl became on the verge of extinction. These species included the Wood Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Canada Goose, Snow Goose, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Northern Pintail, various species of Scaup, and a few of the goldeneye species. Many of these species tipped precariously over the ledge due to habitat loss – poor land management including over harvesting and not replanting.

Also over hunting due to the rise of commercial hunting was causing a great amount of pressure on the various species. However, hunters soon saved the day. The Duck Stamp Act, also known as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, was passed federally. It not only put a check on unrestricted hunting, but it steered funds from the Stamp towards habitat loss. The president of the American Game Protective Association said in a 1919 editorial publication, “if young men from the next generation are to enjoy from the country’s wild life anything like the benefits derived by the present outdoor man, we must be the ones to shoulder the burden and see that our thoughtlessness or selfishness does not allow us to squander that which we hold in trust.”

Hunting season, bag limits and migratory bird season dates all are subject to change each year, and from state to state. The migratory bird seasons are set according to a framework that is mandated by Federal law. The season selection dates are usually decided in April, and then they are posted to the various hunting media outlets.

Duck hunting is highly regulated. Adults (over 16 years old) have to purchase a license as well as state and Federal waterfowl stamps. Depending on where you hunt, you may also have to purchase a Wildlife Management Area user permit and a Migratory Bird Permit. Please check with your local Wildlife and Fishery Department to see what is required in your area.

I can’t stress this enough – double check to make sure that you are hunting legally and responsibly. The fees are very high if you break even ONE of the regulations. So make sure that you have met the requirements for your Hunters Education course, that you have all the right permits and/or licenses, that you know your bag limit, possession limit, and all the regulations.

Duck Species
There are numerous duck species that you can hunt in North America. It is important to be able to identify the species, and you may only have a couple of seconds to be able to do so before you decide to take the shot. After you decide where you plan on hunting, make sure you research what species of waterfowl frequent your region and become familiar with their characteristics, call, and habitat preferences.

Not all ducks are available to hunt at the same time, and the availability can vary from year to year. Knowing your species is critical to staying legal. Regulations can drastically vary between drakes and hens, so know what kind of bird you have your barrel pointed at before you pull that trigger. A great website for learning to identify ducks by their coloration as well as their call is: http://www.ducks.org/hunting/waterfowl-id

Mallard’s are very beautiful ducks. The drakes have a bright green head and a gorgeous chestnut hued body. The hens too are just stunning. They are most often called “the favorite” duck to hunt. Mallards are larger ducks that are easily callable because they chatter to each other a lot. Both male and female have the bright blue speculum bordered by bright white. Mallards typically live for 5 or 10 years in the wild – but the oldest known mallard lived an astonishing 27 years.

Mallards forage in water by dabbling – or submerging their head and neck. You will rarely see a mallard dive or submerging. They will forage on land too by grazing, grubbing around for roots and plucking at seeds. These ducks are omnivores, but the majority of their diet is vegetation. They have been known to eat crustaceans, tadpoles, earthworms, small fish, and frogs.

They will nest near water – not usually more than a mile away as the young ducks diet is primarily aquatic insects. The mallard couple will choose a nest site, usually well concealed on the ground but it can be in a hollow tree. A mallard will lay seven to ten eggs, rarely up to fifteen, and usually have just one brood per year. The female will incubate the eggs for about a month. A day after hatching the young will leave the nest and feed themselves. The mother will stick around and tend to them while they are young. The young mallards will take their first flight at around two months.

They are the most widely distributed North American waterfowl. If you are out with a goal of hunting mallards, they prefer a strong cold front. Many people love hunting mallards because their call will attract not only other mallards but other duck species. If you have an unresponsive flock flying by, give a few contented quacks and feeding chuckles and also a variation of a call, such as a comeback or a drake whistle.

Mallards frequent farm ponds, quiet corners of a large marsh, and slow water creek sections. But once they hear gunfire, they will recede to quiet waters such as beaver pools, salt marshes, pasture ponds, or tiny bays in the backwater.

While location is primary when hunting mallards – decoys and calling is important too. Mallards can be brought in with spinning wing decoys. Have about a dozen or so floating fake mallards too, with a heavy emphasis on hens. To give these shy birds a boost of confidence, throw in a few Canada goose decoys. Make sure there is a jerk cord to give some movement to the decoys to give confidence to these ducks.

Wood Duck
Wood Ducks are quite possibly the most beautiful duck in North America. During breeding season, the drake has a brilliant, iridescent color pattern with crisp white lines that look almost hand painted. After the breeding season, in the late summer, the Wood Duck drake will lose its bright colors and will have a more grey hue. It has no close relatives, except for the Mandarin Duck of Southeast Asia. In the last century, hunters saved the Wood Duck from extinction with not only the funds from the Duck Stamp, but also by purchasing and placing Wood Duck Nesting Boxes in their habitat which encouraged hens to lay there. The astounding recovery of the Wood Duck population is one of the early triumphs of modern wild life management.

This duck prefers a habitat of wooded marshes, shallow inland lakes, beaver ponds and wooden swamps. Mainly the Wood ducks prefer primarily deciduous woodland and places where large trees hand over the water. Wood Ducks are very agile in flight and can weave in and out of the trees which make it quite difficult to shoot. They seem to prefer pre-sunrise and evening hours. Their call is a high pitched whine. Wood Ducks love acorns – which gives them a very earthy taste.

Wood Ducks forage in the water by taking food from the surface. They will also submerge and will forage on land. They eat primarily seeds and aquatic plants but will also eat insects and crustaceans. In some regions, waste grain is a preferred food source. When swimming, the Wood Duck bobs its head about just as much as a pigeon does.

The Wood Duck has a brilliant display of courtship that highlights the drake’s colorful plumage. They will nest high off the ground in hollow trees or barn lofts – up to sixty five feet high! But the nesting boxes are often placed much lower. There is an average of 9-15 eggs laid per brood, with usually one or two broods per year. The hen will stay with the young and watch over them until around six weeks. Wood Ducks will “egg dump” occasionally. This is when the hen will lay eggs in another hens nest. Some hens will catch on to this trick and will destroy the dumped eggs. The ducklings will remain in the nest only for a single day. The morning after they hatch, the young will climb up the ledge and jump to the ground – where there light fluffy bodies allow them to bounce for safety.

Northern Pintail
The Northern Pintail is a regal looking duck and quite a prize trophy for hunters. It is often called the “Greyhound of the Air” because it has long narrow wings. The drake has a chocolate head with a grey body and a white breast. They can live for up to 22 years in the wild.

They prefer marshes, fresh ponds, prairies, northern tundra, lakes and salt bays. The Pintail is one of the most numerous duck species in the world, though outnumbered by the Mallard. They have a circumpolar breeding pattern, meaning they breed from Alaska, western Greenland and the Canadian Arctic all the way south to the central and western United States. They have been known to winter as far south as the Caribbean.

The mating pair will form while they are on their winter range and courtship continues during the spring migration. Occasionally some pairs will not pair up until after they arrive at the breeding grounds. Generally, several males will court one female until she makes up her mind. The hen will nest on dry ground amongst vegetation – though often more visible than other duck species. There is on average 7-10 eggs in a brood and generally only one brood per year. Within a couple of hours after hatching, the hen will lead her brood away from the nest to feed themselves. They are capable of flight in one or two months after hatching.

