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The Buck With The Hairy Eyeballs


The buck with the hairy eyeballs tested positive for EHD. (EHD/)

It sounds like something out of a horror movie: a whitetail buck with hairy eyeballs. No joke. That’s what the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency discovered when a hunter reported a deer on the agency’s “Report Sick Deer” button of its website. The TWRA added the feature so hunters and citizens could report deer acting strangely, in an effort to curtail Chronic Wasting Disease and other diseases.

Lindsay Thomas with the National Deer Association gives a pretty harrowing account of this deer on the NDA site. Blood or weird stuff usually doesn’t bother me, but I have to admit that these photos freaked me out. I’m unsure if Wes Craven or M. Night Shyamalan could come up with this.

Read Next: Weird Deer

The deer was spotted in August 2020 near Farragut, a suburb of Knoxville in east Tennessee.

“The individual stated the deer was circling (in a street), had visible bleeding, lacked awareness of the people around it, and had something on its eyes,” wildlife biologist Sterling Daniels of TWRA said.


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Best Snowshoes: Backcountry Gear for Any Level


A good pair of snowshoes will get you through a steep alpine hike or a snowy family outing. (Pcdazero / Pixabay/)

If you can walk, you can snowshoe. That’s how the saying goes. So it’s possible that finding the best snowshoes for you might actually be more daunting than the powdery terrain you plan to traverse. Sure, if you’re in survival mode out in the woods, you could fashion yourself a nifty pair of emergency shoes for snow and stomp your way to safety. After all, versions of wooden snowshoes have been around for thousands of years for the simple purpose of helping humans displace their weight when traveling through deep snow. But today, no matter if you want family fun or alpine adventure, you need not settle for snowshoes made of sticks or leaves. Whether you’re looking for the best snowshoes for beginners or top backcountry snowshoes, whether kids’ snowshoes or a pair of running snowshoes, we’ve done the legwork for you. Here’s all you need to know when shopping for the best snowshoes, so you can save your energy for your next climb.

Best Snowshoes for Men (Family Outings): Tubbs Flex VRT Snowshoes

Best Snowshoes for Women (Family Outings): MSR Lightning Ascent

Best Kids’ Snowshoes: Tubbs Kids’ Snowflake Snowshoe

Best Snowshoes for Beginners: MSR Revo Trail Hiking Snowshoes

These snowshoes have an ergonomic design, are simple to use, and are equipped for technical climbs. Tubbs
Built for big climbs, these MSRs are also perfect for moms who don’t want to lose a step on leisurely outings with the kids.
If you want to get your youngster excited about winter adventure, these colorful Tubbs are outstanding.
Rugged, durable and with just enough bite, these MSRs will give you confidence as you start your snowshoeing adventures.
At less than 3 pounds a pair, these Northern Lites can carry up to 250 pounds, while still floating above the powder.
Aggressive traction features give you all the bite you need for steep climbs.
The sleek shape and spring-loaded suspension in these Atlas snowshoes provide everything you need to sprint on snow.
If all you need is a set for short walks a few weekends a year, at less than $100, these are the best cheap snowshoes out there.

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The Best Machete to Cut, Slash, and Bash through Anything


Machetes are wielded in rough conditions, so make sure the one you get will stand up to tough use. (Traphitho / Pixabay/)

Take a look at the market for machetes and you’ll see just how many choices are out there. It can be confusing. What’s the difference between a Kukri and a Parang? What use is a curved end on a machete? Does it matter whether a blade is made of stainless steel or carbon steel? Do you need to use the machete in the event of a survival situation, or simply to chop through some tall weeds and brush in your yard?

The good news is, machetes in general are very affordable, so you won’t drop a bundle making a very good choice. The challenge is zeroing in on the right tool for the job.

Best All-Around Machete: Gerber Gator Machete

Best Machete for Tall Grass and Briars: Condor Tool & Knife El Salvador Machete

Best Machete for Camping: Gerber Gator Kukri Machete

A well-balanced tool, this proven machete has a perfect 18-inch length and multiple cutting surfaces.
Built on the lines of a classic Latin American machete, this perfectly balanced blade will eat through that yard you haven’t mowed in a month.
Campers need a high-quality machete that will work from sunup to sundown in a variety of tasks.
Machetes are hard-use tools, and while you should always take care of your machete, a corrosion-resistant blade will last practically forever.
Sometimes you just need to wade into the ugly stuff and start swinging. A parang-style machete is the perfect tool when paired with hand protection that will keep you working all day long.
When it all comes down to you, your survival skills, and the tools at hand, you’d better put your fingers around a serious survival machete.
Don’t be fooled by the edgy design, with the perforated blades and sweeping edge geometry. This is a solid performer at a great price.

