Five of the Top Game to Hunt in the Southeast

Growing up in rural northeast Alabama; hunting and fishing were an integral part of life; as natural as breathing. Nearly every pickup you saw had a hunting rifle or fishing pole behind the seat. And it wasn’t uncommon for kids to run into the classroom late because of spending the first light of morning out in the woods – still dressed in their camo and smelling faintly of doe urine.

For Southerners, hunting is more than a tradition or past-time – it is a part of the people, almost as much an arm or a leg. Hunting in the South is, in part, fierce pride in being able to provide food for your family and with your own hands. It’s a beautiful song where the hunter works with the land by responsible wildlife management practices, tracking and “readin’ signs” are all a part of the harmony. For hunters in the South – the land they own and work is almost like a precious member of the family.

The Southeast, particularly in the ridges of Southern Appalachia, is world renown for its prime hunting habitats and pristine conservation environments. Within a relatively small area, you can encounter hardwood forest, pine woods, wetlands, limestone caves, and swamps. The South is the most biologically diverse region in the entire United States. Home to the raccoon, opossum, waterfowl, cougar, bear, deer, fox, bobcat, rabbit, and weasel. Not to mention some of the rarest salamander and minnows in the world.

Five of the Top Game to Hunt in the Southeast:

 

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White-Tailed Deer

Are by far the most common game animal to hunt. The White-tailed deer are all over North America – its range is from Canada down to Peru. They are one of the widest distributed hooved animals in the world. They are timid creatures, with a keen sense of smell and hearing.  Their night vision is much better than ours, but they don’t see extremely well during the daylight hours. Their eyes can’t see green, orange, or red – it appears as hues of grey. Bucks can weigh up to 300 lbs and does up to 200. White-tailed deer are very fast, running up to 30 miles an hour.

During the spring summer months, a buck will grow a set of antlers. During these months, the antlers are covered in velvet. This velvet is a living tissue that supplies blood to the antlers. During the summer, their fur takes on a reddish hue, while in the winter it becomes grayish. In the fall, around September, the velvet is rubbed off. Just in time for mating season, called the Rut. On each antler can grow a number of points, or “tines.” The number and length of the points can help to determine a buck age. Nutrition and genetics do play a factor in their antler build too, however.

White-tailed deer are crepuscular, meaning they are most active around sunrise and sunset. They can live alone or in herds. Typically, a deer will only have a home range of around a square mile. Does will be pregnant during the winter and fawn in late April or early May. The Fawn are born with white spots that disappear after a couple of months. Fawns are able to run within 24 hours after birth and are weaned around 6 months. They typically will stay with the doe until she has another fawn. Around 18 months of age, a doe will begin mating. Her first fawn will be a single birth around. But each season after, she will give birth to twins.

A white-tailed deer can live up to 11 years old in the wild, though many don’t live past the age of 5. They have been known to eat up to 600 plant species. Their four-chambered stomach allows them to eat vegetation that is very difficult to digest, including several varieties of mushrooms that are poisonous for humans to consume.

When tracking white-tailed deer, remember that they prefer to feed at dawn and dusk. They like to bed down near a source of water. White-tailed deer are extremely cautious, if they detect human scent on some underbrush days after the hunter was there, they will avoid the area for weeks.

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Wild Turkey

This upland bird species is easily the second most hunted game in the Southeast. Adult Toms can weigh as much as 30 lbs and the Adult Hens weighing around 12 lbs. Despite their weight, turkeys are agile fliers. Their legs can be a reddish yellow to a greyish green hue. The body can vary in color from a copper to a brown, with the adult Toms pattern becoming more varied as he ages. Adult Toms also has red waddles on his throat and his reddish head. Tom turkey’s head will change color, depending upon his mood. His head is covered in carucles, which are fleshy growths. The long fleshly growth over his beak is called a snood.

Wild turkey prefers a habit that is either primarily hardwood or a mix of conifer and hardwoods that have occasional openings into a pasture, field or even occasionally a marsh. They seem to prefer woods filled with white ash, cherry, oaks, and hickory. The wild turkey is omnivorous. They eat not only a wide variety of seeds, berries, and nuts (pine nuts, hickory, hazelnut, acorns, chestnut etc) but also insects, lizards, and even snakes.

There are four major sub-species of Wild Turkey in North America (seven total, technically, including a hybrid.) Two of these sub-species are found in the Southeast. Eastern Wild Turkey lives in the eastern half of the country as far north as Maine and as far south as northern Florida. Some Eastern Wild Turkey can be found as far west as Missouri. They can get up to four feet tall and weigh as much as 30 lbs. The Osceola Wild Turkey, which is the smallest of the North American sub-species and weighs only an average of 16 lbs. It was named after the famous Seminole leader Osceola.

Eastern Wild Turkey are very prone to getting leery if they hear the same turkey calling over and over. So when scouting, especially prior to Opening Day, try to use a Crow Call or a Barred Owl call – these turkeys will gobble up to just about any sort of call prior and you don’t want them getting used to the sound of your turkey call.

Hen’s don’t like another hen talking to her tom. Sometimes you will need to call in your hen, and the tom will follow her – mimic her call, only a little more aggressively and see if she will come right on up to you.

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Wood Ducks

Are the most stunning of the North American waterfowl species and are extremely abundant in the Southeast. They are a medium sized, perching duck and smaller than a mallard. Both drakes and hens have a crested head. Drakes are iridescent chestnut brown and green with distinctive white, in contrasting markings, and red eyes.  Hens are a muted brown and grey with an elegant white pattern around the eye. Unlike most ducks, they have sharp claws which help them to perch in trees. They are extremely agile fliers and excel at weaving in and out of trees – which makes them difficult to hunt.

Wood ducks prefer a habitat of wooded marshes, sloughs, forested backwaters, creeks, shallow inland lakes, beaver ponds, and wooded swamps. Mainly, they prefer primarily deciduous woodland and places where large trees overhang the water. If there are too few natural wooded cavities in which to nest, they will happily nest in a wooden nesting box.

Wood Ducks forage in the water by taking food from the surface, a technique called Dabbling. They will also submerge to feed completely underwater, and will also 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. Wood Ducks love acorns – which gives them a very earthy taste.

The Wood Duck has a brilliant display of courtship that highlights the drake’s colorful plumage. There is an average of 9-15 eggs laid per brood, and they are the only North American duck to have two broods in a single season. 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 their light fluffy bodies allow them to bounce for safety.

When decoying this waterfowl, make sure that you use ONLY other Woodies.  While other duck species will decoy with mallards, wood ducks prefer their own species. They tend to be hard to decoy – they don’t like to veer far outside the destination they already have in mind. They are extremely location oriented birds. So Scouting beforehand is key to a successful hunt. Don’t bother with the usual “C” or “J” decoy formation – just a light spread of a dozen or so.  Motion is critical to a wood duck decoy spread.

