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Know Thy Prey

When getting ready to hunt this fall, especially for waterfowl, identification is something that often gets overlooked. Between building or replenishing your blind to making sure to clean and check over your firearm, having great knowledge of the different species is a must. Being able to identify birds in the air and up close can be the difference between having a great day of hunting and one that costs much more than just some shells and a few gallons of gas.

I can't even count the number of times over the years my heart has sank as I saw birds like Great Blue Herons and Cormorants falling from the sky. Passing by someone who knew nothing about what was off the end of their barrel was the birds only mistake. Just as bad was the conversation that took place after they found the bird when I've been close enough to over hear them. "What is that?", "I don't think that's a duck?", "I thought it was a goose", all of those statements just make you say wow if you're a seasoned hunter. The differences between shore bird families of waterfowl and ducks and geese are from one side of the marsh to the other. Do yourself and all other hunters a favor before heading out this year and educate yourself if you are trying water-fowling for the first time.Once you get past the shore birds we can hunt like snipe and woodcock identifying the numerous species of ducks and geese will take some practice. Not only identifying the different species but also the differences of the females of each species. That's the hardest part when they are still in the air. With males or 'drakes' the differences are often fairly obvious because of bright color changes. Females on the other hand have all evolved to be quite camouflaged to hide them from predators during the gestation period of their eggs. Get yourself a good Ornithology book on waterfowl that displays the wing colors as well as when the bird is up close. Pay attention to bill, breast, and wing color patterns to help differentiate the females.

Be sure to know how many of each species you can bring home each day. The overall limit has been six ducks for quite sometime but how you get there is what's most important. For instance a common duck like Mallards can only be four of your limit. Further, only two of the four Mallards can be female. Even with common species things can get complicated fast. Make sure to pick up the new DNR pamphlets for water-fowling each season. Some specie limits vary from year to year and make sure you know how many of each you can possess. The pamphlets are free and can save you a lot of money from being caught with the wrong eggs in your basket.

If at all possible when new to any outdoor activity try to find someone who has a lot of experience that will let you tag along. Go out with an open mind and learn all you can before heading out alone. It's not too late to get started with education and preparation and here's to a safe and lawful season this fall!

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