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Why the Gauge of Your Shotgun Doesn’t Matter on Gamebirds


Quail, woodcock, and snipe can be harvested with any gauge. Lighter loads make the difference. (Tom Keer/)

In my younger days, my buddies and I always went to a bar after work. Every now and then we’d get into arguments with a bar fly—from politics to our favorite bird gun—and suddenly were all in a fight. If none of us got thrown out, then we’d all shake hands, pull up a chair, and have another drink. These days, those fights still happen, but they’re on social media—and they never seem to end well. Last fall, I saw a basic question go sideways. Someone asked, “What gauge shotgun should you use on grouse and woodcock?”

The initial responses were mundane, and tame. Some suggested a 20-gauge, others a 28 or even .410. Things heated up when someone chimed in about a 16-gauge, but heavens to Betsey did it pour over when someone mentioned they shot a 12: “How can anyone use a 12-gauge cannon for a such a small bird?” Venom spewed, and everyone got hacked off.

The truth is that the gauge of the gun you are shooting doesn’t make a difference. Shot size, the charge weight of the shotshell you are shooting, and how the shotgun is choked are what matter. This is going to get technical—and won’t have much application for a bird hunter who just wants to buy a box of upland shells off the shelf and get on with his life—buy I’ve been hand-loading my own shells for years and can tell you that shooting a grouse or woodcock with a 12-gauge is fine, as long as it is loaded with the proper ammo.


Although different gauges, these loads are all the same and deliver 307 pellets of #8 shot. (Tom Keer/)

Do the Math, with Help from Reloaders

You can shoot woodcock with a 12-gauge and wild turkeys with a 28-gauge if you use the correct load. A picture is worth a thousand words, so take a look at the accompanying photo above of a box of 12-, 16-, 20-, and 28-gauge shells. Though their gauges are different, their payloads (the number of pellets in each shell) are identical. Here’s why.

Although different gauges, these loads are all the same and deliver 307 pellets of #8 shot.
Don’t just reach for a shell. Grab on to the right shell.
Lars Jacob will shoot any shotgun, but he's a fan of the 28-gauge.

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Huge Pennsylvania Crappie Nearly Breaks Record


Dan Wielobob’s giant Pennsylvania crappie weighed more than 4 pounds! (Darl Black/)

After getting his COVID-19 vaccination and returning home, Dan Wielobob almost decided to stick around the house instead of going ice fishing for a few hours like he normally does. As any angler knows, though, you can’t catch anything if you don’t go.

Wielobob’s decision to hit the ice resulted in a near-record crappie, the biggest he’s ever seen.

Wielobob lives in northwest Pennsylvania on Lake Conneaut, the largest natural lake in the state. He and his wife drove to a clinic in Ohio that morning to get their virus vaccinations. Conneaut is iced, but he decided to drive over to nearby Lake Wilheim. After arriving about 4 p.m. he cut a hole and began working a maggot-tipped tungsten jig near the bottom.

Read Next: Four Tips For Fall Crappies

Wielobob is no rookie on the ice or open water. In 60 years of angling he’s caught plenty of crappies, walleyes, and other species. The late-afternoon outing started off well with consistent bites from 9 to 10-inch crappies. Then, a 15-incher hit and came to hand. Not a bad trip, he thought.


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Want to Plant the Ultimate Survival Garden This Spring? You Better Start Planning Right Now


There’s a growing interest in the old-fashioned heritage skills of gardening, foraging and living “off the land” these days. (Tim MacWelch/)

It takes a lot more than a pack of seeds and a shovel to enhance your food security with a backyard survival garden. You need a solid, practical plan. Maybe you’ve never planted a single seed before, or maybe you’ve been working in the family garden since you were old enough to walk. Either way, there’s work you should be doing right now, even if the ground is frozen. You can start planning ahead.

Look Back to Gardening History Before Looking Ahead

Many Americans planted “Victory Gardens” during World War I and II, with the goal of increasing the nation’s food supply. In 1943, for example, there were more than 20 million war gardens in the U.S. The need and interest were there, and the citizenry responded. This patriotic planting produced an estimated 8 million tons of food, which was nearly half of the food consumed that year in the nation.

