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man holding duck hunting shotgun

Choosing The Best Duck Hunting Shotgun | 3 Things To Consider

No worse feeling exists in the sport of waterfowl hunting than pulling up to dust a flock of mallards and then… your gun misfires.

I’ve been in that frustrating situation before and I don’t want you to experience the pain I did. 

So, how exactly can you keep this from happening?

Well, it begins with the firearm you select. I’m not here to push one brand over another, but rather to help you find the gun and gauge that best fits you so you can go with it.

What exactly is shotgun “fit?” Scroll down and watch the video near the end of the article to find out!

Does price matter?

dead geese and duck
At the end of the hunt, you want a shotgun that has performed as expected, hopefully resulting in a successful harvest.

I’ve hunted with guys who bought the latest and greatest shotgun on the market only to watch them miss every duck that decoyed. I’ve also hunted with guys who were shooting a “pawn shop special” and they absolutely slaughtered every duck within a mile radius.

So, what was the difference?

Well, one group of guys thought the expensive gun would make them a good shot. The other group knew they needed a gun that they were extremely comfortable shooting in several different conditions.

Simply put, the best shotgun is the one you are most comfortable using.

But how do you figure that out?

Which type of shotgun fits your hunting style?

There are three main types of shotguns. The most popular is the semi-auto, followed by the pump-action, and the over-under. They all come in different gauges and all are solid choices when it comes to waterfowl hunting. I have personally hunted with all three for at least one season each. As I hunted with each, I found there are pros and cons to all.

I prefer to hunt with a 12-gauge shotgun, regardless of the type of shotgun I am shooting. But, enough about me, let’s look at three critical factors in determining the best shotgun for ducks and waterfowl.

The three criteria I used to determine the best type of duck hunting shotgun are as follows:

  • Dependability: How unlikely it is to malfunction in different weather conditions?
  • Ruggedness: How much abuse can it take from being tossed in the back of a truck and dragged through mud all season long?
  • Amount of birds in the blind: That should be pretty self-explanatory. If I was able to shoot more birds with it, I hunted with the firearm more often!

The Most Dependable Shotgun

shotgun and decoy
Part of having a dependable gun is knowing it won’t jam or misfire.

As far as dependability goes, an over-under is going to fire every time the trigger is pulled. A pump-action is going to fire basically every time, as well. The weather conditions are not prone to affect the firing capabilities of an over-under or pump-action.

The semi-automatic shotgun is a different story.

As long as they are clean and lightly oiled in warm conditions, a semi-automatic works great! However, in my experience, when the cold weather hits, semi-auto shotguns tend to become finicky. So, when I need a gun that is dependable, I hunt with a pump-action or an over-under. 

12 gauge shotgun shells
Shotgun types come in different gauges… my personal favorite is the 12-gauge.

The Most Rugged Shotgun

Ruggedness, once again, goes to an over-under or a pump-action. The over-under has so few moving parts that make it such a rugged gun. Now, this does not apply if your over-under is a gun that only comes out of the gun safe to get oiled and then gently placed back in its place. 

The over-under I used was as basic as they are made, perfect for the tough conditions I hunt. A pump-action has a few more moving parts, but in my experience hunting with one, they are just as rugged as an over-under.

The semi-auto shotguns I hunted with were not as rugged as I had hoped they would be, but in recent years semi-auto shotguns have made tremendous strides in ruggedness. 

The Most Deadly Shotgun

The most critical factor is the number of birds the firearm helps bring down cleanly.

semi automatic shotgun and black lab
Semi-automatic shotguns give you the ability to fire 3 shots rapidly, but may also lead the shooter to rush the shot.

The semi-auto shotguns are outstanding when I need to fire off all three shots quickly, but I have a tendency to rush my shot. That is my fault, not the firearm!

When hunting with a pump-action, I am forced to slow down just enough to be much more accurate and add more birds to my limit.

The over-under shotgun I hunted with drastically fell short because it lacked the third shot I was familiar with. My friend, Jason Cruise, claims the third shot is a wasted shot more often than not.

I would disagree.

Yes, many times by the third shot, the birds are out of range. However, when the ducks are back-flapping in your face, that third shot is a huge advantage. Every hunt I am on, I will consistently shoot all three shells in a single volley. When I hunted with my over-under, I desperately missed having that third shot. 

So, what exactly is “shotgun fit” and how do you get the right fit for you? Check out this video to find out.

And, the best shotgun type is…

As I mentioned above, all three shotgun types have their pros and cons. However the one that stands out the most is the 12 gauge pump-action shotgun.

