Mountain lions

There are an estimated 30,000 mountain lions in the western United States. They are also called Cougars or Pumas. Mountain lions are not actually closely related to lions, though called lions by Christopher Columbus, the puma is in an entirely different genus. Mountain lions are known scientifically as Puma concolor. They are in the subfamily felinae, rather than the subfamily pantherinae. They are the fourth largest of the cat species weighing in at over 200 lbs and measuring over seven feet long.

Mountain lions are extremely fast. They can jump to forty feet when running and leap fifteen feet up into a tree. They travel around ten miles an hour, sprint up to fifty, and can scale a twelve-foot fence. They walk silently – so silent that it is almost eerie, thanks to the fur on the bottom of their feet.

In the 19th century, a French naturalist coined the mountain lion the “Cuguar” which was a combination of two indigenous terms used to describe the Jaguar (which is a different species and overlaps widely with the Puma) and this term eventually became Cougar. Puma is a word in Peruvian Quechua that means “powerful animal”

The Puma has been called many other names. The Cree Indians called it “Katalgar”, meaning “Greatest of Wild Hunters” and the Chickasaw Tribe called it “Ko-Icto” which means “Cat of God.” The early American colonists used the term “catamount” or “panther”, or colloquial variant “painter.” The puma is also called Ghost Cat because of how rarely they are encountered, and when they are it is for a brief couple of seconds – they vanish in a flash. Even the biologists researching them in the Santa Cruz Mountains have said that it is extremely rare for them to see one in the wild.

In the southeast, the Florida Panther resides and is critically endangered with less than one hundred in number and is the subject of a pretty hot debate. The Eastern Mountain Lion is considered extinct and the Florida Panther is supposed to only inhabit a few small regions in the Florida panhandle. Also, there has been no officially documented black mountain lion. But a great many hunters have seen big cats in the east, me included. I have seen two black panthers and three brown, and know several other people personally who have encountered them.

Mountain lions are highly territorial a solitary animals. Males can have ranges up to five hundred square miles in some areas. It is not surprising that so few people have encountered them in the wild. They are secretive and extremely wary. The stealthy panther is quite possibly the most elusive game in North America.

Mountain lions are almost always brown. They are extremely quiet, until they scream. They do not have the ability to roar. While many animal rights activists are demanding that the Western Mountain Lion be moved to the endangered list – they are quite wrong. Their numbers are strong and the species is highly adaptable. They thrive in territories as far north as the Canadian Yukon and as far south as the Andes Mountains. They have the widest range of any land mammal in the Western Hemisphere.


There are only a few states that allow panther hunting. Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota (for residents only), Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. In all states, it is  a requirement that enough tissue is left on the skin to identify the cats gender for documentation by officials. Make sure you prop the mouth open before rigor mortis sets up, the wildlife officials have to collect a tooth for research. Remember that spotted kittens and spotted kittens with their mothers are highly protected and must not be harvested.

When hunting for mountain lions, you need a good pack of dogs and its ideal to have a guide. Cougars have such a broad territory range that you can’t really set up over water and they won’t be baited. In most states, using electronic calls is illegal, but calling can occasionally work. The mountain lion tag holder must be present when the dogs are released and present at all times during the chase.

Using a guide is highly beneficial – it’s their job to know where the cats are most likely to be. And the guide will help you to find tracks using horses or snowmobiles with spotlights. Hunting mountain lion is a long ordeal. It can take hours of searching for tracks. Then you release the hounds onto the tracks for them to get the scent. The dogs run off in search of their quarry. You and your guide will follow along. Following the dogs can take hours as well. Once the dogs tree the cat you have to get their pretty quick or the cat may escape.


Five of the Top Game to Hunt in the Southwest

The Southwest is surprisingly varied in its diverse landscape – which offers a great many opportunities for a wonderful hunting trip. For many hunters, especially those of us in the Eastern part of the country, a Southwest Hunting Trip would be a dream come true simply because of how vastly different it is from anything we have over here.

You can spend time on the prairie looking for Pronghorn Antelope, or tracking Mule Deer through a canyon that looks like it’s straight out of an old Roy Rodgers movie. You can even be in a thick, wooded forest calling Elk. There are millions of acres of public land to hunt on in the Southwest – Colorado alone has 23 million acres. While there are a lot more game species available – here is a list of some game that you want to make sure you don’t miss!

Five of the Top Game to Hunt in the Southwest:

Mule Deer

Mule deer are common throughout most of the western states. They were named for their large ears that resemble a mule’s ears. The tails of mule deer are black tipped. They are much larger than the white-tailed deer – standing up to around three feet tall at the shoulder and weighing up to 300 pounds. Mule deer have excellent hearing and eyesight. 