Jumping forward to last year, Americans responded to a crisis once again by rolling up their sleeves and getting dirt under their fingernails. For those who were paying attention to the self-reliance boom that took place at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may have noticed that a lot of stores ran out of basic gardening supplies and seeds. This spring, supply chains are in much better shape than those at the end of winter and early spring of 2020, but it’s wise to remember those empty shelves. Buy the things you need when they are available. Late winter is a great time to buy seeds and garden supplies. You can get them before the spring rush hits and you’ll have the best selection. If you want to grow the ultimate garden this spring, you don’t want to wait until the resources are “picked over” in late spring.

Scout the Best Survival Garden Location

Without the dressing and bacon bits, no one can survive on salad. Potatoes and other high-calorie foods will add value to your survival garden.
Nothing good grows in a hurry. Make sure your plan includes a realistic time frame within the growing season.
Don’t waste those edible weeds. When you learn about the local wild plant species that are safe for human consumption, they can become bonus food items in your survival garden.

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Best Neck Gaiter: Protection from the Neck Up in Every Season


A fishing neck gaiter for cool weather will block wind and prevent heat from escaping through your top layers. (Narciso Arellano / Unsplash/)

Neck gaiters are versatile pieces of apparel that can help you stay comfortable no matter the conditions you’re facing. During warm days, thin and lightweight neck gaiters can help keep you cool and block harmful UV rays. On frigid days, neck gaiters are an essential piece of winter clothing, keeping you warm by providing insulation that covers your neck, face, and head.

There are several types of neck gaiters on the market today. A traditional neck gaiter is a flexible tube of material that slides over your head and fits around your neck. Unlike a scarf, it has no endings to wrap and unwrap. You can pull this kind of neck gaiter up to cover your face and head. You can even wear it like a headband. Another popular version of a neck gaiter is a balaclava, which includes a built-in head cap. Regardless of which type of neck gaiter you get, the main differences you will find are the material that the neck gaiters are made out of, and the size.

Best Neck Gaiter for Cold Weather: Turtle Fur Double-Layer Midweight Micro Fur Fleece Neck Warmer

Best Merino Wool Neck Gaiter: Minus33 Merino Wool 730 Midweight Neck Gaiter

Best Neck Gaiter for Cool-Weather Fishing: Simms Gore-Tex Infinium Neck Gaiter

The Turtle Fur Double-Layer Midweight Neck Warmer is the standard-bearer for winter comfort.
The Minus33 Merino Wool Midweight Neck Gaiter succeeds in the coldest winter conditions.
The Simms Gore-Tex Infinium Neck Gaiter is windproof, water-resistant, and has specially designed breathing holes.
The RedHead Form Fit Spandex Scent Control Camo Three-Quarter Face Mask will keep you camouflaged.
The Buff Coolnet Uv+ Multifunctional Headwear offers superb sun protection.
This basic neck gaiter is cheap and functional.

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The Browning Citori that Killed 100 Gobblers


Ira McCauley with his Citori and tom No. 100. (Ira McCauley/)

For the better part of three decades, Ira McCauley was on a different kind of turkey quest. Most U.S. hunters are after a Grand Slam, which requires tagging one each of the Merriam’s, Rio, Eastern, and Osceola subspecies. But McCauley, co-owner of Habitat Flats, wanted to kill 100 turkeys with one gun: an old Browning Citori he bought in college while working at a Bass Pro. Most seasons, he shot two Missouri toms, but as he closed in on No. 100, the longbeards became elusive. From 2017 until May 2019, he remained stuck on 98.

“Every spring I would get my turkeys, but then all the sudden there were a few seasons where I didn’t get one,” says McCauley, who did shoot a mouthy jake he thought was a tom during that stretch. “I wanted to get to 100 with this gun. It had a unique story behind it, and I had gone through so much with that old double. I just had to make it happen.”

Read Next: The Ultimate DIY Turkey Gun

He bought the over/under, one of the first Citori lines Browning ever camo-dipped (which they have since stopped, thank God), with his employee discount in the late 1980s or early 1990s while attending the University of Missouri. For a long time, it was the only shotgun he owned, and though it was primarily his turkey gun, McCauley used it for hunting all manner of wild game. McCauley is a former duck and snow goose guide, and the double gun traveled with him from Alaska to the Canadian prairie, and across the continental United States.

Each time he shot a tom, McCauley would drive a brass nail into the stock of the Citori. In total there are 111 nails—now 108 on one side for McCauley, and three on the other for the birds his oldest son Kory, who he hopes will take up the gun one day and keep its legacy alive, has killed.