The Northern Pintail prefers to forage in shallow water by up-ending (tail up and head down), or by submerging just the head and neck and foraging in the mud. They are not opposed to forage on land either for seeds, plants and roots. They will eat small fish, crustaceans, worms, snails, mollusks and even tadpoles.

These are very leery birds and are hard to decoy. They will circle over head a great many times before landing – always on the lookout for danger. It is best to call them in with a trill of a pintail whistle. South Texas is a fantastic place to hunt Northern Pintail.

Bluebill’s – or Greater Scaup and Lesser Scaup
It can be hard to tell the difference between Greater and Lesser Scaup. They both have a very distinctive blue bill and bright yellow eyes. They are colored like an oreo – black on the ends with a lighter colored middle. In North America, we have four of the Oreo colored ducks. The two other’s on the list are the Ring-necked, and Tufted. But they are more easily distinguished from the Greater and Lesser Scaup.

During the winter, the location will be a major factor in distinguishing between these two Bluebills. Greater Scaup prefer to winter near saltwater whereas the Lesser Scaup will seek out freshwater and prefer to be more inland. But during the summer there is quite a bit of overlap in their territory ranges.

They are both quiet ducks – Lesser Scaup will occasionally call out. They have a very distinctive call – it sounds like a high pitched whistle resembling paper ripping. They tend to come out mid morning. Both also travel in large flocks – many times numbering up into the hundreds. However, they are rather private birds for being around so many, and they don’t intermingle much when bobbling along on the water. Bluebills will eat aquatic insects, wild celery, eelgrass, salicorna, and fingernail clams.

The Greater Scaup can be 16-22” long from head to tail. He has a black mark on the tip of his bill that is very wide – it almost looks like a bit of lipstick. His head is perfectly round and his neck appears short and stout. When in flight, the white on his wings goes out all the way to his primary feathers and the entire wing edge is white. His back will have white crosshatching pattern. Greater Scaup will have 5-11 eggs per brood.

The Lesser Scaup is shorter – only 16-18” long. The black tip on his beak is very small and narrow. The Lesser Scaup has a very distinctive head shape – its tall and egg shaped with a slight peak up on top and near the back. Some, in the right lighting, appear to have a purple hue to the black feathers that glimmer iridescently. His neck looks more elongated and the crosshatching on his back extends onto the wings. The Lesser Scaup will have 8-14 eggs per brood.

Most hunters will target Bluebills in an open-water environment, typically from a boat. Bluebills are capable of diving 30 feet or more in search of shellfish, but this doesn’t mean that you have to target deep waters. In the East Coast, hunters enjoy targeting Bluebill from box style blinds on the shore.

Since Bluebills flock in such large numbers – you will need a lot of decoys. Anywhere from 50-200. If you are in open water, the larger the spread the better.

Common Eider
The Common Eider is found along the New England coast. It is the largest duck in the Northern Hemisphere – weighing over five pounds! The Common Eider is a striking duck – the drake has bright white with stark black contrasting plumage, a lime green patch on the back of the head, and the lower breast has a peach hue. Their bill is very long and sloping.

Flocks of these rather lethargic ducks can number in the thousands. Eider down is famous for its insulating properties. In fact, it insulates so well that in Iceland the down is harvested commercially at Eider farms.

Eiders prefer to stay near the coastline at all times. They like to nest on islands or on the rocky shore lines. Very rarely will you find an Eider on fresh water. Eider will forage mainly underwater, but occasionally by up-ending or swimming with only his head submerged. Typically the Eider will feed at a low or receding tide. They prefer to eat mollusks, mussels and other bivalves. Occasionally they will eat insects, plants, crabs and small fish. They can dive as deep as 20 meters to feed on the sea bed.

Courting involves several males vying for the attention of one female. The drake will display with much exaggerated head movements, rearing up out of the water, wing flapping, and low cooning calls.

There are only 3-5 eggs per clutch. After about a month, the eggs will hatch. Very quickly the young will go into the water. The hen will stay near the young, but they will find their own food. Several broods will form a larger group called a “crèche” that is tended by several hens. After 2.5 months the young will fly.

Common Eiders are circumpolar in their range. They typically will breed along the coast of Alaska, the Hudson Bay, and the eastern side of Canada. Common Eiders are very difficult to track since they migrate over such a large area and over very large bodies of water. They will winter as far to the east as Greenland and down the Atlantic Coast to Virginia and as far west as southern Alaska.

Gadwall, or Grey Duck
Like its name implies, the Grey Duck has a subtle grayish brown hued appearance. Males have a black patch over the tail. And Females are patterned with brown and grayish buff. Both sexes have a white patch on their wing. They are about the same size as a Mallard. Gadwalls have a large, square head with a steep forehead. The bill is quite thinner than a mallards, and so is the neck and wings. They are often found with American Wigeon and various Coots.

Like other dabbling ducks, they tip forward to feed on submerged vegetation without diving. Gadwalls are notorious for stealing food from flocks of dicing ducks or coots. They eat primarily aquatic vegetation, and will venture out to feed much farther than other dabbling ducks. They up-end to feed on the leafy pondweed, wigeon grass, naiad, algae, and the seeds of bulrush, smartweed and spike rush. Occasionally, Gadwalls will feed on crustaceans and midges.

Courtship display consists of the drake rearing part of his body out of water to expose the white patches on his wings, and rearing his head back. The male will help find a spot for the nest. They will breed mainly on the prairie and Great Plains near seasonal and semi-permanent wetlands, and alkaline lakes. Gadwall will breed a little later than most other native duck species. During migration, they prefer the reservoirs, fresh and salt water marshes, ponds, city parks, muddy estuaries and even sewage ponds. I wouldn’t advise hunting off of sewage ponds, however. They prefer to nest in fields and meadows and on islands.

Gadwall hens will lay 7-12 eggs in a clutch. Two or more females will lay eggs in the same nest. They will hatch after a month and very soon the hen will lead the ducklings to open water. The Gadwall ducklings will venture out into much more open water than many other dabbling duck species. After 50-60 days, the ducklings are able to fly.

Gadwall have a staccato grunting call and are very easy to decoy. Some people don’t like their taste, but like with all ducks, the taste of their meat depends largely on their regional diet.

American Black Duck
The Black Duck is not completely black but has a dark speckled appearance. Their heads are grayish brown. Hens tend to be slightly paler than the males. The under-wings of both sexes are white with bright iridescent purple speculum. They are a close cousin of the Mallard, and very similar in size. Black Ducks are a large duck with very round heads, thick bills and bulky bodies.

They are a dabbling duck and sit high up in the water. Black Ducks will eat aquatic plants, small fish, and invertebrates. They are known for also flying into fields to eat waste grain and corn.

These ducks are notorious for hiding in plain sight – intermingled in flocks of Mallards and Gadwall. However, they are shy to decoy and very challenging to call in. The dark chocolate brown flanks and grey face help to distinguish them from the Mallard and Gadwall hens. Because of their intermingling, some have hybridized on the eastern shore of North America and may have a dark body with a partially green head.

