A Letter To My First Doe

Before Nov. 27, 2014, I had never taken the life of a deer. I assumed it would feel similar to taking other wild game, but the truth is, it didn’t. It was much more profound. I’m familiar with the emotion that can accompany the decision to end an animal’s life, but that day I learned something – you taught me that there is nothing shameful in an honorable death.

The day our paths crossed, I passed on the opportunity to harvest a smaller doe that showed up just minutes prior to your arrival. I made this decision because I hunt for meat and the first doe, in my mind, couldn’t provide enough. So I waited. As I sat in my favorite tree stand, chilled from the wind, I began to doubt that another opportunity would come my way. I didn’t regret my decision; nothing is guaranteed in the wild, but I also knew that my decision meant that I might go home without meat. As much as I hoped for your arrival, I was still surprised when you showed.

It was an unforgettable moment watching you walk up with your grown fawn. I remember remaining motionless as I watched in awe as the two of you walked calmly along the well-worn path in front of me – a path you had probably taken a hundred times before. I knew I would have to move eventually to make the shot, but for a few fleeting moments, I couldn’t bring myself to interrupt just yet.

As you came closer, your fawn tagging behind your hooves, I remember thinking how it was one of the biggest, healthiest fawns I had seen all season. You did a wonderful job. I know this not just because of the fawn’s physical appearance, but because shortly after I made the decision to release my arrow, your fawn went on high alert, immediately cautious of it’s surroundings, and fled the area– just as you had taught it. It was a response that gave me assurance your fawn had been given the skills necessary to survive.

When you came into my shooting range, I took everything I could into consideration. I double-checked my sights, steadied my aim, took several deep breaths, made sure your fawn was clear of my arrow, waited until both of your front legs were parallel to each other, and it wasn’t until you stood completely broadside that I finally let my arrow fly. It zipped through the air seamlessly and in a heartbeat, it was done. I can write this today with pride because your life ended just as it should have - quickly. As I watched you quarter away and head toward a nearby tree where you laid down to take your last few breaths, I knew my hard work had paid off.
A Thanksgiving Day doe to remember.

The months prior to that moment, I worked relentlessly to perfect my shot. I did this for lots of reasons, but none more so than you. I shot, and shot, and shot at targets and missed, and broke arrows, and had days where all I could do was set my bow down and cry in frustration, wondering if I could make this happen the way I thought it should. I also had days where I shot like I had been doing it for years, but those fleeting moments of hitting spot-on weren’t enough for me. You deserved more than a decent shot – you deserved my very best. So despite my setbacks, I continued to press on and I’m thankful I did.

Once I knew you had passed, I wondered of your fawn’s fate. It wasn’t long before a group of five deer came by. Your fawn let out a few bleats and then quickly joined the others. I wondered if they, too, were now on their own, or if they were simply passing the time until their mothers returned. When the group decided to leave the area, knowing something had occurred that was out of the ordinary, it was almost as if your fawn knew it was time to continue on the path. And without hesitation, it left in the safety of the group.

With a few minutes to spare before the truck would arrive, I came and sat with you. I did this not out of remorse, but out of respect. It was a moment that I knew wouldn’t last long, so I cherished every second. I noticed every whisker on your face, the shimmer in your eyes, the hardiness of your hooves, and your thick coat. I ran my palm down your fur and it was the last link in the connection I had been looking for. It’s a moment that I will keep in my heart forever.

You were born into a beautiful place and you died in an equally beautiful place – underneath the shade of a tree, along the bank of a flowing creek, in the quiet of nature, just as you should have.

Thank you for what you provided me. I will never forget it.

-Accidental Huntress


Slingin' Arrows (It's Personal)

There’s something very personal about shooting a bow. From each arrow being cut specifically to your draw length, to your bowstring nestling right underneath your cheekbone, shooting a bow is just as much about the equipment as it is about the hunter drawing it back.