McCauley had bird No. 100 mounted next to many of the beards from other birds he has shot with the Citori.
McCauley shot bird No. 99 in 2019 after not having killed a tom since the 2017 season.
'McCauley and long-time friend "Big Gun" Bob Shultz with a pair of Kansas gobblers.' data-has-syndication-rights=1

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President Biden’s Order to Protect 30 Percent of the Nation’s Land Could Be a Massive Win for Fish and Wildlife—If Hunters, Anglers, Farmers, Tribes Have a Say


Sportsmen's and women's groups are cautiously optimistic about the president's order to conserve 30 percent of the nation's land by 2030. (John Hafner/)

Among dozens of executive orders President Joe Biden signed his first weeks in office, the one that caught most conservation organizations’ attention was aimed at slowing climate change by conserving wildlands. While Executive Order 14008′s stop on all new oil and gas leasing on federal lands drew the most buzz, another portion, often called 30 by 30, or even 3030, is drawing the most interest from the nation’s sportsmen and women.

The order is to conserve 30 percent of the country’s land and 30 percent of its coastal waters by 2030. Right now, the USGS estimates about 12 percent of the country’s land is permanently conserved and 23 percent of its coastal waters are “strongly protected.” The goal is to conserve more wild land to reduce the effects of climate change (through carbon sequestration) and slow species loss. It coincides with a similar global effort put forth by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

Hunters and anglers have their questions. Where’s the other 18 percent going to come from? And what does “conserved” land actually mean? No one is sure just yet. But here’s what we do know so far.

The effort will be spearheaded by the nation’s Interior, Agriculture, and Commerce departments along with the Council on Environmental Quality. The Department of Interior—which manages more than 440 million acres of public land, largely in the form of National Parks, Monuments, Wildlife Refuges, and Bureau of Land Management land—is not ready to give interviews yet, according to Interior’s press secretary Tyler Cherry. A fact sheet on the Interior’s website states the goal is meant “to safeguard our health, food supplies, biodiversity, and the prosperity of every community.”

Currently the U.S. is losing about a football field of habitat every 30 seconds to development, so adding conserved land that would amass to roughly twice the size of Texas is going to be a challenge.

Wetlands, prairie, and forests will all be part of the 30 by 30 order.
The goal of 30 by 30 is to slow the effects of climate change and species loss.

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Best Shooting Gloves: Handle Your Gun and Trigger with Confidence


The best shooting gloves will allow dexterity, provide good grip, and allow for a good feel of the trigger and other controls. (Josh Danyliw / Unsplash/)

Shooting gloves should be on the top of the list of both hunters and target shooters alike. They do more than protect your hands from repetitive impact. They’ll insulate your hands in cold weather, help hide you from wary animals, and provide an intuitive feel to triggers and safeties. On the range, in the field, or in competition, the best shooting gloves—whether top shelf or budget—will help you hit your mark.

Best Competition Shooting Sports Gloves: PIG Full Dexterity Tactical (FDT) Alpha Gloves

Best Fingerless Shooting Gloves: Mechanix Wear - M-Pact Fingerless Covert Tactical Gloves

Best General Use Shooting Gloves: Caldwell Ultimate Shooting Gloves

Best Shooting Gloves For Hunting: Cabela’s Extreme II GORE-TEX Shooting Gloves

A shooting glove designed for maximum on-target impact, with a single-layer palm for great tactile feel and full protection from wrist to fingertips.
They may be fingerless, but these military style competitive shooting gloves pack tons of protection into a very useful package.
Targeted to general shooters who engage in all aspects of the shooting sports, these gloves provide a great solution for those looking for hunting gloves, competitive shooting gloves, and protection in a single package.
You’ll stay warm, dry, and zeroed in with these hunting-specific shooting gloves.
A touch-screen-capable set of shooting gloves adds fingertip pads for manipulating screens.
These great shooting gloves for hunting provide the grip and protection you need without over-the-top tactical features.

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Best Ice Pick: Get and Keep a Hold


Ice picks come in varying styles designed for specific uses, so choosing the right one for the job is crucial. (TeeFarm / Pixabay/)

Ice picks are crucial pieces of survival equipment during winter. For an outdoor survival enthusiast, having a high quality ice pick could mean the difference between staying alive and meeting your maker. When you’re putting together a winter survival kit made to withstand the harshest conditions, planning an extreme backcountry trek or mountaineering ascent, or just trying to stay safe when you’re ice fishing, you need to include a high-quality ice pick in your arsenal.