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American Black Bear

The American Black Bear is widely distributed and is the smallest of the North American Bears. They are the worlds most common bear species, some biologist claim that the black bear is twice as numerous as any other bear species. Interestingly, black bears are not closely related to polar bears or brown/grizzly bears. They are more closely related to sun bears and Asian black bears.

Black bears prefer territories that have a lot of dense undergrowth, and what would normally be considered inaccessible terrain as well as a forest with a large number of oaks and hickory.

The skull of the black bear is wide and has a narrow muzzle. Males tend to have wider set faces than females. Their feet can be up to 9 inches long. Their weight will vary greatly depending upon the season of the year, for example, in the fall their weight will be 30% more than it is in the spring.  Adult males will typically weigh between 125-550, and the largest recorded weighed just over 1,000 lbs. Despite their name, only around 70% of all black bears have black fur. Some can be white some brown and some in between.

Even though they are a very large animal, they can run quickly – up to 30 miles an hour. Black bears are extremely intelligent. They have excellent hearing ability. Their sense of smell is seven times greater than that of a dog. They can be active any time day or night but tend to do most of their foraging at night. American black bears tend to be extremely territorial, with a dominant male getting his choice of feeding locations.

They will feed on acorns, hazelnuts, berries, yellow jackets, bees, ants, larvae, trout, catfish, just about anything they can forage. While there are records of black bear hunting deer it isn’t very common.  They tend to be solitary animals, except for sows with cubs. Two is the most common number for cubs, but a female can have up to 6 in a litter.

While American Black Bears don’t hibernate in the true sense, they do reduce their metabolism drastically for a few months. Here in the Southeast, it tends to be about 3 months.

A lot of hunters will bait a black bear, in the states where it is legal. Baiting gives you the opportunity for a better identification as to the age and health of the bear. Some hunters bait with trail mix and a few pastries like honey buns or twinkies. Just don’t feed them chocolate – it is toxic to a bear just like it is to a dog. Set your bait up where the bear will have to go through some thick cover to get to it. Also, make sure it is near water.

Also, keep in mind that you want your tree stand to be about 15 feet away and about 15 feet high with dense vegetation behind you. Any higher and you’ll be less likely to get that double lung hit. Your goal is not only penetrating both lungs but to also have an exit wound. The exit wound is important for getting him dropped quickly, humanely, and safely.

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Mourning Dove

Dove hunting is a highly social event – whole families will gather in the field to enjoy a day of shooting, picnicking, and fall weather. Mourning doves are slender-bodied birds with tiny heads that fly very quickly when startled – up to 55 mph.  They have a long pointed tail, which is a unique trait with North American dove species. While there are a number of other dove species in the Southeast, they will not be discussed in this article. Mourning doves coloring will vary slightly depending upon the region. They can be a light dainty brown to a greyish tan overall with a few black spots on the wings. They live all across the continental United States and they are the most abundant game bird in the country. You can even find mourning doves in the desert, which is due to their ability to drink water with saline content as high as sea water and not become dehydrated.

During courtship, the male will fly up noisily, and glide in a circular pattern. This is followed by a chest feather display on the ground. During the mating season, you will often see mourning doves fly in a line of three. The first one is the mated male, followed closely by a rival unmated, male. The rival is attempting to run the mated male away. The third is the mated female, who is just along for the show. In warmer regions, a mourning dove can raise up to six broods a year – which is far more than any other native bird species in the country.

When a mourning dove feeds, he is swallowing seeds as fast as he can. These seeds get stored in a special pouch in their esophagus called a crop, along with a few pieces of gravel. Once the crop has been filled the dove will fly to a perch and digest it. They have to consume 20% of their body weight a day in food, which is roughly 70 calories.  The record for the most seeds stored in a crop is a little over 17,000 blueberry seeds. Seeds make up for 99% of the mourning doves diet.

Doves are creatures of habit, which make them a great game to hunt. You want to scout out a place that is between their food source (such as a harvested field, preferably sunflower or corn) and their water source.  Doves respond well to decoys, just set out a few stationary decoys and you’ll be set.

Using a modified choke is a wise move when dove hunting. Most hunters give the birds a long lead – by about 6 feet, which ends up being about 6 inches of a gap between the front of your barrel and the bird. If the bird is flying away from you, let the bird appear to be floating on the top of your barrel before you shoot. And if the dove is coming in for a landing, wait until your barrel just hides the bird before you pull the trigger. Remember, a proper shotgun mount is critical to shooting well.

Unique Game in the Southeast

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Alligator

An American alligator can grow to an impressive 13 feet long and 800 lbs. They are typically black or a deep olive green with a light colored underside. There have not been any reliable records kept for how long an alligator will survive in the wild. The oldest in captivity is 80 years old.  Although alligators walk rather slowly, they can leap, climb, and run quickly on the dry ground.

American alligator can be found along the coast in the Gulf of Mexico and South Carolina. They prefer freshwater environments such as ponds, swamps, backwaters and can thrive in brackish waters as well. In Louisiana especially, alligators have been rather beneficial ecologically since they feed on the coypu and muskrat both of which have caused extensive damage to shorelines.

Remember to bring soap and a squeeze bottle of water with you. Alligator tend to have bacteria on their skin and you don’t want to get any in a cut or on your food. Hunting gator can be a safe sport – if done correctly. Below is a short synopsis I have compiled of how to conduct a safe gator hunt. Amazingly, a .44 mag if shot to the head of an average 10-foot gator will not kill it – only spray lead and bone up. They are incredibly designed creatures with thick armor-like skin. Gators are exceptionally good at hiding – you would think that a 10-foot long creature in a relatively small body of water would be easy to spot. But it’s quite the opposite. Gators are stealthy, and they can remain unseen when they choose to.

Hunting alligator is typically done with first casting a rod and hooking one. Don’t pull to set the hook – almost always the hook doesn’t penetrate and jerking it will make the alligator go a little crazy. Then a harpoon pole (with a dart line, attached to a float) and a bangstick are used to bring in and dispatch of the large gator. You want to harpoon him in the back of the head, thick part of the tail, or neck. Never in the head or back. The harpoon needs to be thrown or heavily jabbed. You can’t just push it in.

Never keep a loaded bangstick in your boat – always wait to load it when the gator is thoroughly exhausted from wrestling with the line and harpoon. It must be shot underwater and it must be to the back of the head. If you hit the top of the head, or not in enough water, you will spray bone and lead everywhere. You will know it is a thorough shot because you will see blood and you gator will drop limp.