The pump-action shotgun is a workhorse. It is not anything fancy but it consistently gets the job done. Time after time, adding birds to the limit. No matter the weather conditions, a pump-action shotgun will deliver what it promises… three shells. 

Why the Pump-Action Shotgun is the Best

The reasons I choose to hunt with a pump-action shotgun over the other two styles are because a pump-action is typically more dependable than a semi-auto, it is extremely rugged, and I shoot more birds with a pump-action than an over-under. 

I admit I am extremely tough on my gear. So, I need a firearm that will hold up to the abuse, enduring throughout the season. A pump-action shotgun does this for me more consistently than the other two styles. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t bring my other guns on a shoot or two during the season. I love shooting my semi-auto when the weather permits and my over-under has become my turkey hunting shotgun. 

Whether you are just getting into duck hunting or waterfowl hunting has been a lifestyle for a while now, a pump-action shotgun is a tool that won’t let you down.

Before purchasing any firearm, do your research. I would recommend not only reading the online reviews, but also getting your hands on the gun you intend to buy prior to buying it. This ensures that it fits you well and you are more than comfortable handling it.

Buying a firearm is a big purchase, don’t rush into it. Take your time and choose the best shotgun for you

*All photos used by permission from Brad Alan

ehd cwd dead head deer skull

EHD Versus CWD | From Bad To Worse

Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) and Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) are the two biggest diseases that can impact your deer herd, but more specifically, your mature bucks. 

If you have never heard of either one, let me give you a quick summary. 

EHD | The Specifics

EHD is in the same group of viruses as Bluetongue (BT) Virus and because clinical symptoms are similar between the two, they are generally clumped together and called Hemorrhagic Disease. 

These types of viruses are transmitted by a biting midge, usually in late Summer or early Fall but can also occur in the Springtime. 

Clinical symptoms are highly variable. Initial symptoms include a feverish state where some animals can lose their fear of humans.  There was a video of a buck that went viral because it stumbled through a burning campfire on its way to drowning itself in a river, all while people stood around wondering what the heck was going on. 

Deer with EHD may die within 1-3 days after getting bitten if they have no immunity to the strain of virus that has infected them. 

map of ehd distribution in us
This is a map from the Southeastern Cooperative Disease Study showing where EHD has been found across the US from 1980-2015:

As deer attempt to relieve their fever, they often become dehydrated and will be found near water. 

Once a hard frost hits the landscape, the threat of further EHD outbreaks is complete for that growing season, but as soon as midges come back in the spring there is a chance for further outbreaks.

CWD | The Specifics

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), on the other hand, is caused by a protein that changes its shape to a non-functional version.  This prion protein normally resides all over the body, but is concentrated in the lymphatic system, brain and spinal tissues. 

Infected deer show no clinical symptoms for up to 18 months but are capable of spreading prions even before they show any outward sign of illness. 

In the later stages of the disease, animals lose coordination and become lame.  They also lose their appetite and fear of humans. They are typically found with dropping ears and head in a lower position. 

CWD has gotten a lot of press lately because of the concern to potentially impact humans, whereas EHD poses no direct threat to humans. 

buck in velvet
In areas where CWD prevalence is above 50%, mature bucks stand a higher chance of contracting the disease and dying.

Notice how I said ‘potentially’ impact?  That’s because there’s currently no evidence that it will impact humans, but that doesn’t mean it will always be that way. 

CWD is in a group of diseases known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies and in that same group of diseases is one that infects humans, called Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD). 

A variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease (vCJD) can be acquired by eating meat from cattle infected with a similar disease called Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), also known as Mad Cow Disease. 

The fear is that one day humans will someday be susceptible to CWD, even though that day has yet to come. That’s because all animals carry some type of prion protein, but a major difference is that the human prion protein has slightly different amino acid structure than deer. 

There has also been recent concern that CWD can be transmitted to macaque monkeys, which are genetically much more similar to humans, but that information has yet to be published in scientific literature. 

What causes the normal prion protein to change into the mis-shaped disease state remains uncertain, although there are many theories about how this could happen. 

map of CWD distributiion in deer in the united states
Here is a map from the USGS showing the distribution of CWD across North America.

EHD Compared to CWD

The take home point is that both EHD and CWD can impact deer, but EHD is less of a long-term concern with your deer herd, because the more a deer herd is exposed, the more immunity it can build up. 