A few weeks ago I bought my first “new” bow, and although it’s not considered “top of the line,” I couldn’t be happier to have it in my hunting arsenal. After the draw weight and length had been adjusted from the factory settings, I remember nocking that first arrow, letting it fly, and thinking how perfect it felt. It wasn’t my first time shooting, or even owning a bow – I had a hand-me-down with a draw length two inches too long. However, better fit wasn’t what made this bow so great. This purchase signified the beginning of a new stage for me as a hunter. It marked the end of shooting at targets just for fun and the beginning of becoming a serious bowhunter.

As I enter into this new hunting stage, I am continually researching and running through scenarios in my head. Each day, as the rut draws closer, serves as a reminder that things will be different this season. I won’t have crosshairs to rely on, and reloading won’t be as simple as jacking in another round. I understand that I will be exposed, and movements that may have been acceptable in a blind during rifle season will no longer do here.

But of everything I am learning about bowhunting, I know enough to realize there’s a lot I can’t know yet. I don’t know how I will react when a deer comes beneath my tree. I don’t know how I’ll grab and draw my bow without being detected, or how I’ll steady myself enough to make a shot. I don’t know yet what my physical limits are and when “cold” will become “too cold” for me. What I know for sure is that I’ll be there, and I’ll be trying, and most importantly, I’ll be appreciating each new experience.

Personally, I don’t want my bowhunting experience to be all about a “BIG BUCK DOWN!” Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing pictures of big deer and the men and women who were lucky enough to harvest them, but you won’t see a Facebook post or Twitter picture of me grinning, holding a bloody arrow. As personal as shooting a bow is, I expect my bowhunting experiences to be personal, as well. I want my journey as a bowhunter to be about connecting with deer in a way I haven’t before. I want to learn what their life is like behind the tree line, and I want to meet these awesome creatures on their turf and on their terms and come home with meat. If I’m successful, I want to know I made the best possible shot placement. And like most bowhunters, I want the challenge, but more than that, I want the connection.

Henry David Thoreau said “. . . what you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” During this bow season, I hope I take a deer and have a story worthy of another column, but more importantly, I hope I become a bowhunter worthy of taking a deer.

‘Till next time, let ‘em fly.

-Accidental Huntress

Move Like Molasses

Practice won’t always make for perfect, but it can certainly make for progress and this past summer I have been striving for progress with my shooting skills. Frequent visits to the local gun range, a trip to Claythorne Lodge, and some time spent shooting hand-thrown clay targets have taught me some invaluable lessons about shooting, and none more important than this: move like molasses. I’ll explain.

The first time I shot trap, I walked away with 7 out of 25 targets hit. I was glad I at least hit one target at each station, but I knew if I wanted to be a successful wingshooter, 7 out of 25 wasn’t going to cut it during hunting season. Since then, I have devoted quite a bit of time working on my shooting skills, especially this summer, and I now can proudly say I can shoot up to 21 out of 25 targets – three times the amount I was able to hit before. It has required a lot of pointers, tons of practice, and good ‘ol perseverance, but it will be all worth it when I trade in discs for ducks. Now although my progress is definitely worthy of merit, I have also learned that success can’t always be measured in numbers. Sometimes, success should be measured by the improvement made in your technique, as well.

One technique that has been hard for me to learn is how to move with fluidity. Swinging your gun with a jerking motion is about as effective as trying to eat pudding with a toothpick. Those seemingly small jerks made on your end can mean big problems on your quarries end, and not in your favor.

In the past when given a hard left or a hard right target, I’d swing as hard as I could to try and speed my gun barrel up to the pace of the target. Now, I don’t consider myself an aggressive shooter, and I’m sure others who have shot with me might agree, and it’s because of this that I try to compensate by swinging hard - only to my detriment, a little too much. It took one phrase from my boss, and shooting mentor, to make things click. He said “just move like molasses.”