Mule deer are highly sociable creatures. The does will stay in large multi-generation herds and the bucks older than yearlings will form their own smaller groups or stay solitary. In the fall, during the rut, males compete for dominance using their antlers as weapons. Gestation lasts for six to seven months and the fawns are born in the early summer. 

Mule deer are in high numbers particularly in Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Arizona. Their behavior will vary a bit depending upon their location. The mule deer that lives in the grassland will behave a little differently than the mule deer who lives in the desert or mountains. This is important to know before you set out on your hunt. Body size and antler size can also vary a bit depending upon territory.

American Elk

The American elk is also known as “Wapiti,” a Native American word meaning “white rump,” which refers to the color on its hindquarters. Elk tends to get darker in the winter months. The American elk is some of the largest animals in the North American continent and can weigh over 1,000 pounds. The bulls can weigh more than twice that of the cows. They stand on average four or five feet at the shoulder.

American Elk is also highly social animals and live in gangs of up to four hundred members. The bulls loudly proclaim their status by bugling. The cows tend to be attracted to the loudest and most frequent bugles. During the mating season, the bulls will defend their harem from other bulls using their antlers that can weigh up to forty pounds. Elk can live up to twelve years in the wild and will gain three hundred pounds in the first year of life. 

During the breeding season, use the cow call for hunting this game species . It will attract both the herd and solo bulls. If you are just calling with the bull call, it can cause a bull with his harem to flee out of fear of a potential, larger bull. 

Elk hunting is also usually done at much longer distances than the average deer hunter is accustomed to. Some people average that sixty percent of shots were taken between two hundred or four hundred yards. It would be a wise idea to make sure you practice at this distance before going out on a hunt. 

Like other antlered members of the deer family, an elk’s antlers are covered in velvet. The elk’s antlers are the fastest growing antlers in the animal kingdom, growing as much as one inch per day. The velvet is a living organism that has blood pumping through it. This serves a purpose. The blood gets cooled before returning to the heart. It is theorized that this helps an elk to better regulate his body temperature. 

Be prepared to do a lot of walking when hunting this game animal. Their home range can be up to 600 square miles. Also, make sure you plan ahead. After you bring down this heavy creature, you will have to find a way to field-dress it, quarter it, and quickly get it to a cool environment and safely away from bears. 

As you are out walking on this elk hunt, blow the cow call occasionally to mask your noise level. A herd of elk will be much more likely to accept you like a cow and not a hunter. This strategy works during the fall since the cows and calves are chattering a lot.

It is a good idea to be able to distinguish rack size in a flash. When a bull reaches two or two and a half he will have a five-point rack. But just the next year he will have a six-point rack. The dagger is the longest point. If the main beam goes straight back from the dagger its a five-point elk. If there is another point going up behind the dagger its a six-pointer. 

Pronghorn Antelope

The Pronghorn antelope is a beautiful game animal standing about three and a half feet tall. They can weigh up to one hundred and fifty pounds. Pronghorn are reddish brown with white stomach, and some white patches on the throat and face. They have very large eyes that can see 320 degrees around. When startled, they will raise their hair on their rump – this white patch can be seen for miles and serves as a warning to the rest of the herd. 

Fun fact: Lewis and Clark were the first ones to scientifically document Pronghorn Antelope.

The breeding season begins in September. The bucks have gathered their harems and seek to protect them from other bucks who want to wage battles of dominance. The fawns are born in the spring. Does will keep the fawn hidden until he is old enough to join the others in the “nursery” where a group of mothers watch over them. Males will not breed until around three years of age. Pronghorns can live up to fifteen years in the wild. 

Pronghorn can be found throughout western and central North America. They prefer grassland regions but will also be found in the desert. They eat all manner of plants, even cacti. 

During the rut, the bucks are abnormally curious and extremely territorial. This is what makes the young buck decoys rather effective. You can also hunt them without decoys – often hunters will crawl up to a herd and take their pick. Trophy status horns begin around 16 inches. To help you gauge this from a distance, the buck’s ears measure just slightly under six inches.

You need to find a buck whose horn base is at least as massive as the circumference of his ear. The mass needs to be sustained up the horn and well past the prong too. By culling the herds of these older bucks, the younger ones have a better chance at mating. This helps to diversify the gene pool and to weed out the older more potentially defective genes.

Pro tip: find a fence. Antelope don’t like to jump fences and you can use that fence as a border to help predict the herd’s movements. 

Bighorn sheep

There are only two species of wild sheep in North America with large horns: Dall Sheep and the Bighorn, of which there are three living sub-species. Bighorn sheep are gregarious creatures. Most often they will form herds of around ten individuals, but they can form massive herds of up to one hundred.