This isn’t the end! Now, the real work begins. You have to find a way to get the gator out of the muck. Sometimes this has to be done with a wench and steel cables or a tractor! Pulling in a massive gator is as much a mental challenge as it is an immense physical one. Each gator hunt will be different.

One common method is this: You have to use your gaff and hook him under the bottom jaw to bring him in. If he starts to fight, pull out the gaff and use the bangstick again. Once you have him in close, pin him to the boat with his belly out and secure his jaws with electrical tape. Then use your knife to cut into the neck at the back of the head and sever the spine.

Important to remember to place your tag on the tale just as soon as you have him completely dispatched and secure.  Make sure he is dead and tied up securely before bringing him into your boat. A gator wallowing around can sink a boat quickly.

It’s very important to make sure his hide stays clean. Bug spray, oil, gas etc can damage it. Also, it’s good to bleed your gator for improving the taste of the meat – if you place his head in and then roll the body on his side it will help to bleed him.

Honorable Mentions

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Feral Pig

The wild boar or feral pig has become quite a detrimental nuisance in the Southeast. Pigs will destroy well-maintained farmland in no time. Hunters often find acres and acres of land utterly destroyed by pigs. In some areas, farmers will pay hunters to reduce the number of pigs from their land. They are highly aggressive animals that breed rapidly. There are over 5 million feral pigs in America. Some scientists speculate that 70% of the population needs to be eradicated in order to prevent further growth.

Wild boar is an invasive species, their numbers and territory range have increased rapidly over the last 50 years.  They are also causing a lot of trouble with native species – killing fawn, destroying nests, and even killing young domestic livestock. Wild boar are host to at least 20 parasite worm species, many of which can infect humans too.

Wild boar are incredibly strong and agile. They can dig 10 cm into frozen ground and flip rocks weighing over 100 lbs. They have long protruding canine teeth that can be up to 5″ long. Adult males can weigh an average of 250 lbs and can jump an amazing 5 feet. The largest on record is from Alabama. It was over 9 feet long and weighed over 1,000 lbs.

Feral pigs feed on roots, tubers, rhizomes, bulbs, seeds, nuts, berries, earthworms, insects, leaves, bark, bird eggs, lizards, frogs, and even carrion and garbage. Pigs will eat just about everything.

Texas, Florida, and Louisiana are top places to hunt wild hogs. Wild boar are notoriously aggressive and hunting them is dangerous even for experienced hunters. Using predator calls is a good way to bring them out into the open – they are always ready for a fight. Another way of bringing them out is to play recordings of piglets in danger. Sows are very protective. It is a wise idea to invest in a kevlar vest for your hunting dog – a tusk can kill a dog in the blink of an eye.

Pigs prefer dawn and dusk but will venture out at just about any time. They prefer to travel around in small groups called Sounders. They have an excellent sense of smell and hearing, but their eyesight is relatively poor. Even the sound of a hunter clicking his safety off can be enough to spook a hog.

The vital target area on a pig is much smaller than that of a deer – and you need to have enough distance to be able to do a follow-up shot… or three or four. Pigs have a lot of energy and many hunters find it is hard to drop them on the first shot. One professional hunter, Jim “The Hogfather” Matthews, who publishes the California Hog Hunter Newsletter, has been quoted in saying “Imagine a 700 lb elk compressed into the body of a 250 lb animal” – you’re going to want some heavy duty ammo. One of the most important things about hog hunting is accuracy in shooting. Accuracy is everything in hog hunting, you can’t be a little close and call it good enough.

 

Five of the Top Game to Hunt in the Northeast

The northeastern states have hunting similar to what you would find in the southeastern region of Appalachia – deer, bear, etc. But it is also a fantastic place to hunt other game, like bobcat and the numerous waterfowl that migrate along the Atlantic Flyaway.

Hunting in the northeast region tends to be slightly different strategically than hunting in other regions. Old growth forests, reclamation timber, and orchards can be a little tricky. A lot of the timber project territories lack concentrated foodstuffs and the orchards can often lack bedding areas or undergrowth. The trick is to know your game species and their habits where you will be hunting.

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Bobcat

The bobcat is a medium-sized brown cat with black spots. Its coat will be more of a grey in winter. The ears are large with short tufts at the top and a short tail (hence the name) A bobcat is around two feet tall at the shoulders and can weigh up to forty pounds. They have excellent hearing and eyesight.

Bobcats are found all over the United States and even Canada and Mexico. There are only a few places in the Midwest where they are not typically found. In some areas their numbers are quite high – New Hampshire has a large bobcat population in the several hundred. They are known as the Ghosts of the Forest because these nocturnal hunters are so rarely seen by most people. So far, I’ve only encountered three in the woods.

They eat a wide variety of small animals including groundhogs, squirrels, moles, raccoons, skunks, rabbits, and even larger prey like deer. They can live in a variety of habitats including desert, mountains, farmland and even swamps. They will den in either a rocky crevice or a hollow tree. They don’t spend a lot of time up in a tree, though they can climb well. Bobcats can also swim but would prefer not to.

Bobcats live primarily solitary lives and come together only for the mating season which is in February or March. Then around early May, the female will give birth to up to seven kittens. The kittens will stay with the mother for the first year. Bobcats can have a territory range anywhere from one mile to more than 35, this varies tremendously on the location. They mark their territory with scent markings, scat, urine, and scrapes. Scrapes are piles of debris and dirt that are marked with the cats’ scent.

Rabbits are their preferred prey, so look for rabbits when you are out hunting a bobcat. If you can see a place where a bobcat has made a kill, he will be close by. The first thing you should look for is the tracks. It’s useless to try to hunt a bobcat who happens to be miles away on the other side of his territory. The tracks will tell you a lot about the cat you are hunting too. It will show you want the type of cover structure he prefers, the bedding type he likes, where he feels safe enough to cross roads and creeks, and even his hunting methods. Bobcats tend to follow the same paths – even the same paths that the previous territory owner used. These bobcat trails will be used for many generations.

 

Bobcats respond well to calls – even one that has just eaten. Some hunters swear by motion decoys too since the cats hone in on motion and are extremely curious. It’s advisable to stand up when you are calling with your back against a tree so you can scan a wider area with your eyes. Position yourself with rocks or brush to break up your outline, but don’t be IN any undergrowth – the bush moving around will give away your position. You want to pick a spot with good visibility but also close to really dense cover – bobcats don’t like going out into the open. Avoid using coyote calls, and if you see a coyote you probably won’t see a bobcat.

 

Bobcats are oblivious to human scent – it’s just your movement or noise that will scare them off.  So no matter what happens, just hold still. If you shoot and miss hold very still and try making a call with your mouth – more often than not the bobcat will be curious and hold completely still long enough for you to get a follow-up shot.