There are two different types of ice picks to consider. The standard “ice pick” that might come to mind is a tool made specifically for mountaineering and ice climbing. This kind of ice pick—which is technically called an ice axe—is usually made up with a long, axe-like shaft with an extended metal pick attached to the end of it. This tool is useful for travel on glaciers, steep couloirs, frozen waterfalls, and other kinds of slippery winter terrain. In contrast, an “ice pick” in the ice fishing world is something else completely. Here, an ice pick—or ice spike— is a small pick sheathed in wood or plastic that will allow you to grip into ice to attempt a self-rescue if you’ve fallen into freezing water. Both types of ice picks are tools that could spell the difference between life and death.

Best Ice Pick For An Outdoor Survival Kit: PETZL Summit EVO

Best Ice Pick for Ice Fishing: Frabill Retractable Ice Picks

Best Ice Pick for Winter Hiking: Petzl Glacier

The PETZL Summit Evo is lightweight and nearly indestructible.
The Frabill Retractable Ice Picks are designed to be worn in the sleeves of your coat, so they’re always at hand.
The Petzl Glacier is compact and portable enough for long-distance travel.
The Slinging Rock Bandit Ice Tool is made for ascending sheer walls.
The Ito Rocky Pro Break Ice Axe is affordable and effective.

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Scout Winter Deer Patterns and You Will Find More Shed Antlers


Deer bed closer to feeding areas during the winter. (Jason Tome/)

We know that deer change their patterns throughout the year based on all kinds of factors: caloric needs are a big one, and so is breeding during the rut. During antler casting—when available food is scarce and temperatures drop—deer stick to a strict late-season bedding and feeding routine that you can take advantage of when hunting for sheds.

An efficient bed-to-feed regimen saves deer precious energy that will help get them through the cold winter months. To conserve energy, deer will shift their bedding areas closer to the best late-season food sources.

If you use what we already know about deer’s winter behavior, you’ll find more shed antlers. Focus on bedding areas, high-traffic spots, and food plots (or anywhere else deer may feed or congregate). I hunt in places where I know bucks spend a lot of time, and I’ve found more sheds in these locations than anywhere else. Sure, you can stumble around the woods and luck into a few antlers, but if you’re more calculated in your approach, you’ll have better shed-hunting success.

Focus on the Does

Since deer are in a stricter bed-to-feed routine later in the season, you can guarantee they’ll be eating close to their bedding areas. In fact, it’s not uncommon for deer, especially does, to periodically bed right in a food source. When you see does and fawns feeding, you can bet bucks are close by, and you should search in and around these areas for sheds. These are a good starting point for finding dropped antlers.

Mature bucks are more solitary that does and small bucks, so search for their sheds in seculded places where you find few tracks.
You will find sheds near evergreens, which deer utilize for cover all winter long.

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Man-Eating Crocodile Blamed In Attack On Missing Australian Fisherman


A huge crocodile has been blamed in the death of a Queensland, Australia fisherman. (D_Mz/)

Investigations into the disappearance of a missing Queensland, Australia fisherman resulted in the discovery of human remains inside a 13.8-foot crocodile, according to CNN. The crocodile was caught and killed by the Queensland Department of Environmental and Science (DES). The DES also killed a second, 10-foot crocodile as part of the investigation.

On February 11, Andrew Heard, an experienced 69-year-old angler, failed to return from a fishing trip to Gayundah Creek on Hinchinbrook Island. Unable to reach her husband via radio, Heard’s wife alerted authorities who began a search-and-rescue mission. Heard’s damaged and overturned skiff was found around 2:30 PM on Friday. Two crocodiles were in close proximity to the swamped boat and were killed immediately.

Read Next: Crocodile Attacks Now Being Tracked Worldwide

According to the Queensland Police Acting Inspector Andrew Cowie, “at this stage we can only confirm that we’ve found human remains in the first crocodile.” The examination of the second crocodile has not yet been completed, but since both were in the same area, Cowie said, “I believe that we’ve got two crocodiles involved.”

Crocodile attacks in Australia are rare, but this is the third attack in Queensland in February. Earlier this month, two swimmers, one in Cairns and one in Weipa, survived crocodile attacks. The crocs in those areas were either dispatched by local authorities or relocated to a crocodile farm.


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Wisconsin Rushes Through Late-Season Wolf Hunt


Wolf hunting has been a divisive issue in Wisconsin—and many other states—for years. (Mohamed Hassan/)

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Board (DNR) voted unanimously to allow hunters and trappers a season that runs for the last week of February, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. Wisconsin state law requires that if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not have wolves listed as an endangered species then the DNR must allow wolf trapping and hunting from November through February. USFWS removed the gray wolf from the endangered species list on January 4.