The rams will form their own herds that stay apart until mating season. Around two years old, males will leave the mothers group and wander around in search of a ram group. Since they are so sociable, this is a difficult time for rams and it is not unusual to see a young ram in a herd with another species out of loneliness until he finds a suitable herd of rams.

Rams have massive horns that curl back around their ears and up again past their cheeks.  By the time a ram is seven, his horns will have a full curl and can be thirty-three inches in length and can weigh over thirty pounds. Rams can weigh more than three hundred and fifty pounds. Ewes are smaller, only weighing up to two hundred and fifty, and can have small horns. Bighorn sheep have excellent eyesight, hearing, and sense of smell. Horns are used by both sexes for eating and for fighting. They fight by ramming their heads together at speeds of up to forty miles an hour. The sound can be heard a mile away.

Bighorn sheep live in the western mountain ranges of North America. They can climb steep terrain – though not quite as agile as the mountain goats. They can travel on ledges only two inches wide. These sheep are a very important food source for many natural predators. They browse on clover, grass, sedges, willow, sage, holly and even cacti. 

Sheep are Ruminants, meaning they have a complex four-chambered stomach that allows them to eat large portions of grass very quickly before they have to quickly retreat to ledges where they will digest their food. The sheep absorb moisture from grass and can go a long period without drinking water. 

The Bighorn sheep is an excellent example of the vital role the hunter plays in conservation. By 1900 the population had diminished to only a few thousand, and one of the subspecies was driven to extinction. Thanks to the conservation movement started by President Roosevelt, the Bighorn sheep is doing better. They are still under threat – particularly by the lack of separation between the wild bighorns and the domestic sheep and goats. 

It is hunters, not taxes, that pay for bighorn sheep conservation and the restoration efforts. The funds come from the tags and hunting license. At the Wild Sheep Foundation’s convention each January, hunting permits are auctioned off to the highest bidder. Most of these go for over $100,000. This is for a SINGLE hunting permit. That is enough to recover 10 sheep into an area that hasn’t seen a wild bighorn sheep in decades. That’s a lot of money going to secure the survival of the species! The older males are the ones targeted. They are at the end of their reproductive lives and are the most susceptible to illness. Harvesting these older rams is healthy for the entire herd. 

Barbary Sheep, Aoudad

The Barbary sheep are an aggressive, invasive species that is a serious threat to the bighorn sheep and mule deer because of competition for food vegetation. They are also a threat to the wheat farmers – though not currently listed as significant agricultural pests. However, if you ask the wheat farmers in the Southwest, there are a great many stories of how damaging the aoudad is to the crop. These sheep are native to North Africa and were introduced to Texas and New Mexico in the 1940’s. There, they have flourished. 

 They can grow to over three feet tall and over three hundred pounds. Barbary sheep are brown in color and get darker with age. The rams horns grow upwards and backward and get can twenty inches long. 

Barbary sheep can be difficult game to hunt because you will most likely have to walk up and down hills and take a long shot. However, not only is it extremely beneficial for the environment to harvest these sheep – it can be an opportunity to bag a sheep for the average hunter. While the hunter’s dream may be to be able to bag a Bighorn, for most hunters that is just simply out of the price range to even enter the high stakes drawing. But a Barbary sheep can offer a similar hunting experience. That’s why Barbary sheep is quite possibly the most underrated big game trips in the country. 

Unique Game in the Southwest

Mountain lion

Mountain lions can be found throughout the United States, but for conservation purposes, they can only be hunted in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, the Dakotas, Utah, Texas, Washington, Wyoming, and Oregon. South Dakota only allows residents to hunt these cats. In most states, using electronic calls is illegal. Spotted kittens or females with spotted kittens are highly protected.

Mountain Lion hunting is vastly different from other types of game animal hunting. You have to use dogs. Cougars are not baitable and you cant set up a stand near water to wait for them. You have to go to an area where cats are known to be, scout for tracks (which can take hours and involve a lot of traveling) and get the dogs on his scent. It can take hours more at this point too. Once the dogs tree the cat, you must get to the tree before it escapes. It is best for most hunters to go with a guide on a mountain lion hunt.

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, a 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:

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.

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.

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.

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% 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 an 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.

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 a 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


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 a 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

Feral Pig

The wild boar or feral pig has become quite a detrimental nuisance in the Southeast. Pigs will destroy a 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.


The Nursery Dilemma

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


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

– Yes, we are sure.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Yes, its dreadfully hard – but so worth it.

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


Duck Hunting: An Introductory Guide

By: M. Ashley Evans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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