 

Bobcats will stalk up to your range, they are known for creeping up and then standing completely still to determine the location of the call before moving in. It is easy to spook a bobcat – the key is to be completely still and patient. When you are sounding the call – make it sound as believable as possible. Don’t play a distressed rabbits call too loud or for too long. A 20-30 second interval with a few minutes in between is plenty adequate. And a rabbit squeal usually can’t be heard more than 70-80 yards away. After half an hour if you don’t hear or see anything, find your trail markings and move on another few hundred yards down the way and try again.

 

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Rabbits

The eastern cottontail is the most common rabbit in the United States and they are found all over from southern Canada all the way down to South America. The eastern cottontail has brown-grey fur with lighter fur on its nose and underside. The tail, of course, is white as cotton. In the northeast, there is also the New England cottontail, which looks very similar, but it has a black patch between its ears and is usually a little smaller.

Cottontails prefer the habitat that is just between the woods and the open land.  They can be in brushy undergrowth, fields, thickets and even swamps. They especially like briar brambles and honeysuckles. Rabbits eat a large variety of plants including grasses, clover, fruit, vegetables, twigs, and bark. They prefer the bark of dogwood, maple, birch, and oak. They are mostly nocturnal and like the early morning hours.

Cottontails can leap an amazing 10+ feet and run up to 15 miles an hour.  They are highly territorial and live mostly solitary lives. When being chased by a predator, the cottontail jumps in a zigzag pattern to break up its scent trail.

Cottontails will mate between February and September. The female will build a nest in a sunken place in the ground and line with fur from her chest and other soft materials. The babies are born after just one-month gestation and will have up to four litters a year. They are able to conceive just a couple of hours after giving birth.

Rabbits can be hunted with or without dogs. They can be taken with a bow, a .22 rifle, a pistol or a shotgun. Some people can hunt them with or without dogs. The rabbit will circle around their small home territory when flushed and run typically around a hundred yards or so and will eventually make their way back. Rabbits can’t stand to be outwaited. So when you find a good location, walk through it slowly. For every dozen or so steps and then stop and pause for 20-30 seconds. Rabbits will think they are spotted and try to make a run for it. Shooting rabbits is a very fast-paced hunt – there is no time to lead them and follow through. That means you need to have your gun at the ready with your trigger finger on the trigger guard.

 

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Beaver

The beaver is the largest rodent in North America. They can be up to four feet long and weigh over sixty pounds. He uses his tail to balance when gnawing on trees and to slap on the water as a warning when he spots a predator. They have a special membrane over their eyes that allow them to open their eyes in the water. Its dark brown fur is covered in Castoreum, which is an oily substance that helps the water to bead off of it.

Beavers are found throughout all of North America except for Florida, the desert and the far north of Alaska. They live near rivers, ponds, lakes, streams, and marshes. Beavers build dams, which are their homes made out of sticks on mud islands or on shores. They are dome shaped and can be over ten feet tall. The floor is just a little over the water level and is covered in wood chips to help soak up the moisture. It is complete with a front door, under the water, and vents to let in the fresh air.  Not all beavers build dams, some will burrow into the river banks.

Beavers eat tree bark and Cambium – which is the soft tissue that grows under the bark of a tree. They prefer bark of maple, birch, willow, aspen, cottonwood, poplar, beech, and alder. They eat roots and buds of water plants too.

Beavers live in tight nit colonies – or family groups. They are highly territorial and will protect their dams from other beavers. Mating season is from January to March in the cold regions and in the south, it is in late November or December.  Beavers mate for life, and when one spouse dies they will find another. After about three months the female will give birth. Kits can swim within 24 hours of birth and are weaned after two weeks. Both parents take care of the young. Beavers will live to be around twenty years old.

Dams will have a positive and negative impact on the land. On the positive, it creates new wetland environments, which can slow erosion, foster new plant growth, and even purify the water. However, on the negative, they slow the flow of streams and cause silt to build up. This causes flooding in the low lying areas which are a big problem for agricultural areas.

Beavers are trapped because you can’t shoot into the water due to the ricochet effect. In the late fall and early spring, beaver are trapped in open water. During the winter, when fur quality is best, the traps are set through the ice. When setting a trap, make sure that the trigger is at the bottom to reduce fur damage. This also ensures that the beaver is killed quickly and humanely. There is a wide variety of traps available – please talk to local fur trappers to determine what works best in your area as some traps are better for certain geographies than others.

 

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American Mink

The mink looks like a weasel, but is semi-aquatic, and is about two feet long. It has short stubby legs and a long neck. One-third of its body length is its tail. The American Mink has brown to black fur with a white chin and throat. Its fur is waterproof thanks to its oily guard hairs. There are 15 subspecies in North America, and the differences are primarily noted in slight fur variations.

Mink are found in most of the eastern half of the United States and the northern states up through Canada and Alaska. They prefer forested areas near streams or bodies of water, in which they spend a lot of their time. Mink can dive up to 16 feet deep! However, they are not dependent upon a body of water and will spend a large amount of time foraging in wooded areas.

They also will dig a den into river banks or use an abandoned beaver or muskrat den. They also den in rock crevices or brush piles. Mink never use the same den for long. They eat muskrats, beetles, fish, birds, mice, frogs, chipmunks and will even sneak into chicken pens where the chickens are fairly easy (contained) prey. The American Mink will mate between January and April. There are three to six kits born in a litter. The kits will stay with the mother until fall, otherwise, they are solitary.

Mink spray a foul-smelling fluid like a skunk, only they can’t aim. Interestingly, they also purr like a cat when happy. They are highly territorial and the males will fight other males that invade their territory – even to the death. Mink are highly tenacious and are able to kill animals much larger than themselves. They are predated upon by bobcat, coyotes, 03+owls, foxes etc.

Mink spend a lot of time traveling along the water’s edge, which is a great place to look for sign in the mud. Their prints are similar to otters but much smaller. They leave scat on prominent objects in their territory. Mink are hunted with traps such as the Coilspring, Jump Trap and Longspring.  These are used in either Blind Sets or Pocket Sets.

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Fox

The grey fox and the red fox are the two common species in North America. They are crepuscular and prefer to hunt at night. Fox are highly territorial and will mark the boundaries of their territory with urine. They breed in February and March and the male is responsible for bringing food back to the den. Greys and reds don’t like the same type of territory. Reds will prefer open areas and farmland. Greys will be in wooded areas and orchards. Fox will steal newborn lambs and goats and will eat chickens out of a hen house. They are notorious for killing just for fun.