As silly as it sounds, I began to picture myself in a vat of molasses, trying to swing my gun. All of the sudden, my swing had fluidity and steadiness. I feared I wouldn’t be swinging fast enough to catch up with my target, but I wasn’t going to argue with his years of experience. Sure enough, I smashed the next target that came by. Nowadays, “move like molasses” has become one of the last things I chant in my head just before I conclude my pre-shot routine.

Shooting clays can be a great way to practice potential hunting scenarios pre-season.

To some readers, it might seem counterproductive to move your gun “slowly” when a target is moving fast, but just like passing cars on the highway, they only seem to move fast when you’re sitting still. Speed up to meet a passing vehicle, and suddenly they don’t seem to be going so fast. Stay in park and they seem impossible to catch up with. This works the same way with birds. Focus on a bird as you slowly mount your gun and build up your gun speed to match the bird’s speed. You’ll find that not only is your movement more fluid, you’re more focused on the bird’s flight path, but also that the bird will appear to “slow down.” Practice this routinely and you just might find that crossing teal won’t be so hard to hit this season, after all. In other words, don’t rush the shot. A controlled barrel, steadily increasing in speed, will get you at the right place, at the right time, if you just have patience and faith.

Now I’m no Annie Oakley, and I don’t aspire to be, but I will say the time I’ve put into practicing has made me a more educated shooter. A funny fitness-related quote I read recently states “I run. I’m slower than a herd of turtles stampeding through peanut butter, but I run.” This is a great perspective to have when you begin any new venture, especially shooting. Experience will come with time. As long as you continue to learn and grow, that’s all that matters, not what you find at the bottom of a score sheet. And remember new shooters: never be ashamed of how long it may take you to pick something up, because progress made slowly is still progress made… even if you’re moving at the rate of molasses.

Until next time, shoot straight and strive for progress.

-Accidental Huntress


Wiper On, Wiper Off

I never knew what it meant to “catch fish left and right,” until a few weeks ago when my multi-tasking abilities were tested at the Olympic-level during a fishing trip at Marion Reservoir. My set-up was pretty simple – two rods, two bottom-bouncers, and two worms – but with hungry wiper in the water, and my incessant back-and-forth between poles, you would’ve thought I was training to be a professional plate spinner.

As we trolled the water, I tried to find a nice balance between watching my lines, sneaking in a peanut butter cracker here and there, and enjoying the scenery. I had just got into the groove of things when I caught my first fish of the morning – a 17.5-inch walleye, and like a green light marks “go,” the fishing took off from there.

Like flashes of lightning, white bass and wiper came in one after another. I would no sooner hook a worm on one pole, when my other pole would start dancing.

I had never found a wiper on the end of my line before this trip, but after a couple hours of them striking my rigs like a rogue baseball hitting a fan in the bleachers, I began to recognize their M.O. pretty quickly. It was a fast and furious kind of fishing that meant no more peanut butter crackers and no more sitting down.

I tried to keep up, but with all the commotion going on, my thought processes became as murky as the water I was catching these fish in. And just as soon as they were on, they were off, too. One would lose interest before I could set the hook, another would get a “to go” meal of my too-long-of a worm, and then there were the majority that were lost due to plain ol’ operator error.

Being the domestic-huntress that I am, I thought of the dinner plates that would remain empty if I didn’t catch these fish. “What kind of huntress goes home meatless?” I thought to myself. And that was it – no more fish were getting by me. I talked myself through each catch, chanting the essentials “hold your rod tip up, keep the pole bent, let the rod do the work…” and just as I had hoped, the live-well hotel began filling up with guests.

I would be lying if I said I thought fishing was more fun than hunting, but you certainly can’t wrestle a turkey onto a boat. Wiper put up quite the fight, and it was nothing short of exhilarating landing these fish.

If you find yourself in a wiper frenzy this summer, try my recipe for Caribbean-jerk wiper with grilled pineapple and dirty rice.