American Black Duck prefer to nest in freshwater and saltwater marshes in the eastern wetlands. During migration they will forage and rest in marshes, and ponds. Occasionally, these birds will appear on the West Coast and even in even in Europe and Asia. One female was banded in Canada and later turned up in France. The Mississippi Flyaway and the Atlantic Flyaway are both fantastic places to target your American Black Duck hunting trip.

The Canvasback Duck is another large duck that a lot of hunters enjoy going after. It has the “King Duck” status for many hunters not only because of the thrill of the hunt but because of the flavor of the meat because of their preference for wild celery beds. Drakes have a chestnut-red head and neck, with a black breast, grey back, black rump and a dark brown tail. The bill is black and the legs are a bluish grey. The iris of the Canvasback is bright red. Hens have a light brown head and neck that becomes a dark brown into the chest and fore back. The Hens sides and flanks are a grayish brown.

Canvasback Ducks breed in the Prairie Pothole Region. They will nest in the marshes surrounded by thick vegetation such as cattails and bulrushes. They will breed as far north as the sub-arctic river deltas in the interior of Alaska and as far south as the Prairie. These ducks prefer to dive down to eat tuberous vegetation. The Canvasback hen will lay a clutch of about 10 eggs and are plagued with Redhead hens egg dumping in their nests. But the Canvasback hen will lay her eggs in other nests too.

The migratory path goes through the Mississippi Flyaway or through the Pacific Flyaway. Historically, the Chesapeake Bay was a hotspot but due to the loss of submerged aquatic vegetation their numbers have shifted westward. The Canvasback will breed in deep-water marshes, bays, ponds and lakes. During the winter migration they can be found near the coast and on lakes.

Green and Blue Winged Teal
Teal are very pretty ducks; extremely agile and quick. They are small, blocky ducks, the smallest of our dabbling ducks. The Green Winged Teal drakes have a chestnut head with a green streak behind the eye. They have a grayish brown body with a white vertical stripe near the chest. Blue Winged Teal drakes have a brown speckled body with a blueish black head and a white streak on their face. They have a powder blue patch on their upper-wing.

Teal are dabbling ducks and often congregate with other species of dabbling ducks. They prefer to congregate around the edges of ponds, or calm lakes, and will choose a well concealed place to rest or forage. The Prairie Pothole Region is the main breeding ground. Teal like warmer weather and are absent from most of North America during the winter – they migrate down to Central America and the Caribbean. During flight, the flock will twist in unison.

Most duck hunters consider them very difficult to harvest because of their speed – but they are extremely prized for their taste. Pro Tip: teal require plucking, not breasting.

Gun & Ammo
When hunting in extreme weather conditions you need gear that works well. Remember, gear is only good if it works. You really do only get what you pay for when it comes to equipment. There is quite a bit of gear required for duck hunting, so we will go over some of the basics.

First and foremost, it is illegal to hunt waterfowl with lead shot. Some non toxic shot is a lot more expensive than others – but a lot of that variation will boil down to which one does your gun shoot best? So I recommend getting a few varieties of the same weight and length and seeing what works well for you. There are several brands that advertise as having more impact and higher velocity – such as Bismuth and Tungsten – and from what people have told me, it’s true. However, the cost difference is so great that I don’t think I could justify the cost when shooting less than 30 yards.

A 12 gauge is by far the most common size shotgun for waterfowl hunting. A 20 gauge can work too; it will just require a bit more skill. There are numerous duck hunters who prefer a 10 gauge. 20 gauge is a good size for women and youth and 10 is a good size for goose. Keep in mind; all shotguns must have a plug that allows no more than one in the chamber and two in the magazine. Any more than three shots are illegal. Semi-auto vs. pump just boils down to hunter’s preference. A semi-auto will be faster, but a pump can withstand a lot of rough weather conditions without misfiring.

You want to choose your shot size based on the length of pellet your gun can handle and the size of game you are hunting. 3” in standard for most shotguns, but if you can chamber a 3.5” is better for geese. For example, if you are hunting Teal, which is a smaller bird, then you can use a smaller pellet. You will want a #3 or a #4 shot for the smaller and faster birds. Larger birds, like mallards, they need a little more power to take them down properly, so you will want a #2 shot.

Many hunters carry both duck and goose loads with them into the blind. But after repeated handling, the printing on the casing will wear off. Use a sharpie to write the shot size on the end of the brass to prevent this.

Choose your choke based on the distance you are hunting. A choke will cause the pellet spray pattern to stay more tightly grouped for a longer distance or will cause it to spread out for when you are shooting at a close distance. So if you are shooting the ducks that will land right in front of you – a cylinder choke is your best bet. If your game is between 25-40 yards out, then a modified choke is ideal. Keep in mind that steel shot is naturally going to have a more tight spray pattern, so keep that in mind when choosing your choke. Here is a wonderful guide for choosing your shotgun choke size https://www.hunter-ed.com/montana/studyGuide/Shotgun-Choke-and-Shot-Pattern/201027_700048225/)

It’s vital to know how far out 35-40 yards is before you go hunting. A great rule of thumb is “If you can see the eye, the bird will die” which is a play on the famous quote by American Revolutionary War hero William Prescott at the Battle of Bunker Hill “Don’t shoot until you can see the white in their eyes.” It is a handy way to gauge distance.

Spending time shooting skeet or trap prior to a hunt is a smart move. It is just as important to learn how to be a wing shooter, and not cross over your neighbor. Because odds are, you won’t be the only hunter out on the marsh on opening day. Keep in mind, the ammo used for duck hunting can have a bit more felt recoil than the ammo you would use at the range.

Clothing & Waders
There is a vast difference between a GOOD pair of waders vs. a so-so pair of waders. Cold and wet is the typical weather for duck hunting – and hypothermia is not something you want to deal with when out on a fun hunt. Having warm clothes and good quality waders will save you a lot of pain and misery.

Do take into account the location of your hunt – neoprene is excellent to keep you warm and waterproof, but if you’re out on a southern coast where the temperature doesn’t get too cold it may not be something you have to have. Chest high waders are a much better option than hip waders, because they will also keep you dry when you sit down. Waders with the boots attached are well worth the investment. One hunter told me, “you can buy some $50-$60 waders or you can enjoy duck hunting – you just can’t do both.”

Base layer clothing under the waders is required too. Merina Wool is naturally antimicrobial and is a great option for the base layer. A wading jacket is a really good thing to have too. Sitka is a good brand for clothing – and the quality is well worth the price tag.

Having the right camouflage is essential. You can make a mistake and still get away with things in most other categories – but if you make a mistake in camouflage, it can be complete deal-breaker. Waterfowlers will conceal themselves, their faces, blinds, boats, guns and even dogs. So how to you choose your camo? It all boils down to where you plan on hunting. If you are going to be tucked into a blind – then your camouflage doesn’t matter as much since you have sufficient cover.

Try to match your camo to the colors in the region. You want to blind in to the landscape, even from an aerial view. Try to remain as natural as possible. Avoid wearing anything shiny too. Ducks have really good vision. A reflection will scare off a flock in a hurry. Ducks seem especially good at spotting hunters and blinds when it is cloudy out, as there is less sun in their eyes and the low light provides contrast.