CWD, on the other hand, progressively gets worse until mature bucks are almost impossible to grow on the landscape because they become infected and die before they can reach the older age classes. 

This phenomenon is rare because CWD prevalence is low across most of the range of white-tailed deer, but can occur in certain areas where the prevalence is above 50%. That means the chance of a buck having CWD would be the same as flipping a coin to heads, and if you see a buck older than 3 years old in that area, they are more and more likely to contract it and die before reaching 6 years old. 

This is because mature bucks move about the landscape more often than females, especially during the breeding season. 

Bucks also mutually groom each other in bachelor groups during the summer months, so they have more opportunity to spread the disease than female groups, which tend to keep a more consistent home range throughout their lifetime.      

Here is a table to explain the differences between EHD and CWD:

EHDCWD
Caused by:Virus Mis-shaped prion protein
Mortality when contracted:5-50%100%
Duration of clinical illness:24 hrs to several weeks18-24 months, followed by death
Antibodies produced:YesNone yet
Long-term herd effect:Build up Immunity, herd reboundsUnknown, but might lower herd productivity if prevalence gets too high.  Mature males harder to grow. 
Geographic range:Almost entire lower 48Parts of 24 states and 2 Canadian Provinces
Human health impact:Cannot infect people No evidence of human health impacts

How to limit EHD In Your Deer Herd

So, what should you do as a hunter to help prevent the spread of EHD on your hunting property?

  • If you have a pond edge, plant vegetation that can withstand moist soil right up the edge of the water.
  • Spread quick growing seeds like rye grain on areas of a creek bottom that have been exposed to flooding and try to reduce the amount of mud exposed.
  • Fogging for insects around ponds on a still morning may also reduce adult populations thus limiting the spread of disease. 
  • You can also keep your herd healthy by supplemental feeding and using minerals. Ani-Logics Outdoors has produced a health additive for their feed and minerals that can increase immune system function.  When the immune system is firing on all cylinders, the deer that gets bitten by an infected midge has an increased chance of survival.  Those that are in poor bodily condition when bitten by the midge have a much higher chance of dying.

 How To Limit CWD

As for CWD, the best thing you can do to prevent the spread is not to move the carcass of deer harvested in a CWD area. Also, dispose of the remains in a state approved landfill or incinerator. 

If you harvest a trophy buck in a CWD area, make sure the taxidermist you use is local, and make sure they properly dispose of the brain and spinal cord tissue without putting it back on the landscape. 

If everyone hunting in a CWD area removed all the CWD positive carcasses off the landscape, prevalence would remain low enough that no population level concerns would ever occur.  There would be no way to eliminate the amount of prion proteins already deposited on the landscape, but at least we wouldn’t be adding more fuel to the CWD fire by always putting more diseased prions in the woods. 

If you hunt in an area that is not known to have CWD, you should still get your deer tested because deer have been known to make very long excursions outside of their normal range. 

Here in Minnesota, the DNR recently tracked a collared deer that made a 75-mile one-way trek.  Thankfully it was not CWD positive at the time, but if one deer did it, that means other can as well.

Best of luck in having a healthy deer herd!

*deer skull article photo used by permission from Brad Alan

man sighting in a riflescope

Bullseye | How To Sight In A Riflescope

If you’re ready to invest a little money in upgrading your rifle, one of the best things you can buy that will totally transform the way you shoot is a scope.

Not only will a scope improve your range and accuracy, but it will make our beloved sport more competitive and much safer.

But buyer beware.

Not all scopes are created equal! Some scopes are just poorly made, and other scopes are made for various purposes.

For example, the scopes I recommend in my 6.5 Creedmoor guide are solely dedicated for long range shooting.

Do You Need A Riflescope?

But before you buy a riflescope, learn why you should even buy a riflescope in the first place.

Some are built for tactical purposes while other sniper/hunting scopes specialize in longer-range targets. A quick pro-tip here is that it’s generally better to have too much scope than not enough. So, if you must err on the side of caution, err in favor of the scope.

I Have A Riflescope… Now What?

mounting a riflescope
Purchasing a riflescope is only the beginning. You should properly mount and sight in your scope before you ever think about shooting it.

Okay, so you’re happy with the scope you’ve purchased, and now you want to get out and shoot, right?

Wrong.

Only after you have properly mounted your riflescope can you sight it. This component is just as important as anything else because it is how you customize the rifle to your own anatomy and mechanics.

Your arm length, eye spacing, and the unique way you hold the rifle are slightly different from everybody else, and these subtle differences can make a big difference downrange.