Originally, the DNR rejected the hunt because there was limited time for public input and that Wisconsin’s Chippewa tribes had not been consulted on the hunt, per treaty requirement. However, Hunter Nation, Inc, an advocacy group that supports hunters’ rights, sued the DNR claiming that not holding a hunt violated hunters’ constitutional rights. Despite protest in the form of more than 2,000 received letters, Circuit Judge Bennett Brantmeier ordered the DNR to hold the hunt.

The DNR will issue up to 4,000 permits, with a recommended quota of 200 wolves killed. The state wolf management plan’s goal is to have 350 wolves living outside of tribal reservations. The DNR estimates that there are 1,195 wolves in the state, which is triple the number of wolves called for by the management plan. If filled, the harvest of 200 wolves would reduce the Wisconsin wolf population to 995 which still is more than double the number outlined in the wolf management plan.

The hunt has been a volatile issue for years. Opponents say wolves are too beautiful to kill and are still too scarce in much of the country to be hunted. Native tribes consider them to be sacred.

Proponents say a surplus of wolves on the landscape means predation on livestock, pets, and game animals. In neighboring Minnesota, the Mayor of Grand Marias made headlines when his dog survived a wolf attack last month.


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18 Facts You Didn’t Know About Mallards

Just about every duck hunter loves shooting mallards. We’re obsessed with how they respond to the call, decoy with reckless abandon, hover over the spinners in the early season, and fare at the dinner table. But there’s plenty about the biology of greenheads you don’t know. And to have a full appreciation of the species, you need to. So, I spoke with a few waterfowl biologists to find out more. After talking with some of the foremost authorities on duck biology, I cherish or most beloved bird even more. You will too.

1. Every Mallard is the Same


There's only one species of mallard no matter what continent you shoot one on. (Joe Genzel/)

“Mallards are circumpolar, meaning they occur in the same basic form across the northern hemisphere,” says Dr. Chris Nicolai, chief waterfowl scientist with Delta Waterfowl. That means a mallard in Siberia is essentially the same as one in Saskatchewan, and the one that has adapted to life in Moscow is pretty much the same as the one in Minneapolis. “Mallards are not native to southern hemisphere,” Nicolai points out, “though they have been successfully introduced to New Zealand.”

2. They’re Committed

Evidence suggests that some mallard pairs mate for life. “I see it in the band reports I review,” says Nicolai. “I will sometimes see consecutive numbers on birds collected on the same day, and they are male and female.” He adds: “I once banded a pair of breeding mallards on a wood duck pond we boom-netted. We banded them right with the rest of the wood ducks. Six years later, we netted the same mallard pair.”

Mallard pairs have a low percentage of staying together.
Ducklings have many predators.
Biologists conducting the annual waterfowl survey in Saskatchewan.
Mallards are the only ducks that have a hen limit.
During the summer waterfowl replace their feathers in a process known as molting.

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The Affordable Side-by-Side Shotgun Is Making a Comeback with American Bird Hunters

The dampness of the cellar mixed with the smell of gun oil hit my nose. My eyes caught the fluorescent lights reflecting off blued metal. Well-kept barrels of various brands and models of vintage shotguns stood out in contrast against a worn table. My bank account was about to be sucked dry; I tried not to think about the overdraft fees. The affordable gun I had originally came for fell by the wayside as I shouldered an Italian-built shotgun with a slender English grip. Welcome to the world of side-by-side shotguns.

Until I met my dream shotgun in that cellar, the name Bernardelli was entirely unknown to me. V. Bernardelli closed its doors in 1997, a fact I only learned after researching the Italian manufacturer when an opportunity arose to buy one of their side-by-side shotguns. The truth is that buying used shotguns can be challenging; it’s easy to get burned on the value, plus the advantages of modern side-by-sides become more relevant as our bird hunting culture expands. But if we’re going to understand the resurgence of modern side-by-side shotguns in America, we first must understand their decline.

The Decline of American Side-by-Sides


The popularity of side-by-sides began to slide after World War II. (Project Upland/)

The story of side-by-side shotguns is one that follows the rise and fall of trends. Even before companies like V. Bernardelli closed their doors, the days of buying now-famous American classics, like Parkers and A.H. Fox guns from hardware store walls at affordable prices, were long gone. Many of the factories shuttered by the late 1940s and the rights of those companies were acquired by larger gun manufacturers that would, for the most part, also cease production.