Decoys and Calls
Decoys need to have a variety of species represented. There are a vast number of types of decoys available, and it can feel overwhelming to decide what you need. It’s a good idea to build your group based not on brand but on the type of ducks you will encounter. This is where talking to local hunters can prove invaluable! If you don’t know what species you will be hunting, you can’t go wrong with mallard decoys.

Knowing the direction of the wind is important when positioning your decoys. That can be difficult when there is only a light breeze. One solution is to have an empty squeeze bottle and fill it with talcum powder. Give the bottle a few squeezes and see which way the powder drifts.

Around 25-30 decoys is a good number to start out with. You don’t have to take them out all out with you – keep a few behind for if one or two gets damaged. There are a lot of different ways to rigging your decoys – most of the people I have talked to highly recommend Texas Rig. There are kits available, or you can research it. Don’t worry about buying the most expensive decoys out there, low to mid range is just fine. In fact, many duck hunters have had successful harvests with just a few painted milk jugs. Get a variety of floating fakes and mechanical spinners. There is a lot of benefit with having some movement in your decoy spread.

Most people set up their decoys in a C shape or J shape spread. Make sure that the gap in the C or J is wide enough for ducks to land in. Decoy spread can get a little frustrating; you want them set up to where they are close enough to appear socializing, but not so close that they bump together. This is another aspect where knowing your birds comes in handy. Watch how the various duck species congregate. Pay attention to how close they sit to one another. Also your spread will vary depending on what part of the mating season you are in. The earlier in the season – the more ducks you want. And later in the season, when many ducks have formed couples, you will want to reduce the number of ducks.

In addition to the spread, you want to have a few rigs configured. Many people make their own jerk rigs – there are several variations out there, and YouTube is a great resource. A jerk rig has a rope you pull on to create movement.

Duck Calls are quite possibly the most highly debated subject amongst duck hunters. There are wood calls, acrylic, and some have a combination. Then there are single vs. double reed vs. triple reed options. For beginners, there are some great 6-in-1 combination calls that will produce Mallard, Green-Wing Teal, Pintail, Wood Duck, Widgeon and other calls. But the most important aspect of a Duck Call is learning how to use it – YouTube is handy, and ask for the advice of other hunters. Without the know-how, your duck call more than useless – it can scare off fowl. Sure Shot Triple Reed is a good option for a natural sounding call.

But please, don’t get overwhelmed at all the calls. You don’t have to play 40 different notes of tune with each and every call. Keep the calls simple. It’s a good time to call the ducks when you can barely see a wingtip or a tail feather. Not when the ducks are flying straight at you. Practice is the key; learning how to call in ducks is truly an art form. Learn how to take apart your duck call and clean it thoroughly, a lot of junk can build up in it and affect the sound.

Hunting Partners
When you are just starting out, it is a great idea to go on a guided hunt. It’s a sure way to gain invaluable experience and knowledge. It can also make it a much more enjoyable experience for a first-timer. If you can’t go on a guided hunt, find a friend or a relative that you can tag along with. It’s even a great idea to leave your gun in the truck and just go with someone to watch and learn. The best way to learn about duck hunting is by being out in the field with someone who hunts responsibly. If you go out with someone a time or two beforehand, your first hunt is much more likely to be a success.

It is a true joy to watch a well trained dog retrieve a downed duck. Dogs are very helpful for hunting along a creek – since creeks are typically deeper than waders will allow and you can’t swim with waders on. But if your dog yips around excitedly at birds overhead, or fails to mark easy open-water retrieves, or even is too gun-ho and breaks at every shot – your dog is more of a hindrance to you (and everyone else hunting on that lake) than a help. A part of the intricate bond between waterfowler and canine companion is the ability the hunter has to command and control his dog. A dog can be a phenomenal asset to a duck hunter but only if trained properly.

Scouting is one of the keys to a successful duck hunting venture. In fact, it quite possibly is one of the most important factors. It wouldn’t matter if you are an expert marksman with the best shotgun in the world, who has a flank of beautiful lifelike decoys bobbling along, and is just singing the best duck tune all day long with the call – if there are no ducks around, then there are no ducks to shoot.

Go out with your hunting friends and scout out the area. Watch the waterways and the fields. Ducks are social and somewhat habitual – they have their loafing spots, their feeding spots, the traffic way, and their roost. But please don’t hunt at the roost. The ducks will all leave to find a new roost… which leads to new feeding and socializing spots. Scout out your new area a few times before hunting it so you can become familiar with the patterns the ducks use in moving across the property.

If you are scouting out at a feeding area, you want to scout out the X. Just like when field hunting. Game will go from their roost to their feeding area. Ducks, like other game, like to feed in the morning and evening. Your X is where the ducks have fed the evening before. It’s ok to set a visual marker for you to find the next day. Make sure you have permission to hunt wherever you have scouted out! Public hunting land is not a bad option. Public land is usually well maintained, with water and food sources for game as well as refuges. Talk to a wildlife officer about the process of hunting on public land and where the ducks are, he will probably know quite a bit about the land he manages.

You don’t have to stick to one spot. In fact, it’s a mistake to try to do so. Be mobile and patient for the best results. After the ducks have lost a few members of their flock they will avoid the area for a while. This is a part of the Adaptability Skill that great hunters have. They can hunt over a private pond one day, hunt in a wooded creek the next, and then in icy open water the next.

Many waterfowlers will make the mistake of flushing duck from their roost just before dawn. If you leave them alone, many will fly out at first light to feed and then in smaller groups return to the root later in the morning. You will have more consistent shooting if you set up along their traveling path and catch the multiple groups passing by throughout the morning.

Terrain & Positioning
Coves are great spots because they offer some shielding from bad weather and they tend to be full of plentiful vegetation for the duck to eat. These are quite possibly the most hunted pieces of land simply because of ease of access. But keep in mind – coves are wonderful places to start a hunting season, but the birds will quickly seek out a more reclusive place to hide.

Be patient on that first shot. Skybusting (shooting at ducks that are really too far away) is unwise as it will scare the flock. Remember, 20-30 yards is the prime shooting range. If you do hit a duck farther than that, you will most likely just be injuring it – which makes it hard to retrieve and isn’t a respectful hunting tactic.

Points on the waterway are used for everything – resting, feeding, and socializing. Ducks, like chickens and pigeons, will swallow tiny pieces of gravel to help with their digestion. So the tiny bits of gravel up on the edge of the shore of a Point are sought out by ducks. Keep away from Points on windy days since they are so open with no protection from the weather.

Creeks are typically very secluded and offer a lot of protection for birds from natural prey. Creeks with gaps of sky above and rows of Oaks or native Pecans are ideal.

Ducks tend to land into the wind. Knowing this, places you at an advantage – you will know which direction the ducks will come in at. Many hunters position themselves with the wind at their backs, so that the ducks have them fly straight at them for an easier target. And for many, that works well. But, when the duck approaches the decoys, he will be facing you and more likely to detect movement from you or your dog. The initial shot may indeed be easier, but any follow up shots will be problematic. Try to position yourself so that the wind is not blowing into your face. This causes the birds to “land long” – they will fly over from behind you and land away from you, which is really not the ideal set up. If you set yourself up so that you shoot crossing at an angle in front of you, your follow up shots won’t be much farther away if any.