You might find it is easiest to sight your rifle at a local shooting range. However, if you live far from one but have a lot of land nearby, just make sure you’re shooting in a safe direction where there is no chance of passing hikers, campers, etc.

Make sure you use the same exact brand and weight of bullets that you’ll be using on the hunt. Even the slightest variation can have a significant effect on how the round fires.

The basic idea of sighting is to make sure the bullet hits exactly where you’re aiming. If this doesn’t happen, it is either because of two things:

  1. You need a refresher on the fundamentals of marksmanship.
  2. Or the scope isn’t properly sighted.

Assuming it’s number 2, you might be wondering:

How do I properly sight my scope? Keep reading to find out!

Step 1: Focus the Reticle

The first thing you need to do is make sure your reticle is in focus.

The reticle is the shape (crosshairs, a singular dot or circle, a triangle, etc.) you see when you look through the scope, and its function is to indicate scale or location of an object.

view through riflescope and reticle
Step 1 of sighting in your riflescope is to be sure you focus the reticle.

Look through the scope to ensure the whole picture is sharp. If it’s blurry, twist the diopter adjustment on the scope, which is typically going to be the end of the scope closest to your eye.

Something to keep in mind is that when shooting is that you will be focusing your naked eyes way downrange, scanning for targets or game, and then you’ll quickly switch to the scope right in your face.

Your eyes take a little time to adjust, so the view through the scope can be a little blurry for a few seconds.

To eliminate this lag, look away from the scope and let your eyes focus on something else at a distance. Stare at it for a few moments, then quickly look through the scope and in the brief moments before your eyes adjust, determine if the picture appears blurry. Keep doing this until the image is sharp and in focus immediately upon looking through the scope.

Step 2: Boresighting

view while sighting in riflescope view
When boresighting your riflescope, be sure that what you’re aiming at down the barrel is the same thing your reticle is aimed at.

Boresighting your rifle first will save a lot of time and ammo.

This will take just a few minutes and will ready your weapon for the fine-tuning we are about to do.

First, securely mount the rifle to aim downrange at a highly visible target 25 yards away. Then, remove the bolt so you can see straight down the barrel at the target.

Look through and aim the barrel center mass. Next, look through the scope to ensure the reticle also lands center mass. You will likely need to adjust the scope’s turrets to achieve this. The turret on top adjusts the scope’s elevation (up and down) and the one on the side adjusts its windage (to the left and right).

Once your reticle is adjusted center mass, replace the bolt and get ready to start shooting.

Pro-tip: There are even specialized zero targets you can use that are gridded to help precisely determine the adjustments you need to make. You’ll see why that might be useful later.

Step 3: Fine Tuning

Sighting requires great precision, so make sure the rifle is either mounted or thoroughly supported for this step.

Replace the bolt, insert your high-quality ear protection, and fire three rounds directly at the bullseye of your target at 25 yards. You will probably not hit the bullseye, so focus more at the consistency of the shot group.

scope turrets for sighting in riflescope
Use your scope turrets to fine tune your riflescope. 1 click typically changes shot location by 1/4 of an inch at 100 yards.

If your three shots are really close to each other, but the whole group is about 1 inch south and 2 inches west of the bullseye, you need to adjust the elevation for 1 inch and the windage for 2. It looks complicated, but it’s really simple. The turrets we were playing with earlier in the article are what we will now use to fine-tune your scope.

But before I go in-depth, here’s a quick primer on elevation and windage adjustments:

Usually one click changes the location of the bullet’s impact by ¼ inch at a target 100 yards away. The way we represent that is “1/4 MOA,” where MOA stands for Minute Of Angle. Four clicks will move the bullethole one inch in the direction indicated.

But, if the target is only 25 yards away, we need to move the dial 4x as many clicks to move the bullethole the same 1 inch. If the target is 200 yards away, conversely, 2 clicks move it 1 inch. Four hundred yards away, 1 click for 1 inch.

So for the example above, we need to rotate the turret 16 times to elevate 1 inch and another 32 clicks to the right. The turret itself will indicate which direction to turn and the MOA (although most are ¼).

Once your scope is sighted for the target at 25 yards, it is time to extend the range to 100.

Fire another three rounds for your shot group, then determine how far off the bullseye the group is located.

Measure the deviation and adjust your elevation and windage in the same way we just did, bearing in mind that 4 clicks at this distance will equal 1 inch.

Fire another shot group at your 100-yard target, and if they hit where you wanted them to, you have successfully sighted your scope.

Happy Hunting!

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