“It started after World War II with the introduction of semi-automatic guns from various manufacturers,” said Jerry Havel, who spent 20 years working in the shotgun business and is now co-founder of the Upland Gun Company. “These manufacturers were able to mass-produce some great shotguns for the hunting market. This new technology made guns more affordable to the general public, so you saw a rapid growth of the outdoor industry. This left the ‘old guns’ in the corner for years.”

You can buy a CZ Bobwhite for less than $700.
AKUS build shotguns that fall between $2,000 and $5,000. That's a reasonable price range for a side-by-side.
AYA used its 4/53 as the model to build a more affordable bespoke side-by-side.
The Fabarm Autumn is new to the U.S. market.
RFM has only brought its side-by-sides to America in the last year.

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The Surge in Gun and Ammo Sales Has Created a Boom in Wildlife Conservation Funding


A look at the spike in Pittman-Robertson funding since it's inception. Data source: USFWS. (Russ Smith /)

We’re more than 10 months into the largest civilian firearms and ammunition buying surge in American history. More than 8 million people bought a firearm for the first time last year and ammunition from .22LR to .300 Win. Mag. is sold out at stores across the country and backordered for months. When the surge will end is uncertain, but here’s one thing that’s absolute: This will all lead to a boom in conservation and wildlife funding in 2021, and beyond.

And this is probably the greatest untold story of the great gun-buying year of 2020. For every sporting arm and box of ammunition sold, there’s an 11 percent excise tax applied that funds wildlife and habitat conservation initiatives (the tax is also applied to archery equipment). There’s a similar 10 percent excise tax on all handgun sales. Those excise tax dollars are distributed to states specifically for conservation work, hunter education and recruitment, shooting ranges, and wildlife research. In short, the more guns and ammo that get sold, the more available money there will be for conservation work.


The purchase of sporting arms and ammunition, as well as handguns and archery equipment, funds wildlife conservation in the U.S. (Natalie Krebs /)

This is all thanks to the decades-old Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, or as it’s better know, the Pittman-Robertson Act, which very well might be entering its glory days. With state governments rattled by budget shortfalls due to COVID-19 and colleges across the country slashing budgets, an injection of cash dedicated to habitat conservation and wildlife research could be more critical than ever. Plus, all those millions of new gun owners are going to need places to shoot and state agencies are trying to capitalize on a renewed interest in hunting to sell more hunting licenses. Pittman-Robertson funding will help with all of that, especially if Americans continue to buy more guns and ammo.

How Gun Sales Create Wildlife Funding

Back in 1937, Democrats Key Pittman and Absalom Willis Robertson wrote a bill that diverted an existing 11 percent excise tax on firearms to the Secretary of the Interior to be distributed to individual states. At the time, those tax dollars had been going to the Treasury. America’s wildlife was struggling to rebound from the population crashes of the late 1800s that came from market hunting and habitat devastation. Legendary conservationist Aldo Leopold had just published his landmark textbook, “Game Management,” and Americans were beginning to understand the nuances of actively managing habitat and wildlife.

The purchase of sporting arms and ammunition, as well as handguns and archery equipment, funds wildlife conservation in the U.S.
An example of Pittman-Robertson revenues, broken down by purchase type, from fiscal years 2007 to 2016. This chart has been adjusted for inflation in 2018 dollars. Source: USFWS.
A map showing two of the factors that contribute to Pittman-Robertson fund allocations, including states' geographic area and licensed hunters. Texas has received more P-R federal aid than any other state ($594 million) because of it’s size and more than one million licensed hunters.
Pittman-Robertson dollars fund wildlife research on everything from turkeys to bighorn sheep.
Concern over an uncertain future has created new gun owners outside of the stereotypical demographic of white, middle-aged, conservative males.

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The Anti-Valentine’s Day Story, from an Armchair Biologist


“Are you saying that geese have a culture?” (Image by Ralf Vetterle from Pixabay /)

My wife has been complaining lately about bursitis in her shoulder. My knees hurt, and it takes me a good mile to warm into any sort of jog.

Over coffee this morning, after exchanging Valentine’s Day pleasantries and inventorying our latest pains, I suggested that we both might be better off with younger, more physically fit, companions. She looked into her mug, then walked to the sink and rinsed it out.

I love my wife more every year. We’ve been married for 24 years this September. You’d think, after all that time, that I’d know when to share my observations and when to keep them to myself. Instead, I tried another angle.

“How does it make sense from an evolutionary perspective that we’d grow old at the same rate? Wouldn’t it make more sense to protect the wisdom gained through all our years by mating with someone more capable of protection and finding food and shelter. Even better at reproducing?”