Ducks are pretty smart. So keep in mind what kind of cover you are using. It is vital that you remain undetected – but choose your cover wisely. If you are at a pond with brown dead vegetation around it, and you choose decide to build a blind out of green grassy substance, then the birds will know something is off. Your blind needs to be an extension of the ground around it. Pay a lot of attention to detail here.

Good Eatin’
Once you have your ducks – you need to get busy breasting. This means removing the breast meat. Unlike dove, that you can breast with your thumb, ducks you usually have to cut up the middle of the belly. Then you can easily remove the breast meat from each side and freeze it. Some people prefer plucking the bird and cooking it whole. Try a few ways of dressing it to see what fits you the best.

One of the easiest ways to field dress a duck is to separate the skin from the breast. Then set the duck on the ground on its back. Place one foot on its neck and one foot on its tail – don’t step on the wings. Stick a finger in under the top and bottom of the breast and pull it straight towards you. This will leave the wings intact for proper identification of the duck just in case the game warden was to stop you. Then when you get home, clip off the wings and filet the meat.

A very tasty way of preparing duck is to grill it. Marinade the duck for 24 hours and then place it on a hot charcoal grill. This allows the fat to slowly drip away and the skin to get nice and crispy. Keep basting it regularly and grill it for 6 minutes on each side. Make sure you take the duck off the grill while it is still pink, and then place it under the broiler for no more than 10 minutes. You want to serve it medium rare. Cover in more marinade and serve.

A great marinate for duck is ½ C of Braggs Liquid Aminos, ½ C Apple Cider Vinegar, ½ C of Honey, several crushed cloves of garlic, some fresh grated ginger root, a generous dash of red pepper flakes, 1 tsp of dried tarragon, and a heaping cup of orange marmalade.

Tips and Tricks
• Ducks can be picky and spook easily. They can see well and have the higher vantage point. On a good duck hunt, the pace of shooting will get your blood pumping fast. Load and shoot as fast as you can.

• Ice: creating open water holes in frozen waterways is a very effective tactic. You want to break the ice into large sheets that you can tuck under the remaining ice. If the ice is too thin, when you break it up it will create a bunch of small floating pieces that will cover the water. This will look unnatural and spook a flock. Also, the smaller pieces will freeze over faster. Using a net to sweep up all the floating bits is a handy trick.

• Cold fronts have strong tail winds. Many duck species will take advantage of a cold front and will come in with it or just slightly behind it.

• Cross country ski poles are a handy tool to have for not only stability in walking through the mud, but for reaching a decoy just out of arms reach or as a support for holding up netting.

• You can leave that orange safety vest at home. The bright color will spook the waterfowl and duck hunters are exempt from that requirement.

• A boat is not a necessity – but it is extremely helpful.

• Carry a small pouch of wet wipes. You’ll thank me later.

Duck hunting is not just an experience – it’s a lifestyle. So grab some friends and go hunting this season.

Hunting is not only a wonderful tradition, and an honorable boost for conservation that we can enthusiastically pass on to the next generation, but it’s a joy. There is nothing like breathing in the crisp air of the icy morning and seeing the first light of dawn break over the ridge top. So whether you kill your limit or don’t get a chance to take the first shot, try to cherish the moment: the stillness in the field, the hushed sounds in the woods, the peace that only being out in the beauty of creation brings. Frankly, being able to down a few birds is just an added bonus.

Alabama Forestry Commission: An Interview with Robert Brown

First published here

By M. Ashley Evans

Conservation is a Lifestyle

As a kid, I dreamed of being a writer and an artist when I grew up. Now, I am very blessed to be able to stay home with my kids, write about subjects I am passionate about, and sell my art. I only know of one other kid I grew up with who was able to become what he wanted to be back then – and that person is Robert Brown, who now works for the Alabama Forestry Commission.  Recently, Robert and I sat down to discuss a topic that we are both passionate about, the vital role of hunters in conservation and proper land management.

Robert is the Etowah County Forester. He graduated in 2009  from Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Science where he got a Bachelor of Science in Forestry, later he took an exam to become a Licensed Registered Forester.

Robert Brown

“I grew up in Valley Head, Alabama on a 2,500-acre farm where we specialized in growing timber and wildlife via hunting leases on our property. This is a 2,500-acre tract of land that runs north from Valley Head through the railroad valley and alongside Lookout Mountain towards Chattanooga, TN is where it all began for me. Being fortunate enough to grow up on a farm, hunting since childhood, developed a deep love of the land the way I did sparked a fuel inside me that ignited the drive to choose my career. A career that is far more of a lifestyle than a job.”  Roberts family was so passionate about land management and educating others that one year in elementary school, he brought enough pine seed for every kid in class to grow their own tree and we were able to learn a little about tree farming, pine crop, and reforestation.

This little corner of Northeast Alabama that he talks about is one of the most special places in the world to me. Not only is it full of Appalachian countryside beauty, but my family, like his, were some of the first settlers there – so our love of that valley is many generations deep. This farm he spoke of is stunning – his sister Mandy and I explored the woods and fields as kids. We grew up picking wild blackberries; fishing in the creek; exploring the old mining caves; watching the beavers, deer, and inevitably finding a snake on every trail in the woods.

Valley Head, AL

The Alabama Forestry Commission is a state ran organization that differs from the Federal Department of Game and Wildlife and from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. In Alabama, the AFC primarily helps private landowners. They also manage the three state forests: Choccolocco, Little River, and Geneva. The AFC’s motto is Protect, Sustain, and Educate, and really, it should be the motto of every hunter.

Alabama Forestry Commission

“The first of these three areas is Protect. We strive to help Alabama’s forests from all harmful agents. The most apparent and one of our main focuses is wildfires. If you have ever been burning leaves in your backyard and it got away from you and then caught the woods on fire you have likely crossed paths with our organization. Becuase the person operating the dozer to suppress the fire is one of our wildland firefighters. As wildfire suppression is one of the major parts of protection we also conduct annual aerial surveillance flights for southern pine beetles and help assist landowner’s with invasive species problems on their property.”  The southern pine beetle is one of the most destructive pests for pine in the southeast. They kill pine trees on a massive scale and spread rapidly.

“The next area we can touch on is sustain. This is the area where we directly help forest landowners conduct responsible forest management on their property. This is done on different levels which may be as simple as a stand management recommendation or as complex as a forest management plan for their entire property. Where our entire focus is based on multiple use sustainable forestry practices. We also like to promote and recognize landowners that are excelling in managing their properties through certification programs such as Tree Farm, Stewardship Forest, and TREASURE Forest Award.”

Tree Farming is not just about cutting down timber – it’s about proper stewardship of the land and sustainable production and reforestation. The Stewardship Program requires the landowner to meet numerous stewardship principals, maintain 10+ acres of land, and actively practice proper land management.  To actively manage a forest means providing sustainable timber crop with reforestation, providing wildlife habitat, watershed protection, and other practices. Getting landowners involved in protecting the land by using it wisely ensures that their forests will remain intact for future generations. TREASURE is an acronym for Timber, Recreation, Environment, and Aesthetics for a Sustained, Useable, REsource and characterizes the multiple-use ethic.  To be a TREASURE Forest Owner is a title of honor, it only comes through dedication to proper land management and a lot of time invested.