Caribbean-jerk Wiper with Grilled Pineapple and Dirty Rice
Note: this dish has a little kick. For a more subtle version, use 1 Tablespoon
jerk seasoning and lightly sprinkle fish with pineapple juice prior to serving.

You'll need:
4-6 wiper fillets
1/2 Cup olive oil
1/2 Cup orange juice
1/4 Cup pineapple juice
1/4 Cup soy sauce
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
2 Tablespoons jerk seasoning
1/2 Cup brown sugar
1/2 Tablespoon garlic
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 can sliced pineapple
1 box Dirty rice mix

In a large bowl, mix brown sugar, jerk seasoning, and salt and pepper. Add olive oil, orange juice, pineapple juice, soy sauce, lemon juice, and chopped garlic. Pour mixture over fillets and marinade for 2 to 4 hours in a covered dish.

Cook rice according to the box. While you are waiting, heat up your grill. Set aside the cooked rice. Place the pineapple rings directly on the grates. Cook the pineapple until the grill lines have caramelized. Place the fillets on the grill and cook until the fish has turned opaque, approximately 4-5 minutes, turning them over halfway through. Plate rice, pineapple rings, and fillets on top. Sprinkle additional jerk seasoning over the dish just prior to serving.

 Until next time, wipe ‘r on!

-Accidental Huntress


The Promise of a Pup

Exhausted from a cold, early morning turkey hunt, I did what all smart hunters do after peeling off damp, tick-laden clothing… I took a hot shower and hit the hay. Little did I know that nap would be one of many naps to come that would be cut short.

I was just getting relaxed and dozing off when the bedroom door opened and my boyfriend, Jon, had a birthday card for me. My birthday was two weeks away, so I must’ve had quite the look of bewilderment on my face.

“Open it!” he said excitedly.

Half awake, I began reading his words to find the last line, which read “let’s take a roadtrip.” As he eagerly stood there staring at me, it immediately occurred to me that he didn’t mean in the future, but right then and there.

Puzzled, but excited, I slid on some sandals, grabbed my purse and out the door we went. What seemed like an hour later, we rolled up to a strange new street, in an unfamiliar town, when Jon stopped the truck. He told me we had reached our destination. As I looked around at my surroundings, I noticed a young family playing with a small, black puppy. They had been waiting for us. I began welling-up with emotion as I realized that pup was for me.

Watching it playfully hopping around the grass, with a chukar wing hanging out of its mouth, I immediately knew this was going to be my new hunting buddy. She was a 7-week old black lab that had all of the promise of the world in her eyes, and she was mine. Without hesitation, I picked her up, and is if by some pre-ordained event, proclaimed “her name is Dakota. I’ll call her Kota for short.”

Kota is now 10 weeks old and already learning basic commands. As luck would
have it, this pup retrieved her first bird on my actual birthday, April 24.

Since that moment, my days have been filled with some sleepless nights, multiple “accidents” on the carpet, endless “no” commands blurted out, and multiple battle wounds from her, as I like to call them, “puppy-piranha teeth.” But my days have also been filled with overwhelming love, endless playfulness, pure excitement for the future, and most of all, pride, as I watch her learn what it means to be a retriever. Kota and I have so many things to learn, but that’s the wonderful thing about this journey – we’re a team and we’ll figure things out together.

Looking back at that fateful trip, I realize that Jon didn’t just give me a birthday present, or just a puppy – he gave me an adventure, and that’s the best kind of gift a huntress could ask for.

-Accidental Huntress


A Huntress and Her Harvest

I’ll be the first to tell you that cooking wild game can be pretty daunting for a new hunter. There’s no label on the back of a package to tell you the ideal cooking method, no sauce packet included on the side, and there’s certainly no going to the store to buy more if you mess up.

I didn’t grow up hunting and eating wild game, so when it came time for me to begin cooking my harvests, I had no experience to go off. In fact, prior to becoming a hunter, the closest I probably ever came to “preparing” anything “wild” was smearing a spoonful of duck liver pâté onto a Triscuit (and it was probably a farm-raised duck, at that).