Grey fox are found as far north as Canada and down to the central and southwestern states all the way down to Venezuela. Unlike the red fox, the grey fox tends to avoid agricultural areas. They den in hollow trees, burrows, and brush piles. They will line their den with grass and leaves.  Its back is a grey speckled color, with rusty red on its tail base, flanks, and legs. Its muzzle is black and it has a black stripe that goes from its eye down towards its neck. It’s the only member of the dog family that can climb trees and will do so to evade predators. The face of the grey fox is more round and feline looking.

Red fox looks very similar to the grey and is often misidentified. They are found in most of the United States except some areas in the southwest. It can be varying shades of grey and black on its back and a rust red on its tail, flank, and upper legs. Red fox looks like they are wearing black boots. This is a key feature in helping you get the identity correct. They also have black tipped ears and a white tipped tail. Their face is more narrow and dog-like than the grey.

Fox has an excellent sense of smell so make sure you hunt them with the wind to your face. Fox are hunted with calls and decoys. Decoy movement is key to success when calling if you are hunting in a group. The combo of decoy movement with calls reassures the fox that there is something small and furry that it can eat.

After you start off with the call of a rabbit in distress (or bird distress, especially chicken) it’s a good idea to switch to a fox in distress. Go through a few of these and change it out every few minutes. Once you spot a fox, take note of his behavior. If he is coming in strongly, mute the caller and watch the decoy go to work. If he is hesitant, or starts barking, play the canine puppy in distress sound. Some people hunt fox with dogs and some don’t.

 

Unique Game to Hunt in the Northeast

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Waterfowl

With the Atlantic Flyway right smack dab in the middle of the Northeast, it’s an excellent place for hunting migratory waterfowl. Also, it’s a great place to hunt some of the great cold water coastal birds.

So get ready to hunt some Brant, Scaup, Eiders, Canvasbacks and Black Ducks this season!

Check out my article on Duck Hunting here.

5 Tips for Shooting Clays

by M. Ashley Evans

 

Clay Shooting

 

There are very few sports that are more enjoyable and beneficial than shooting clay pigeons, be it in Trap or Skeet. Many of the top marksmen say that shooting is 90% mental. Mathematics, logic and creative thinking are heavily utilized during a match.

Clay shooting also is good for you physically – skeet shooting requires tremendous balance and coordination. It builds strength in the body’s core and arm muscles. Clay shooting is also great exercise for the muscles around the eyes – because you are learning to quickly focus back and forth between objects at different distances.

Dr. Robert DuVall, director of SportsMedicine of Atlanta (SMA), has been quoted in the Hibbing Daily Tribune, saying that the “shooting sports represent the essence of fine motor control in sports … few other sports require the refined motor skill and precision of shooting. Likewise, few other sports necessitate the combined physical and emotional aptitudes that are required for sport shooting a success.”

The first time I ever saw a clay pigeon, I was terribly disappointed that it didn’t resemble more of a pigeon than a tiny frisbee. That disappointment faded quickly as I became hooked on this exciting sport! Here are some tips that have helped me a lot.

 

1. Proper Mount

Knowing how to properly shoulder your shotgun is one of the most vital aspects of being an accurate shot. Shotguns don’t have a rear sight – your dominant eye will function as the rear sight. So if your eye is sitting higher on the gun than it needs to be, you’ll shoot over your target by a long way.

Pull your gun up to your cheek and then into your shoulder. If you raise it to your shoulder first, you will have a much harder time getting your target in your field of vision. Have the butt of the shotgun right in the little dip in your shoulder – and pull it in tight. Lean forward into your gun, don’t lean back.

You want your eyes to be staring straight down the barrel. Don’t stare at the front bead – look through it and focus on your target. Remember, shotguns are pointed, not aimed.  Aiming a gun takes time, and if you take the time to aim it like you would a rifle, then the clay will begin its descent and will fall out of your range.

This mounting technique needs to be very fluid. You are bringing the gun up to your eyes that are locked onto the target. Practice this motion with your shotgun is empty to get it seamless.

 

2. Breathe!

It may sound silly – but don’t forget to breathe! Erratic breathing can cause you to feel jittery and fumble around with finding the target.

Breathe deep slow breaths from your belly as you mount the gun to keep yourself steady and calm. Pull the trigger at the natural pause between inhaling and exhaling. Just make sure you keep it at a moments pause – and not a hold. A hold will increase your heart rate and will affect your accuracy too.

There is a rhythm to shooting accurately. You get into the rhythm of your breathing, heart rate and the tempo that the flight of the clay pigeon. It is all a steady, fluid, consistent rhythm.

 

3. Know when NOT to Shoot

It is really easy to get overly excited – or frustrated! – and shoot knowing that it won’t be your best shot.  While it is great to be determined to hit all the clays you can, knowing when you do have the shot and when you don’t can make a lot of difference in how well you shoot.

This requires you to be very aware of your body – your stance, focus, mount, grip, etc. If you are not tuned in to your body, you won’t have the awareness to tell you that you couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.

Take the shot when you are confident that you are giving it your absolute best attempt.

 

4. Lead the Bird

Or anticipating the clay pigeons path is another way of phrasing it. Having a proper lead takes a lot of practice. You have to be far enough ahead so that your lead and the clay pigeon collide along their paths of trajectory.  Too far ahead, and your lead will be gone before the bird approaches. Not far enough ahead and your pigeon will sail on over.

Imagine the clay pigeon is the body of an actual bird. Shoot just in front of where you imagine its beak would be. If it is flying over your head, shoot where its feet would be.

The two most common methods for this are the Pull Away Method and the Maintained Lead Method. Pull away is when you have your muzzle pointed at the clay as you are mounting and then pull the muzzle forward ahead enough before shooting. This method is most often taught to beginners. The Maintained Lead Method is when your muzzle is pointing ahead of your clay as you mount and is maintaining that distance as you pull the trigger.

Often times, beginners will lose their target when learning to lead the bird. This happens when they get the muzzle in front, but the width of the gun covers their target. In an instant, your eyes are no longer focused on the target but now automatically focus on the shotgun barrel – and you will miss. To prevent this – lead the bird in front and slightly under.

 

5. Always Follow Through

To follow through correctly means that as you are pulling the trigger your gun is still moving. Even as the trigger is completely depressed, you are still honed in on that target and are following it with your muzzle. If you stop momentarily as you pull the trigger – you will miss your target.

You will maintain far more control if you maintain a fluid motion. Don’t rush in front of your target, then stop and shoot – the goal is to “brush” the clays out of the sky with the fluid movement of a paintbrush. There is no need to rush.

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!

 

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Conservation

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.”

 

Regulations

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

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 shorelines. 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 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 mallard, 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 the 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 saltwater 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 most other dabbling duck species. After 50-60 days, the ducklings are able to fly.

Gadwall has a staccato grunting call and is 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 a 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.

Canvasback

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 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 is 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 the 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 requires plucking, not breasting.