About 45% of the forestland in America is privately owned. It is imperative that the land is properly conserved for future generations. By getting landowners involved in these programs helps to ensure that their forests will remain intact for our children and grandchildren.


“The last area that we can touch on is Educate. This is the area where we educate the general public about the value of our forests here in Alabama. This can be from conducting Smokey Bear programs in schools to landowner workshops and tours. We try to help educate all ages of the general public in several different ways.  Most people have no idea what I do on a daily basis and to be honest, when I took this job I had no idea what I would be doing from day to day. I just knew that working to protect the land for future generations was important to me. Educating the general public about the importance of the Alabama Forestry Commission and all the wonderful services we offer is very important. Being able to conduct interviews like the one you and I are doing right now is a great way to reach a different portion of the public that probably did not know that our agency even existed or let alone what services we provide.”

The Forestry Commission is here to help landowners. Invite them out to your property – they can assess the value of your timber, help you farm timber more sustainably, and help you create the ideal environment to bring in more game species.

Are you interested in a career with the Forestry Department? Many schools with a focus on agriculture and biology have a Forestry degree. They also have entry-level positions such as Forester, Forest Ranger/Technician, and Police Communications Officer.


“In a civilized and cultivated country, wild animals only continue to exist at all when preserved by sportsmen,” said Theodore Roosevelt, “The excellent people who protest against all hunting, and consider sportsmen as enemies of wildlife, are ignorant of the fact that in reality, the genuine sportsman is by all odds the most important factor in keeping the larger and more valuable wild creatures from total extermination.” Hunting is not only a thoroughly enjoyable pastime, but it is a very effective wildlife management tool. Hunters provide information that the wildlife managers need and also help to promote healthy species.

Robert said, “Sad isn’t when a hunter takes the life of a deer – sad is when you have hundreds of deer in an area, riddled with disease, and starving because of overpopulation.” By wisely harvesting game species like deer, hunters are protecting the land. In 1900, only 500,000 whitetail deer remained. Due to hunters conservation work, today there are more than 32 million.

Hunters also provide the bulk of the monetary resources for land preservation. Through state licenses and fees, hunters pay around $796 million a year for conservation programs.*

Data gathered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for its most recent (2006) National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, show that only five percent of Americans—which is about 12.5 million individuals—consider themselves hunters today, this number is down from nine percent in 2001 and 15 percent in 1996. Only 5% of the US are paying for the bulk of the upkeep of the state forests, that citizens get to hike for free.

It is vital that we pass down the sport of hunting and therefore the love of proper wildlife and land management to our children.  My family hunts – does yours? Are you doing your part to pass down the forests to the next generation?


financial info via America’s Sporting Heritage: Fueling the American Economy (January 2013) & Hunting in America: An Economic Force for Conservation (January 2013)

What are Duck Bands?

First published here

One unique treasure for duck hunters is the duck bands. It as much trophy to wear on a lanyard as it is a badge of status. Not only does it show off your harvest, and possibly earned you a monetary reward, but it also shows you played a vital role in waterfowl conservation.



Duck Banding

Duck banding started back in 1899. Hans Mortensen placed aluminum rings around the legs of a few different species of ducks, including Pintails. He carved his name and address on the ring so that the birds would be returned to him. This system of banding is almost identical to how ducks are banded today. In 1909, Jack Miner banded a mallard to see if he could learn how far it flew during migration. All his duck bands were also inscribed with his Canadian wildlife sanctuary address as well as a verse from the Bible. Five months later, this mallard was discovered in South Carolina. This event went down in history as the first ever successful duck banding. Jack banded over 90,000 ducks and geese in his lifetime. His descendants still band birds from the same sanctuary – and the bands are considered collectibles.


In the United States, the bird banding is primarily the responsibility of the Bird Banding Laboratory of the U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division, in Laurel, Maryland. It is a joint effort between our Fish and Wildlife Service, the Canadian Wildlife Service, various state wildlife management agencies, and nongovernment research organizations such as Ducks Unlimited among others. And they don’t just band ducks; many species are banded using a variety of bands, collars, and even GPS trackers.


In order to participate in banding, you have to have a federal banding permit since banding laws are controlled by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In late summer through early fall, migratory waterfowl are captured and banded. Their species, gender, age, and location of banding are recorded. Each bird is outfitted with an aluminum band that has a unique number assigned to each bird as well as the phone number for the laboratory in Maryland. However, many organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl and California Waterfowl Associations offer volunteer opportunities for their banding projects.


Duck Conservation & Hunting

On rare occasions, a hunter will be lucky enough to harvest a bird with a double band – one regular aluminum band and one colored. This most often signifies that it is a special reward duck. The monetary reward is typically anywhere from $25-100, and in rare cases even higher. These are usually placed on species that are being specially monitored. The hunter will call in and report the band, and he receives a certificate with the bird’s information and occasionally a check too.

The information gathered from hunters has proven to be of tremendous value. Monitoring the migratory bird’s flight patterns and population numbers is a daunting task – especially when you consider how many thousands of miles these birds travel. Biologists analyze the information gathered, such as the timing and distribution of the bands. This shows a more complete picture of the health of each of migratory birds species. The wintering areas and exact migration routes are able to be pinpointed with greater accuracy. These numbers not only help the biologists to know more about how to ensure healthy breeding populations but also helps to determine the bag numbers for each species every year.  This will safely ensure the health of the species year after year.


Many hunters refuse to report the band information because of false beliefs that it guarantees the government to put greater restrictions on waterfowl hunting.  But this simply isn’t true. The more information that is collected, the more the biologists are certain of the accuracy of the data and the sustainability of the species, and this can actually lead to longer harvesting seasons. So please, report your bands. An easy way to do this is to go to www.reportband.gov


20 of the Best Hunting Quote of All Time

First published here

A good quote resonates in your soul.

It sticks with you. Some of these quotes are from people you have heard of, and some will be from names new to you. A few of the names are repeated, as they are from individuals who had a plethora of knowledge about the outdoors that is worth remembering. I have gathered a list of great hunting quotes that every outdoorsman should know. They speak to the art of hunting, the deep commitment to conservation, the love for proper land management, and the respect for the animals harvested that non-hunters will never fully understand.

20 of the Best Hunting Quotes of All Time

  • Henry David Thoreau – “When some of my friends have asked me anxiously about their boys, whether they should let them hunt, I have answered yes – remembering that it was one of the best parts of my education – make them hunters.”


  • Aldo Leopold – “A peculiar virtue in wildlife ethics is that the hunter ordinarily has no gallery to applaud or disapprove of his conduct. Whatever his acts, they are dictated by his own conscience, rather than by a mob of onlookers. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this fact.”
  • Donald Trump, Jr. – “Hunting forces a person to endure, to master themselves, even to truly get to know the wild environment. Actually, along the way, hunting and fishing make you fall in love with the natural world. This is why hunters so often give back by contributing to conservation.”