Trying my luck at bagging a pheasant during an afternoon hunt.
Prior to my huntress days, I used to be a Tyson/Butterball/Jennie-O type of gal, looking at meat as nothing more than a package and a price tag. It never really sunk-in with me that these were once living, breathing animals with eyes and ears and heartbeats and breaths. Like many others, I didn’t want to face that so-called “reality.” But now that I’m a hunter, and have experienced what it means to harvest my own food, from start to finish, I realize that a package of boneless, skinless, chicken breast tenderloins isn’t “reality” at all. In fact it’s like cruising through the meat-eating world from the backseat of a Honda Civic hatchback when you could be experiencing it through the driver’s seat of a decked-out Maserati. Okay, maybe not a Maserati, but there’s definitely something to be said for plucking a bird out of the sky first thing in the morning to plucking its feathers that night. It’s a type of connection to nature you can only get by hopping in the driver’s seat and experiencing it for yourself.

My latest hunting adventure led me to the wonderful meat that is pheasant. I had never cooked pheasant prior to this point, but I hopped in the driver’s seat and drove it like I stole it. After all, cooking wild game should be just as much part of the adventure as the hunt itself. And I’ve learned that if you try cooking game a certain way and you hit a dead end, you can always hit reverse and try again. If you find a good recipe that works for you, mark that baby on your GPS and keep moving forward.

Pheasant is a versatile white meat that can
be paired with savory and sweet flavors.
So here’s an Accidental Huntress’ take on Easy-Peasy Pheasant Stroganoff

You’ll need:
2 lbs. pheasant meat, cubed
1- 12 ounces package egg noodles2 cups beef broth
1 cup sour cream
6 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, chopped
1/4 cup butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Submerge egg noodles in boiling water until cooked (about 8 minutes). Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet, combine two tablespoons butter, mushrooms
and onions over medium heat. Cook until mushrooms and onions are soft. Remove from pan.

Next, take your remaining butter and pheasant meat and cook until browned. Pour in beef broth and add flour, mixing as you add. Sauce will become slightly thickened.

Now add back in cooked mushrooms and onions, followed by the sour cream. Season with salt and pepper and then continue cooking until sauce is hot, but not boiling.

Ladle sauce over egg noodles and enjoy!

-Accidental Huntress


Tick, Tock, Teal Season: It's a "Wading" Game

There’s nothing graceful about me when I hunt teal. In fact, my last teal hunt was a comedy of errors; between tripping and filling my waders with marsh water and getting my shotgun caught in weeds mid-mount, I’m sure I kept my fellow hunters entertained. I’ve even become such a professional at thrusting my gun in the air in anticipation of a dunking, that I could probably get a second job as a stuntwoman. My only redeeming quality as a duck hunter is that when I play my cards right and focus, I can usually hit my target, and with one shot at that. I might have a sore shoulder from an improper gun mount, but you can bet there will be a dead bird in the marsh.

Like with most types of hunting, duck hunting has a learning curve, and there are definitely some areas I still struggle with. My Achilles heel has been learning to wade in sticky marsh mud. Teal are fast, fast ducks and the last thing you want coming between you and that quacker when it’s shooting time is immobility. If your feet are planted, nay, cemented, in mud and you can’t easily swing your shotgun along the bird’s flight path, the probability of you hitting your target goes down exponentially. Teal don’t stick around for you to free your trunks and catch up.
My first ever Teal limit: five blue-winged, one green-winged.