Gun & Ammo

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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 the 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 the 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 the game you are hunting. 3” in the 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 here

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 blend into 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 & 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 is 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 calls 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

Duck Hunting
Duck Hunting

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 gung-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

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 is 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 the 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 to 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.

Duck Hunting
Duck Hunting

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

Tips & Tricks

• Ducks can be picky and spook easily. They can see well and have a 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 tailwinds. 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.

Conclusion

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.

Proper Technique for Shooting Semi-Auto Pistols

There is a Right Way to shoot…

Going to the gun range in the Wildlife Management Area or the local chirt-pit is always an interesting experience. You never know what you’ll see. Sometimes you see Military veterans who are an excellent marksman with their long-distance rifles. Sometimes you see older men teaching their grandchildren with .22’s putting holes in pumpkins. And sometimes you see good ol’ boys having a great time shooting shotgun casings off of the fence post. Everyone I have met there is passionate about gun safety, conservation, proper land management, and our constitutional freedoms.  But something I have learned from watching his vast array of people – proper shooting technique is critical if you want to shoot well.

We have all seen the YouTube videos of people getting knocked down when they shoot a gun. This is all because the shooter didn’t know what they what they were doing. They are using improper shooting technique, so the force of the felt recoil knocks them off balance. This doesn’t have to happen.

I love to watch trick shooting competitions. Gerry Michalek makes it look so easy. Watching the competitions is not only awe-inspiring, but it is highly educational. I can’t do much yet, but I can shoot the Annie Oakley Trick (standing backward, shooting over your shoulder, holding a hand mirror) with a .22 revolver. One day I’ll be able to do more.  Until then, I’ll keep on reading articles about technique, watching the Great Marksmen, and practicing.

Please keep in mind, these recommendations are for target shooting, not necessarily the same tactics used in defensive situations. I can’t recommend enough the value of defensive shooting training. If you carry to protect your loved ones, get the training. It’s an invaluable tool that can keep your loved ones safe when every second counts.

Safety First

Always assume the gun is loaded. Everyone needs to be taught gun safety – even children. Never point the gun at anything you are not willing to shoot; make sure the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction. Never put your finger on the trigger until your ready to shoot.

Keep your eyes and ears protected. Always.

While practicing the correct grip and stance – its best to go ahead and be standing at the range and facing downrange. Make sure the gun is empty. Remove the magazine – no, it’s not a “clip” –  and pull back the slide a few times to ensure that the chamber is empty. Lock the slide open and reinsert an empty magazine. Release the slide so that it can go forward. Now you’re ready to dry fire!

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Body Position

Breathing is one of the most underutilized aspects of shooting. Learning to breathe slowly, and deep. Timing your breath with your heartbeat and at the stillest moment in your body, pull the trigger. That respiratory pause is a moment when your chest muscles are completely relaxed. Remember, tension anywhere but your wrists and hands will ruin accuracy. Some trainers will tell pistol shooters to inhale as they raise their pistol to the target, hold their breath as they squeeze the trigger, and exhale during the follow through. I’ve tried both, but I prefer shooting during the natural respiratory pause – this method will carry over rifle shooting, shotgun, and archery.

There are three main standing shooting stances, the Isosceles, the Weaver and the Modified Weaver. From what I’ve seen in competition shooting, most of “the Greats” use the Isosceles. You should stand comfortably, your shoulders relaxed. You won’t shoot well being really stiff or tense in your shoulders. Keep your arms fully extended, when possible, but not locked.

Some trainers will tell you to stand a little sideways with one leg way out in front of you – but you will actually hinder yourself if you do this. It limits your range of motion. Stand squarely facing your target. One foot can be slightly in front, but not much. Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart. Your knees can bend just a little – don’t let them lock up.
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Your shoulders need to be forward. Its a fairly natural stance. Don’t hunch your shoulders up or duct your head down. Stay relaxed and lean forward slightly. Keep them in front of your hips. Never lean backward. Shooting properly with a pistol requires you to stand slightly leaning forward. Your weight has to have a forward bias in order to counteract the felt recoil. If the felt recoil throws off your balance, lean forward a smidgen more. This allows you to have more control over the gun, to prevent muzzle rise, and to get back on target.

You’ll want to bring the gun up to your dominant eye. Don’t turn your head. This needs to be as natural and automatic of a stance as possible. If you don’t bring the gun up to your dominant eye, you’ll hunch your shoulders or tilt your head – and that’s altogether just too much movement.

A Firm Grip

Proper grip is key to making sure the muzzle stays pointed at the target. The more upwards rise in your muzzle, the more time it takes to get back on target. Also, if your muzzle rises while your bullet is still exiting the barrel, it will throw off your accuracy.

The grip is another one of those areas that a great many shooters will disagree with. Judging from experience as well as from listening to numerous YouTube interviews of competition shooters – some grip techniques are better than others.

Keep both hands on your gun. This will give you tighter groupings as you have more control over the gun. Don’t use your non-dominant hand to brace your wrist, or hold the bottom of your gun grip – that’s called Teacupping and it serves absolutely no purpose at all. Your non-dominant hand serves as a vital stabilizer. If your non-dominant hand is not pretty tired from a long day on the range, you’re not using it enough.

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Make sure the center of the frame of your gun lines up along the center of your arm – along with the Ulna bone. This helps the recoil to be centrally and directly back so that it is more easily managed and you stay on target better.

Your non-dominant hand is to cover as much as the exposed area of the side of the grip as possible. This is very important. Recoil moves along the path of least resistant – so the more control you have over the movement of your gun, the less felt recoil and the more accurate you will shoot. Your non-dominant hand is slightly more forward on the gun than your dominant hand.

Your elbows need to be relaxed, but not floppy. Not locked either. They need to be secure. Hold your pistol with a very firm grip – a little stronger than a good strong handshake. This is not a death grip. There is no need in holding it so tight that your hand shakes. A firm grip reduces the amount of movement your non-trigger fingers will have – which is better for accuracy.

Your wrists need to be locked over center, and you press inward with both hands holding your gun in place. Like Gerry Michalek says, “Don’t noodle” – the front of your gun can’t wobble. You need to be aware of, and in such control of each movement, your gun makes that it is like an extension of your hand. This comes from pressing from your wrists to hold the gun firmly on target. It feels awkward at first – keeping very firmly on center without tensing up in your arms and shoulders.

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You’ll want your thumbs to be on the same side as your non-dominant hand. Your thumbs will point generally towards the target. They don’t really do much, just sit over there out of the way.  Your non-dominant fingers have a bit of wiggle room too. They can be over or under the trigger guard – this preference can vary between the way various pistols fit your hand. Whichever one ensures you have a solid grip, one that allows you to naturally hold the gun on target.  Do keep your thumbs still – if you tend to rotate your thumb as you pull the trigger, it will cause you to miss your target in the direction you rotate your thumb. This grip error is called thumbing.

