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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 with backpack on hike looking at horizon

Hiking Tips For Beginners | What You Need To Know

girl with backpack hiking in woods
Hiking in elevation and with obstacles is much more strenuous than simply walking on a flat surface. Don’t push yourself too hard if you are a beginner.

Hiking is a great way for people to get some exercise while leaving behind the stresses of life. Whether it’s work or school or relationship problems, hitting a scenic hiking trail can help you forget everything.

However, unlike walking on a paved path, hiking is often more demanding and unpredictable. Hence it’s important that you know what to bring along (a walkie talkie, navigation tools, plenty of food and water…etc.) and the dos and don’ts while you’re traversing the trail.

So without further ado, here are 13 essential hiking tips for beginners:

1. Don’t Challenge Yourself Too Much

Make no mistake, just because you can walk 10 miles straight on a paved surface, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to do the same on a hiking trail. The latter is usually more challenging with elevations, descents, twists and even obstacles on the way. As a result it may take more time and energy.

In order to estimate how much time you’ll be spending on the trail, find the total distance and divide it by a speed of 2 miles per hour. Then, you’ll have to figure in an additional hour for every 1,000 feet you gain in altitude.

2. Get To Know The Hiking Trail

Experienced hikers always examine the trail before they set-out, and so should you. Once you’ve got a trail selected, get hold of a map and search online for any reviews and hazard reports concerning it. This will allow you to figure out things like whether the trail loops back or whether you’ll be required to backtrack through it.

You should also try to mark out the safest path on the map and perhaps pick out a scenic location or two that’ll make for great lunch spots.

3. Pack The Right Gear

man hiking in mountains with gear
Whether you are a hiking beginner or experience hiker, be sure you take the proper gear for every situation.

There are so many potential dangers you may come across while hiking. It could be a sudden, extreme turn in the weather. You could even lose your way. Having the right tools can help you effectively counter these dangers.

It’s more helpful to think in terms of systems instead of individual items when you’re packing. For instance, a navigation system that includes all the essential tools for finding your bearings.

Here are the mandatory hiking gear systems you need to take with you on any trail:

  • Navigation – this includes a GPS, a physical map and a compass. Don’t just rely on smartphone apps!
  • Food and Hydration – bring enough food and water to last for an unexpected overnight stay.
  • Shelter – make sure you bring along a small tent in case you have to camp out for a while before you backtrack. Be sure you have appropriate gear to stay warm in it.
  • First-aid – this includes things like bandages, gauze, band-aids…etc.
  • Light – bring along an LED lamp or a flashlight so you can still find your way around if you’re walking through the night.
  • Insulation – It’s going to get colder the higher you climb, so it’s important to try and retain your body heat.
  • Communication – a reliable two-way radio for hiking is a must-have. It can help you reach emergency rescue services in a pinch and be alerted to oncoming weather changes.
  • Campfire tools – if you plan on camping out, you’ll need a campfire to keep warm and even cook your food. This means that waterproof matches, and a fire starter or a lighter can come in handy.
  • Sun protection – sunburn is a serious risk if you’re hiking in the summer. So make sure you bring along a bottle of sunscreen and maybe a pair of sunglasses too.

4. Travel Light

beginner hiker looking out over mountains
Try to have everything you need for your hike, while also packing as lightly as possible.

Long, high-altitude treks can sap your energy fast. Hence, it’s best not to stuff your backpack with too many heavy items. Whenever possible, always pack travel-sized items.

5. Pay Attention To The Weather Forecast

Always stay up to date with the weather, even just a few hours before you set out on your hike. This will let you know what kind of clothes to pack and what extra items you may need to bring along. If the weather is going to be particularly terrible, you should strongly consider changing your plans.

6. Inform Someone Before You Go

It’s very important to share your hiking itinerary with a close friend or family member.

Make sure you establish a ‘worry time’, which is the maximum hours of radio silence that a person should tolerate before he/she alerts the proper authorities.

This way, you can still expect help to arrive if you find yourself in danger with no way to reach anyone.

7. Start Your Hike At The Right Time

person hiking in foggy mountains
If you like to hike alone, it’s best to start your trek early, before the hiking trail becomes more crowded.

If you like hiking alone, then the best thing to do is to start as early as possible. The later you start, the more likely the trail is going to end up crowded.

On the other hand, if you like hiking with other people, check what time is most popular for the trail, and plan to arrive at this time.

Just remember, you might have trouble finding a parking spot if you arrive too late!

8. Dress Properly

You want to dress for comfort, warmth and optimal movement, not to impress other hikers you meet on the way.

That means, first of all, swapping out the sneakers for a good pair of hiking shoes. And don’t forget socks!

While cotton is okay for everyday use, it’s certainly not cut out for hiking. Unlike wool or synthetic fibers, cotton tends to absorb a lot of body heat so you definitely want to avoid wearing cotton socks.

The same goes for clothes too: skip wearing anything cotton. If you’re hiking in cold weather, you’ll want to dress in layers. Base layers are very important, but make sure that they’re not so tight that they cut off blood circulation!

In high altitudes, a windbreaker or a fleece hoodie is most appropriate. You should bring along a warm beanie as well, because we tend to lose most of our body heat through our heads.

9. Watch Where You’re Going

Sprained ankles are the most common injuries with hikers. It’s very easy to get distracted by breath-taking scenery on the way, possibly causing you to step in the wrong spot and twist your ankle. Therefore, always watch your feet, especially if there are tons of trip hazards like rocks or roots.

10. Take Your Time

hiker looking over rock ledge
Be sure to pace yourself. You want to have enough energy to finish your hike and see what you came for.

A lot of first-timers start their hike at a really explosive pace and have all of their energy drained halfway through the trail. If you hike this way, you’ll lose tons of body heat very quickly which can make things really uncomfortable.

Always remember: hiking isn’t a race. Take your time, take in the scenery and most importantly: conserve your energy.

11. Don’t Litter

Hiking trails are for everyone to enjoy, so make sure you don’t dump things like candy wrappers or other waste on the way. Some trails will have garbage bins, but you should still bring your own trash bag for the trip.

12. Learn Proper Hiking Etiquette

Hiking etiquette can prevent you from making a total fool out of yourself or annoying other hikers. Here are a few important things that you should know:

  • · Always make way for those who are going uphill
  • Greet other hikers with a simple “hello.” You may want to have a quick chat with back trackers to find out what lies ahead.
  • Avoid talking too loudly to your friends or on the cellphones.
  • If you’re going to be listening to music, put on a pair of headphones.
  • Avoid taking unofficial short cuts; stick to designated paths
  • Make way for bikers.

13. Don’t Panic If You Get Lost

Getting lost on a hike is a fairly common thing, especially if you’re on your own.

If you feel like you’re lost, the first thing you need to do is to stop and consult your map. If you figure out where you are, start backtracking until you come across a familiar spot.

Backtracking almost always works, but on the off chance it doesn’t, try yelling out ‘HELP’. If no one answers, it’s time to take out your phone and call emergency services. If you’re out of cellphone range, then your long-range walkie-talkie should help you reach someone.

Conclusion

When the hiking season comes around, it can be quite tempting to throw a few things into your backpack and hit a trail. However, hiking is more than just walking and needs proper preparation. The above tips should help you make the most of your experience and keep you safe on your trek.

Happy hiking!

ester lavandyan
Ester Lavandyan

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