Although I won’t disclose how many boxes of shells I went through as I rounded the learning curve, I got my first-ever limit of teal this year, and with the daily possession limit now six birds, it couldn’t have happened during a better season. Once I got over the excitement of being able to fill every loop on my duck tote for the first time, I sat back and reflected on all of the events that led up to that amazing moment and what I would remember most. This is what came to mind:
  • Waders filled with water, but a gun held in the air staying bone-dry
  • A sore shoulder from a hurried gun mount, but a dead bird in the distance
  • An onset of A.D.D. as “wads” and “jags” of teal appear every where you look, but it’s the most relaxed you’ve been in months
  • A mouthful of mosquitoes and midges for breakfast, but the prettiest sunrise you’ve ever seen
  • Cursing missed opportunities and praying for another group of ducks to come in
  • The passing on of old traditions and appreciating new technology
  • Friendly competition, but teamwork first
  • One dream fulfilled, and a new standard set
  • Teal hunting at its best, and a huntress who’s getting better

By hunt’s end I was tired, wet, muddy and bloody, but I couldn’t have been more proud. And although limiting on teal won’t make me more graceful, I would like to think there is a lot to be said for someone who “falls down seven times, and stands up eight,” especially in mud.

-Accidental Huntress


Bright-eyed and Bare-knuckled

It’s not often I blindly stick my hand into a dark crevice, hoping to feel something bite me, but a girl will do silly things for a catfish. I don’t know if it’s the whiskers or the shear girth of cats that get me, but whatever it is brought me to an undisclosed (but legal) location in Kansas to try my luck at noodling.

Let me just preface this column with the fact that I have a newfound, unadulterated respect for noodlers. Noodling is an all-that-is-man (or woman), true-blue, no-bathroom-breaks, get-your-head-straight form of fishing. So why did I try it? The same reason any teenage boy did anything, ever – it sounded like a good idea at the time.

My preparations for the morning’s festivities were just like any other day. I got some food in my belly, put on some comfy clothes, swiped on some mascara and threw on a ball cap. I should have been shaking in my boots, gloving up, saying prayers to Saints that probably don’t even exist yet, because naïve little me was heading hand-first into the murky, mysterious world that is hand fishing.

Unfamiliar and inexperienced, I intelligently tagged along with a very patient and fearless guide, Toby. Now Toby, who has been noodling many, many times, was kind enough to give me some pointers on the way out to the location, which we will not name.
Rule 1: If you feel an air pocket at any point in time, immediately remove your hand. (Unbeknownst to me, apparently creatures that we don’t want biting our hands, such as beavers, like to inhabit areas that give them some breathing room. Who knew?)

Rule 2: Cover all your bases. When these catfish perceive something as a threat, they will try and find the nearest possible exit as quickly as possible. For this very reason, a noodler must block all the available escape routes.

Rule 3: When the fish takes a bite (and it will)- DON’T LET GO. Your first instinct will be to pull your arm back, removing yourself from the uncomfortable situation. In this particular instance, a noodler must do the exact opposite of what his or her brain tells them to and maintain a firm grip. 

This channel catfish was fished out from underneath a rock while guarding a nest
of eggs. Since flathead catfish are the only legal species during the handfishing
season, this fish was released back to it’s den shortly after the photo was taken.

Now I’m no expert, but I think there is one small thing that Toby left out of his “crash course” in noodling – I think to be a noodler, you have to be just a little bit “off your rocker.” Some might say I’m crazy for trying it, but for those that know me, it would have been crazy for me not to. And although no behemoths were fished out that day, this won’t be the last time I stick my hand in the den of the almighty catfish. The feeling of that silky spot on the ground that’s been worn smooth from nesting, the echoing boom a fish sounds as it defensively slams up against a rock, and the hospitality of my guide Toby are just a few of the memories I’ll take with me… along with all ten of my fish sticks.

-Accidental Huntress


Clues and "Number Twos" (Part 2)


Now that we’ve skated through the scat section, it’s time to talk about animal tracks. Just like how scat can tell us a lot about a particular animal, tracks can tell us even more – like what the animals habitat might be, what their daily routines are, what they were doing when the track was made, etc.