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Grip your gun so that the webbing between your thumb and trigger finger is as high up on the grip as possible. The lower in your hand the action sits, the more straight back into your arm the felt recoil will travel. This helps to control muzzle travel and reduces the snappiness of felt recoil. This interesting rule of physics is one of the main thoughts behind the design of the pistol called the Rhino. Ugly gun – but great engineering.

Aligning Your Sights

“Aim small, miss small” is the mantra my Grandaddy said when he was teaching me to shoot. Don’t just aim for the large red bulls-eye. Look at the center speck in that bullseye. Aim for that.

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Sight Alignment is dependant upon your firearm being properly sighted in. If you are shooting really tight groupings at the 5- yard line, but then at the 20-yard line they are significantly off center – it may be wise to talk to your local gunsmith.

Just to clarify, sight alignment is simply the relationship between the front and rear sights of the handgun. If the top of your front sight is not perfectly level with the top of your rear sight, then you will be shooting either too high or too low. And if your front sight does not have an equal amount of air-space on either side showing through, then you will be shooting to the left or right of your target.

These two variables lined up correctly creates an accurate Sight Picture. If you are shooting and the target is just littered with holes and you really can’t tell what you’re doing wrong – your probably focusing too much on the target instead of the front sight. When you are focused on the front sight, the rear sight and the target will be slightly blurred. This blurring of the target throws off a lot of new shooters.

Pulling the Trigger

Pulling the trigger is different from mashing or squeezing the trigger. A controlled, deliberate, methodical, straight back pull is what you need to do. If you mash or squeeze, you will move your gun and throw off your sight picture.

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You will need the center part of your index finger to be centrally on the trigger. Not the tip. Not the first knuckle as shown in the photo above. The padding directly under your nail bed is what needs to be centrally on the trigger, which is parallel to the gun’s frame. This portion of your finger is called the Distal Phalanx. If you are off center, your gun will pull to the left or right.

If too much of your finger is on the trigger, it’s called snatching. It will cause you to hit to the side of your target. If you’re right-handed, you will hit to the right of your target. If too little of your finger is on the trigger, it’s called pushing. This will cause you to hit to the other side of your target. Another common issue is heeling. This is when you squeeze the bottom of the grip too hard as you depress the trigger, sending it slightly forward. This will cause you to hit slightly above your target.

Don’t anticipate the recoil. Allow yourself to be surprised by the sound of the gun firing.  If you anticipate the recoil, your front sight will drop as you depress the trigger. Stay focused on your front sight as you depress the trigger.

Follow Through

Follow through is critical. It is what allows the projectile to completely exit the muzzle, and remain faithfully on target. It is allowing the bullet to exit the muzzle – a pause after you pull the trigger. You maintain sight picture during follow through. Any jerking motions can cause the muzzle to shift as the bullet is exiting and throw off your accuracy.

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It is hard to know if you have any subtle movements – so having a friend stand just outside of your arch of peripheral vision and watch you is helpful. If our friend notices that you have to readjust your gun back into position instead of the gun falling into a natural point of aim.

Trigger reset is what happens when after a shot is fired, the slide has slid back, the spent cartridge ejected, the slide comes forward, a new round is chambered and the trigger moves back to the front. On many firearms, the trigger may not have to go all the way forward in order for it to be reset and ready to fire. Some Glocks reset just shy of being all the way forward, you’ll know it when you feel it click.

If you hold your finger just forward of the reset, you’ll have a shorter trigger pull and can fire off the next round much faster – and in competition shooting, timing is crucial.  Dry firing will help you learn where your trigger break is.

Follow through allows you to be ready to accurately fire a follow-up shot. You are already on target and don’t have to waste valuable seconds correcting your sight picture. This is vital to not only competition shooting, but for self-defense purposes. It is impractical to anticipate that ONE single shot will stop whoever is attacking you.  You have to be diligent and prepared – and a big part of that is correct follow through.

Conclusion

When shooting, keep it simple. It all boils down to remain relaxed, have a proper sight picture, pull the trigger, and follow through.

So why not head on over to your local gun range and practice? Practice is the only way to improve! Don’t just shoot to burn through ammo – make a conscious effort to make each motion be deliberate, each shot a learning experience.

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Five Dog Breeds that Rock at Hunting

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Hunters and their dogs have an amazing bond. When in action, they partner together in a smooth and seamless dance. Each one reading the motions of the other to function smoothly.

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Watching a dog perform the work that he was bred specifically to do, a dog who had those dominant traits honed in with precise training – it’s genuinely a beautiful sight. Every fiber of that dogs being is engaged and devoted to not only hunting but ENJOYING it. And ultimately, that’s one of the reasons why we hunt with dogs. They live for it just like we do.

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There is really not much of a way to determine which dog breed is the BEST at hunting – it’s like comparing apples to oranges. There are many breeds that excel at hunting certain game and there are breeds that are good at working in certain environments. It’s best to research the dog best for whatever type of hunting you plan on doing.

Hunting Dog Breeds

English Springer Spaniel

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The English Springer Spaniel is a small compact dog with a beautiful shaggy coat.  They grow to about 20 inches tall and weigh up to 45 pounds.  Springers have a lush, double coat that is white and brown. The field-bred in this breed differs from the show-bred in that the field-bred tends to be slightly smaller and have more white in their coat. The AKC considers them the very same, though the gene pools have been segregated for over years. The field-bred also tends to have a shorter coat, shorter ears, a more pointy nose. While both are great at hunting, the field-bred will out hunt the show-bred.

Spaniels originated in Spain. There are even accounts in Welsh law documents in 300 A.D. where spaniels were mentioned. There is artwork in the 16th-century artwork of hunting scenes with spaniels that closely resembles the English Springer Spaniel. Then, the spaniels were used to flush out the birds from the dense brush so that the hunter’s falcon could catch the prey. It wasn’t until 1903 that the England Kennel Club had a classification for the breed.

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These dogs were bred with the endurance to enjoy long days in the field. English Springer Spaniels are high energy dogs, but they are not typically considered hyperactive.  This means they don’t make very good house dogs, but they do good with children. They need room to run. When in the field they run across it in a zig-zag pattern with a smooth stride.

They received their name from the way they “spring” at game – flushing it out of hiding. That’s where the Springer Spaniel really shines: flushing out birds that prefer dense cover such as pheasants, bob-white quail, ruffed grouse, and woodcock. They can duck hunt, and retrieve open country birds, but the English Springer Spaniel is phenomenal with pheasant hunting.