  • Saxton Pope – “The real archer when he goes afield enters a land of subtle delight. The dew glistens on the leaves, the thrush sings in the bush, the soft wind blows, and all nature welcomes him as she has the hunter since the world began. With the bow in his hand, his arrows softly rustling in the quiver, a horn at his back, and a hound at his heels, what more can a man want in life?”


  • Archibald Rutledge – “It has always seemed to me that any man is a better man for being a hunter. This sport confers a certain constant alertness and develops a certain ruggedness of character… Moreover, it allies us to the pioneer past. In a deep sense, this great land of our was won for us by hunters.”


  • Henry David Thoreau – “You must not only aim right but draw the bow with all your might.”


  • Theodore Roosevelt – “The great body of our citizens shoot less as time goes on. We should encourage rifle practice among schoolboys, and indeed among all classes…”


  • Pete Dunne – “When I was young, I was a hunter, walking wooded hillsides with confident steps and a gun in my hand. I knew the blur of wings, the rocketing form, and the Great Moment that only hunters know when all existence draws down to two points and a single line. And the universe holds its breath. And what may be and what will be meet and become one – before the echo returns to its source.”


  • John James Audobon – “Hunting, fishing, drawing, and music occupied my every moment. Cares I know not, and cared naught about them.”


  • Henry David Thoreau – “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
  • Fred Bear – “Nothing clears a troubled mind like shooting a bow.”


A New Girl’s Guide to Shotguns

(First published here)

M. Ashley Evans

Shotguns can be used for a large variety of purposes. They make excellent home defense weapons, are frequently used in police and military applications, and are great for competition and hunting.

Shot Gun Specifics

A shotgun is a lovely tool that can serve its purpose well. It can be used for home defense as well as hunting and competition shooting.  A shotgun fires a type of cartridge called a shell. Inside the shell are projectile(s) (aka shot or a single slug), the wad, and a shot cup that holds the projectile(s) until they reach the end of the barrel. Inside the cartridge is also gunpowder and primer. The primer ignites the gunpowder and the energy expels the pellets from the barrel.


The energy is divided amongst the individual pellets, which means each pellet is relatively low in energy. This makes it ideal for hunting small game. Also, this makes it great for defense – lower the energy means a wider spread of the pellets. So when an intruder is breaking into your home and is posing a threat against you and your family – the wider area of spread can be very helpful when your adrenaline is high and your hands are shaky.  (But even then – aim small, miss small!)

When the trigger is pulled, the firing pin hits the primer. This causes a very controlled explosion. This explosion ignites the powder inside the shell. The gases released fill up the chamber at thousands of pounds per square inch. This pushes out the shot cup, wad and pellet(s) out the barrel.

Buckshot is a type of shotgun ammunition that even a great many non-hunters have heard of. But let me tell you, it ain’t for everything. There are a wide variety of ammunition calibers and then numerous subcategories. But we will just stick with the basics.

Shotguns ammunition typically comes in a measurement called a gauge. A gauge is the diameter of the bore, or inside of the barrel. The smaller the number – the larger the diameter, which is opposite of pistol ammunition where the larger the caliber the larger the ammunition. A 12 gauge shotgun has a barrel that is 0.727 inches in diameter. If you got lead balls that diameter, it would take 12 of them to equal a pound of led. With a 20 gauge shotgun, 20 led balls that are 0.617 can fit.

Shell length is also a very important number with shotgun ammunition. Not all guns can feed each length. Please make sure you know what ammo your gun is designed for – some guns can HOLD come ammunition but it would be unsafe to attempt to fire it due to the pressure differences within each casing. Common lengths are 2-3/4″, 3″, and 3-1/2″. The longer the shell the more shot pellets it contains.

Ammunition can also vary in Dram Equivalent – which used to be all black powder, but now many companies make ammunition with a smokeless powder. The higher the dram number, the more powder, which means the more energy each shot will have – more energy means more travel distance for the pellets.

Shotgun ammo typically comes in birdshot, buckshot, or slug. There are specialty shots that you can get, but we won’t delve into those. Birdshot has tiny pellets, buckshot has large pellets, and a single projectile is a slug. Buckshot is ideal for self-defense and for deer hunting – two occasions that you want the pellets to penetrate deeply. Slugs look different than an actual bullet, in that they are front heavy.


Pump action, Semi-auto, and break open are the three basic Action Types. A pump-action requires the hand rest on the slide to be pumped in order to eject a spent shell and this action also chambers a new round. A semi-auto releases the spent casing and reloads the next round simply by firing off the first round – the energy from the fired round does all of that action automatically. A break open does exactly that – it has to open up in a way to which it appears broken and a shell (or two) are inserted.

Shotgun Fit, Mount & Technique

We have all seen the YouTube videos of the poor girl who gets thrown to the ground by the force of shooting a shotgun – it doesn’t take much examination to see that she is not holding her shotgun properly. A proper mount is critical not only for accuracy but for proper dispersion of the felt recoil as well.  Where your gun is placed in relation to your shoulder and dominant eye determines where the projectile goes.

The gun needs to fit properly if you are to lift, aim, then fire it quickly. The best option for ensuring a gun fits is to see a professional, but sometimes that isn’t an option. Because fit is such a detailed endeavor to discuss, we will not go into a lot of details here.


One quick way to ascertain whether or not the length of pull is too long or too short is to hold the gun by the grip and to bend the elbow. If the butt of the gun doesn’t touch your bicep, it’s a little too short. If you can’t bend your elbow to a 90% angle because the butt of the gun is in the way, then it is too long. The butt of the gun should rest on your bicep. This is just a rough guide but it is a very helpful tool.

It is much easier to mount a gun that is slightly too short than it is to mount a gun that is too long. You should be able to keep your eyes closed and mount the gun then open your eyes and your dominant eye should be squarely looking down the rib (top raised portion traveling the length of the barrel. A raised rib alleviates the heatwaves from distorting the sight picture).


When you are holding a shotgun correctly, your eye becomes the rear sight. Don’t focus on the front sight. You want to be looking at your target. Keep your eye straight and always on that target. Practice watching your target, finger pointed along your gaze with your arm extended. Move your body, not your eyes. Keeping your sight picture in focus is vital.

Cheek first, then shoulder is the correct method. It sounds a bit backward. If you go to the range you will see many people placing their shotgun to their shoulder first and then bringing their cheek to the stock. This causes you to “chase” your target too much, always a step behind, and you don’t have the control you need. Keep your head straight. If you cock your head over to the side to get your eye into position it will distort your depth perception and sight picture.

You should stand straight and balanced with your weight slightly more on your forward foot. Your front knee slightly bent.  Your feet need to be about six to nine inches apart at least.

So to properly mount a shotgun your standing at the Ready. This means your trigger hand is on the grip, your other hand is on the forearm grip and the stock is in your underarm. Ready to pull it up to your cheek and shoulder. Your feet are in their proper position and you get your target in sight. Lock your eyes on it. As you have your eyes on it push the muzzle forward towards the target. You are moving with the target, keeping your head verticle. Any turning with to follow the target comes from the waist and not your arms.