Luckily, when it comes to tracking, there are certain “knowns.” For example, when an animal leaves tracks that exhibit webbing in their feet, we can probably safely say they inhabit wet areas. If tracks tend to overlap one another, or are found on a worn or weathered trail, that probably means it is a path that the animal frequents, or that the animal runs in a group or pack. Tracks can sometimes even tell us the behavior of an animal when the tracks were made, for instance, tracks that are found in close proximity of one another probably mean the animal was walking slowly, possibly even stalking something. Tracks with footprints made further apart and dig deeply into soft earth might indicate the animal was sprinting either from or to something.

Below are a few questions you might ask yourself when trying to decipher wildlife tracks (other than “what the heck am I doing out here and what was that noise?”).

1) Are there two or four feet?
2) How large are the tracks?
3) How far apart are the tracks?
4) Do the tracks show claws? Are they webbed?
5) What type of habitat was the track found in? Is this consistent with the habitat of the presumed animal?

Just as scat greatly varies within a given species, so can tracks. For instance, males often produce larger tracks than females, the age of the animal can account for a large variance in the size of tracks, and although rare, genetic mutations such as an extra toe can also serve as a cause for misidentification. There are other factors that a tracker needs to keep in mind, as well, such as the type of surface the track was found on and the slope or angle of the ground. Even soft soil, snow, and sand can exaggerate the size of a track due to the surface’s fluidity. Now I didn’t go to school for engineering or physics, so I’m sticking to the common-sense, poor man’s version of “tracking for dummies” if you know what I mean.

Like riding a bike for the first time, tracking is one of those activities best learned by doing, so let’s “dig” in and git ‘r done! In the following pictures, I’ll go through five different tracks and explain why I came to the conclusion I did.

Clues and "Number Twos" (Part 1)

Since my April blog post fell by the wayside, it’s only fair that I post something doubly-amazing for the month of May, so here it is: a two-part feature on the uuber-glamorous topic of scat and tracks. That’s right, I’m talking about the clues and “number twos” that wildlife leave behind.

Part I: SCAT

Most people shutter at the sight of poop. It’s not often something that warrants a double-take – unless you are like me and look at it like a mystery, dissecting the clue-filled lumps to find out “who done it?”

Now I’m no professional dung-detective, but through observation, I’ve learned that one of the most important things you can gather from examining an animal’s scat is what their diet consists of. This is important because 1) it can help you narrow down the species of animal based on what it eats, and 2) if you can find their food source(s), then you probably can find them. In fact, I’ve learned that sometimes you can even differentiate the gender of a species based on its scat. For instance, scat from a female turkey will tend to be more popcorn-like, while scat from a male turkey is more likely to resemble the letter “J,” or my favorite: a cheese curl!

To lay down some ground work, here are some basics to keep in mind:
1) An animal’s diet can be categorized into one of three categories: carnivorous, herbivorous, and omnivorous. This is important to know as it can quickly help narrow down your list of potential animals by process of elimination. For example, deer scat will never contain bones or feathers since deer are herbivores and only eat plants.
2) Moist foods are going to produce slimmer scats, while more fibrous foods are going to produce larger scats.
3) When examining scat, it’s best to consider the total quantity of scat in addition to the individual pieces. Although individual pieces of scat may resemble a certain species, the total quantity may serve as the deciding factor in differentiating between species. Smaller animal – smaller scat.
4) Scat varies. By that I mean, think of how much your own number twos vary – animals are no different. Fortunately, animals are creatures of habit, so a consistent diet tends to produce a consistent scat.

With that in mind, listed below are common examples of scats left by various animals:
Rabbits and relatives: spheres
Rodents/shrews/deer and relatives: elongated spheres
Raccoons/coyotes and relatives: long, thick cords
Weasels/mink and relatives: cords (often folded)
Birds, reptiles, and amphibians: long, thin cords (often with nitrogenous deposits; can sometimes be a shapeless, semi-liquid excretion)

In the following pictures, I’ll go through five different types of scat and explain why I came to the conclusion I did. Now, let’s get this fecal-fiesta started!