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Springers are easily trainable and considered people-pleasers. They love company and participating in family activities. Designed to hunt at close range, typically no more than 30 yards, they do need to be trained on a few command words. English Springer Spaniels can be just as stubborn as a Chesapeake but most tend to be very eager to please and happy to be helping. English Springer Spaniels need a gentle hand in training and they have a tendency to sulk. But like many other high bred hunting dogs, they are known to reach a point in their life where they will test you and in such times a more firm response is recommended. Thankfully, this isn’t often a situation you’ll see a repeat of. But just like other spaniels – they bounce out of their bad moods quickly.

English Springer Spaniels are also used frequently as therapy dogs because of their compassionate eyes and disposition to please. They are great therapy dogs especially for the sick and elderly. My grandparents had an English Springer Spaniel named Champ who was extremely intelligent and loved dove hunting. It was always amazing getting to watch him run.

Chesapeake Bay Retriever

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Chessies are affectionate, sensitive and stubborn. They can get up to 26 inches tall and up to 80 pounds. They are known for their distinctive coat: wavy and oily to the touch. This oil slick helps them to shed water and be able to tolerate cold waters. Their jaws are strong enough to carry heavy game birds and they can be gentle enough to carry an egg. They also have webbed toes. This is an ideal combination for a duck hunters companion. Chessies come in three colors, Brown (of the chocolate variety), Sedge (a reddish brown), and Deadgrass (tan). Their eyes are bright amber.

Chessies are very trainable, but they have a mind of their own so training may take longer with them than with other breeds. They are not overly friendly to strangers and are extremely protective of their owners, which makes them great watchdogs. Chessies are highly intelligent and courageous. Training requires a gentle hand as they surprisingly get their feelings hurt pretty easily.

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Many trainers say that Chessies have to understand why they are doing the task before they will do it – or else their independent streak will take over. The key to training a Chessie is consistency. They are good with children and other animals. Chesapeake Retrievers are determined dogs – they work hard and are quite powerful.

The breed originated in 1807. The story goes that a pair of Newfoundlands were found in an English shipwreck near the Chesapeake Bay. These two dogs bred with other retrievers, English Otterhounds, Irish Setter, etc. After a couple of years, the Chesapeake Retriever was created. in 1878 the breed was recognized by the AKC

Appalachian Coon Hound

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John Byrne of Virginia is the man most responsible for the Appalachian Turkey Dog. Mr. Byrne passed away in 2012. Just over 40 years ago, he bred several great hunting dog breeds and came out with a dog that is considered one of the best dogs for hunting turkey in the world, especially for fall turkey season. The Appalachian Turkey Dog may have feathering on their hindquarters and tail that they inherited from the English Setter. It got its genes for tracking, barking, and chasing from the Plott Hound and has the drive, speed, and stamina from its Pointer ancestors.

Boykin Spaniels and English Setters are often used for hunting turkey, but for many hunters, they can’t hold a candle to an Appalachian Turkey Dog. Though the Appalachian Turkey Dog is not officially recognized by the AKC, it is still worth considering when looking into a hunting dog. The American Wild Turkey Hunting Dog Association does recognize them. Since it isn’t an “official” breed, there are not a lot of stats on the dogs size, but generally they are smaller dogs.

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Turkey Dogs cast ahead, keeping an eye on your position, and find flocks of turkey. When the dog finds the turkey flock, he flushes at them, getting them to scatter. As the dog is getting them to scatter, the hunter sets up where they were gathered. Then the dog comes back and waits patiently while the hunter calls the turkey. Turkeys are social creatures. They want to be in a group and will call one another in an effort to locate each other. The hunter calls and lures the turkey towards the blind so that they can be harvested.

So while the Appalachian Turkey Dog may not be on the AKC registry, if you are an avid turkey hunter, you may do well to consider one of these for your hunting companion.

(Thank you Turkey Trot Acres for the picture of dogs Shot and Kelly!)

Bluetick Coon Hound

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Blueticks are beautiful dogs with a musical baying bark. They are fantastic hunting dogs that do well on nocturnal hunts. They can grow up to 27 inches tall and weigh up to 80 pounds. They got their name from the “ticked” or mottled black and blue coat pattern.

The breed began with General George Washington. He recieved 5 hounds from the Marquis de Lafayette. These dogs were Grand Gascon Saintongeois and Grand Bleu de Gascogne. They bred and then later were mixed with the fast running English Foxhound to create what we know as the Bluetick around 1900. It wasn’t until 1945 that they were recognized as a breed by the AKC.

Blueticks excell at night time hunting with thier sharp eyesight. They can track in bad weather just as good as pleasant weather. They have an unshakable tracking instinct. Though slower than other types of hounds, their determination and instinct to chase stands out. The Bluetick is fantastic at finding game on trails thought to have “gone cold.”

Interstingly Blueticks not only bay when they tree their prey, but they bugle throughout the hunt. Hunters can learn what each of their distinctive calls mean to know how to partner with his hound better when hunting. Blueticks are aboslutely fearless and will even pursue bear.

When training a Blueetick, they are headstrong and a little obstinate like other hounds – so strong consistency is key. They are highly intelligent and are good at figuring things out. All hounds have a bit of a sense of humor – they can be slighly clumsy and always want to know “what’s in it for them” during training. But the Bluetick on average is less clumsy than some other hound breeds. Blueticks are deeply devoted to thier owners and are quite affectionate. They tend to be wary of strangers but do well with children. They tend to not do well with smaller pets. Like all working-dogs, they need to have their energy used or else they find ways of getting into trouble.

German Short-haired Pointer

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German Shorthaired Pointers are often called regal looking. They have friendly dark eyes and their coat can come in Liver, Black, Roan with white. They can grow up to 25 inches tall and weigh up to 70 pounds. They were bred with a great deal of endurance, and speed. They are extremely loyal dogs who develop a deep bond with thier owners.

The breed developed in the 17th century in Germany. They are a cross between German tracking hounds, a Spanish Pointer, and an English Foxhound. They have an extroidinary keen sense of smell. in 1925 Dr. Charles Thornton brought the breed to American and began breeding them.

The German Shorthaired Pointer makes a great family pet. They do well with other pets, children and even do well indoors – as long as they received daily excersize to burn off thier high energy levels. They learn fast and are relatively easy to train. German Shorthaired Pointers have a strong prey drive and retrieve well. They also point beautifully.

An all around versatile hunting dog, one that is said to almost “hunt straight out of the box.” They remain one of the main dog breeds in various hunting contests. It will hunt upland gamburds, waterfowl, and even rabbits and other small game. The German Shorthaired Pointer is quite brave and will track wild boar, fox, and even a wounded deer.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

elderberry

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

Conservation

“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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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