While keeping your sight picture, pushing the muzzle towards the target you are also pulling your rear hand forward with the stock. As it comes forward the comb comes up to rest in the dip of the cheekbone. By placing it in exactly the same position it ensures accuracy with every shot. Your shoulder comes forward to meet the gun. Your body and gun move as one unit with the target. You lead the target a bit (this will vary from gun to gun on how much), meaning you are pointed just in front of the target as it is moving. Then you pull the trigger – careful to continue flowing with the target. If you stop abruptly or slow down as you pull the trigger you will miss, this is called follow through.

Practice, practice, practice! And have fun!! All of this will become fluid and can become very natural. Even expert shots will have accuracy issues if they don’t practice for months at a time. A great way to practice when you can’t get to the range is to practice with this indoor technique. First, ensure the gun is unloaded. Then get a flashlight that fits into the barrel and have it turned on. Holding the gun at the ready, keep the flashlight beam aiming at the corner of the ceiling. Practice mounting the gun all the while keeping the flashlight beam aimed at that corner. Once you do this a while, then practice making the beam travel along the line between the ceiling and the wall first one way and then the other. Practice until this all becomes one fluid motion



Women in Taxidermy – Part Three

As first published here


Taxidermy has interested Amy since she was 13. “Now, I had never been a girly-girl, and had always had unique interests and hobbies as a kid growing up, so picking up taxidermy as hobby came as no great shock to my family. It all started one day while out on the family farm, I came across a dead King-snake. I thought the pattern of the hide was so interesting I wanted to turn it into a belt.”

Amy was home-schooled, which equipped her to be great at learning whatever she sets her mind to. She went straight inside and researched how to tan a snake hide.

“While I was researching, I came across taxidermy websites and instantly realized that taxidermy was something that I wanted to try. Early on, I practiced on whatever I could get my hands on, particularly road kills, and rat that I raised for my pet snake’s food. As I became more involved, I made friends with other taxidermists who began to donate better specimens for me to practice on.”

Taxidermy was just the right fit for her as a kid to get started in. The price for a license varies from state to state – and where Amy lives it was only $15.

“As a kid starting out, I had very little funds and was able to use as many common household supplies for my taxidermy, as well as making my own bodies for small animals out of things such as newspaper and tape. While these days I don’t advocate doing it the archaic way that I started out, it was fun and making my own body forms from scratch forced me to learn a lot about animal anatomy.”

“Many taxidermists are open to taking on apprentices, and that can be a great way to learn. The optimum way would be to take a taxidermy course with a qualified teacher, which can range anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks long depending on which course you choose.”

Amy Carter - Alaskan Wolverine

Amy’s Alaskan Wolverine

Amy has come a long way from using newspaper and duct tape – now she is dedicated to educating others. “I recently began teaching my own taxidermy classes, and they have been very popular, especially among women who may feel safer or more relaxed learning from another woman. I would also suggest joining your state taxidermy association and attending their annual convention. There you can meet other taxidermist, attend seminars on a wide variety of topics, and view some beautiful examples of taxidermy.”

More and more women are showing interest in this art form. When Amy first got started there were just a few women taxidermist in the field. “In my experience, I received nothing but kindness from male taxidermists I met. They saw me as a bit of a novelty, yes, but were eager to help me learn more and I owe them for where I am today. I also get a great amount of respect from my customers, many who come out of state to bring me their trophy. I attribute this to the quality of work that I do, not just because I am female. Several customers have mentioned their trust ‘of a woman’s touch’.”

“People do tend to see a female taxidermist as a curiosity and I believe this helps me in a very positive way… I have a large following on social media, more so than many of my male counterparts. I’ve sensed a bit of jealousy in this area, from other taxidermists – even though I want to be known for my talents and not my gender… but if it helps promote my business, I won’t complain.”

Amy Carter - BobcatTongueOut

Amy’s Bobcat Taxidermy

Amy is indeed talented. Her bobcat head mount with his tongue sticking out is absolutely remarkable. Most tongues that I have seen in taxidermy are so fake looking they are laughable, but this looks very much alive.

Amy used to do pet taxidermy. She has chosen to no longer accept any, due to the close connection people have with their pets, and the sensitive emotions surrounding their death. “I had one fellow call me one night and tell me that he was brining his dog to me. As I went to hang up the phone, he said ‘I’ll be there just as soon as I can dig him up’. Sure enough, the dog had been buried for a day before they decided that they just couldn’t let go!”

She had a lot of really funny stories. “I had a lady who wanted her cat turned into a rug, and the remains shipped back to her, all the way to Hawaii. From what I heard, there was a lavish ceremony with music and rose petals, and they tied rocks to the carcass and threw it into the sea…. And there’s always the occasional call for someone asking if I’ll stuff their Grandmaw.”

Amy Carter - Bobcat

Amy’s Perching Bobcat Taxidermy

Her art goes beyond traditional taxidermy. She makes fur pillows; upholstered stools; antler carvings; jewelry made from bone, teeth, and claws. “I support any form of taxidermy – after all, it is preserving an animal that would otherwise just have rotted. There’s something really cool about that!” Her style tends to be mainly traditional, but a lot of her woodwork and habitat bases lean towards the modern trend of less-is-more. “I like to showcase the animal and not necessarily clutter the scene with too much grass or other material.”

Amy has had her share of trouble from animal rights activists, who seem to love to give her bad ratings on Facebook anonymously. She responds to them kindly, by asking logical questions but never gets a response. “There will always be those that don’t agree with hunting, and the taxidermy that comes from it. To me, I see it as a beautiful way to use EVERY part of the animal. Ethical hunters respect and use as much of their game as they are able to.”

And it definitely takes someone who respects wildlife so much to be able to stuff them in such detail that they seem full of vibrant life. And the bobcat standing perched on a log – it looks like it has just paused a moment to watch its prey. It’s hard not to hesitate a moment, almost half expecting it to complete its step.

“I’d say the hardest part of taxidermy is properly preparing the hide. Most people think that laying the hide over the body from and sewing it up would be the most difficult – but that just isn’t true. That tends to be the easiest part for me. Many more hours go into skinning, fleshing, thinning, and otherwise preparing the hide to go on the form. Each new piece presents a new challenge for me, which is part of the fun. I try something new every time. For my first mountain lion, I carved the foam from scratch using a large block of foam. It was the largest form I had ever made by hand and it was a pretty big challenge.”

Several of her pieces have award ribbons hanging from them; testimony to just how great of an artist she is. “I go to a lot of taxidermy competitions. In fact, I’ve been competing since I was 15 years old. I’ve been to most of the state shows in the southeast, as well as nationals and world competitions over the years. My top awards have been National Champion (NTA 2003), North American Champion (Big Rock Taxidermy Competition 2015) and a second place ribbon at the World Championships (2015)”

Amy’s art is just incredible. She really is one of the very best in this field. “I encourage women to explore their interests, and not be intimidated to jump in and get their hands dirty in a male-dominated field! You just might find that women have that extra special touch.”


It has been a remarkable week getting to learn about these amazing women. They are wonderful artists to look up to, not only because of their talent – but their character, dedication to their business, and drive to educate others. They each have noted that being female isn’t a hindrance, but can offer a unique perspective in this field, and that the Woman’s Touch is a beautiful complementary addition to the world of taxidermy. After hearing about their journeys, I can’t wait to practice on a critter myself.