She looked out the window at the slumping front porch posts—the ones I promised to shore up before the ground froze last fall—the way a chef looks at a hot dog. Then my mind flashed to all those old men I’ve seen at Safari Club conventions, with young ladies hanging on their arms. I tried to recover.

The author and his objectively superior mate.

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New York City Carpenter Tags a 197-Inch, State-Record Buck ... On Long Island

If you drive I-80 east, it’s approximately 430 miles between Niagara County in extreme western New York to Suffolk County on the eastern most tip of Long Island. In terms of deer hunting country, the two regions couldn’t be more different—fertile flatlands to the west and suburban sprawl to the east. Each will now be known for producing state-record bucks during the 2020 bow season. If you want to read about the new nontypical record, check out the story on Field & Stream. This is the story of the biggest typical buck ever take with a bow in New York.

The New No. 1 Typical


Dieter Herbert arrowed a 130 class buck (right) just minutes before shooting one of the biggest typical whitetails in New York history. (Dieter Herbert/)

Dieter Herbert of Huntington, New York, is a self-admitted whitetail addict. This 27-year-old New York City carpenter spends countless days and dollars scouting, planning, and hunting whitetails. He first started hunting at age 16 with his dad, Rick, and that’s all it took to get Dieter Herbert hooked for life.

The suburban tracts of land that he hunts are generally 20 acres or less in size. In Nov. 2019 a giant buck with a split G4 appeared on one his trail cameras. Herbert said that he knew right away that it was a world-class buck and he nicknamed it “Split G4.”


A Suffolk Co. trail cam photo from October. (Dieter Herbert/)

In 2020, Herbert spent countless hours scouting and putting up trail cameras on different tracts of land in an effort to learn the legendary buck’s habits. In August, Herbert built himself a ground blind out of cedar boughs and other brush on a hillside overlooking the mock scrape where Split G4 originally appeared on trail cam. Unfortunately, Split G4 seemed to have disappeared as the buck hadn’t made an appearance of any kind all summer.

A Suffolk Co. trail cam photo from October.
Split G4 showed great mass in 2019.
Split G4’s shed from 2019.

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Scalpers Are Driving Up Ammunition Costs and Contributing to the Ammo Shortage


The shortages of everything from .22LR to .300 Win. Mag. are affecting hunters and shooters nationwide—and scalpers aren't helping. (CCI/)

Just what, exactly, is causing the month’s long ammo shortage and price increases that shooters and hunters are seeing across the country? After a series of interviews and private conversations, it’s clear that the ammunition shortage is not the result of manufacturers dragging their feet. In fact, just the opposite is true: 2020 represented the absolute manufacturing limit of the firearms industry. Many have pointed to the panic-buying mentality of American consumers and, even more acutely, at the opportunists who are buying ammo in bulk and then selling it online at increased prices. But is that happening frequently enough to cause an overall rise in ammo costs and a shortage on store shelves? Let’s take a look.

Understanding Ammo Distributors and Dealers

If we’re going to understand the ammo shortage, we must first understand how ammunition is distributed and sold. Ammunition traditionally flows from a manufacturer’s facility to a distributor’s warehouse, where it’s then dispersed to dealers based on when they placed their orders and the quantity they ordered. I spoke with a large distributor who said that they, just like their competition, are getting the same regular shipments from manufacturers and those shipments are quickly broken down and allocated to dealers based on the timing of their orders. In other words, it’s business as usual. If a dealer was asleep at the wheel and failed to plan, their order is processed when they’re next in the queue. This could contribute to what customers are seeing in their local brick-and-mortar stores, and why some have empty shelves while others are getting pallets of ammunition delivered.

Read Next: Where’s All the Damn Ammo? Federal Premium’s President Has Some Answers

The Impact of Online Retailers

'“Last Friday Target Sports had 9mm Speer Gold Dot and three FMJ Federal Ammunition choices in-stock,” one user recently posted on a forum. “As I received my text saying ‘in-stock’ I logged on to TS and was able to view the four selections and I put the Gold Dots in my order. As I hit the checkout, all four were out of stock."' data-has-syndication-rights=1
Consumers across the country are panic-buying ammunition whenever they can find it, causing shortages for retailers.
Some customers have been stock piling a random assortment of calibers in bulk, leading retailers to implement restrictions on the number of boxes a customer can purchase.
Despite conspiracy theories, the blame for ammo shortages don't rest with manufacturers, who overwhelmingly maxed out their manufacturing capacity in 2020.

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