The Three-Minute Outdoorsman
Wild Science from Magnetic Deer to Mumbling Carp
Publication Year: 2014
There are days when, if we hunt or fish or watch birds, we just want to be alone with our thoughts. Other times, however, contemplating the great outdoors that contains so many unknowns, we may wish to learn about moaning moose . . . or mumbling carp . . . or magnetic deer. And this is where Robert M. Zink enters the scene.
A writer who humorously bridges the gap between esoteric information and nature as we have come to know it, Zink distills the latest news from the world of science into three-minute bursts of irresistible lore for the layman. In these brief, engaging essays readers will discover, for instance, how deer use the earth’s magnetic field for orientation; a long-gone tradition of hunting loons in North Carolina; how porcupine quills are advancing new ideas about delivering inoculations; and why deer antlers can model bone regeneration for amputees.
How do predator–prey cycles get started? Should we worry about black bear attacks in the woods? Zink has the answers—often to questions we didn’t think to ask but wish we had. This is the outdoors at its mysterious best, as the experience of nature and the findings of science combine to educate our sense of wonder and tickle our fancy—to say nothing of our highly unscientific funny bone.
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
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“Your new hunting vest looks, umm, great,” my friend remarked as we stood next to his truck in the predawn light outside my house. After a long absence from Minnesota in pursuit of becoming a university professor who studies birds, I was about...
All Things Deer
1. A Short History of Deer in North America
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Today deer are just about everywhere—whether glimpsed in the woods, eating garden plants, or wrapped around your bumper—but it isn’t clear they were always so populous, as historical records about deer numbers are not very reliable....
2. A Message from Our Native Birds: Deer Hunters Needed
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The white-tailed deer populations in many parts of its range are currently at their highest levels since the 1600s. Mild winters, lots of food, and reduced natural predation have led to deer almost reaching pest status in some areas. Many areas have liberal bag...
3. The Science of Chronic Wasting Disease
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Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has been found for several decades in some western states but more recently has become established in the Wisconsin white-tailed deer population, especially in the area just west of Madison. Soon after it was discovered...
4. Urban Deer: Hunting versus Birth Control
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Many urban deer herds are at all-time high population levels. In many areas, wildlife agencies issue unlimited permits for antlerless deer. From a biological perspective, when there are too many mouths to feed, less food goes in each, so individual birth rates...
5. It's Taken Centuries, but We Now Know Why Deer Don't Ask to Use Your Compass
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Natural history is about learning basic facts about plants and animals, where they occur, what they do, how they interact, and so on. Many scientific journals are devoted to reporting observations that scientists make about natural history. The public,...
6. Why Are Medical Researchers Interested in Antlers?
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During a recent autumn, I occasionally saw a year-and-a-half-old buck with Y-shaped antlers (a four pointer) on each side as he walked by my trail camera. The last time I saw him he had shed one side. I found the other side while I was taking a break from...
7. Isn't It Obvious Why Deer Have Antlers?
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I wager that most people have a decent idea of the function of antlers on deer: fighting. However, there have been some interesting, if not bizarre, alternative suggestions. In 1937, the German zoologist Han Krieg suggested that deer grew antlers to remove...
8. A New Kind of (Un)natural Selection on Deer Antlers: Hunting
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Every year in magazines and newspapers we see a large number of relatively old, mature bucks that were harvested by lucky hunters. Usually my reaction is, “Gee, I wonder where those guys hunt?” The fact that I’ve never seen one of these brutes suggests...
9. My Deer Doctor: Take Two Acorns and Call Me in the Morning
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To my knowledge, I have never seen a deer that was “under the weather,” in the same way that you can tell someone has a cold or flu. I’ve not seen a deer just lying around looking crummy, sneezing and whiffling, sitting next to a pile of used tissues. This observation...
10. Trying to Outfox Deer Ticks and Lyme Disease
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When I taught the University of Minnesota field ornithology class at Lake Itasca, I was always fond of the times when wood ticks were out in force. I would tell the students, as they were squirming to find a tick (or one they imagined), that I love ticks because there...
11. Deer and Their Subspecies: Fact or Fiction?
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Anyone who has looked at more than one white-tailed deer in an area has usually noticed at least subtle differences between them: darker or paler, different patterns of white, different sizes even at the same age and sex. We are very attuned to seeing differences...
12. Can Game Managers Control the Number of Deer?
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In some areas, the deer herd is out of control. This is especially true in some eastern states and in many rural or metropolitan areas, where abundant food and lack of predators have raised numbers to well beyond what the habitat can support. Habitat...
13. Mountain Lions, Prions, and Sick Deer
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Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a neurological disease that produces small lesions in brains of deer (white-tailed, mule), moose, and elk. Infected animals are in poor body condition, exhibit behavioral abnormalities, and later die. Infected deer...
14. The Rut: Maybe More than You Want to Know
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Deer hunters all nod their heads knowingly whenever someone mentions “the rut.” The word instantly evokes vivid memories of a cold time and the almost unbelievable sight of a mature whitetail buck walking around in broad daylight, something you almost...
In the Woods
15. Hunting Spots for Wild Turkeys at the Last Glacial Maximum
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Glaciers have been a part of the long-term history of Minnesota and the entire northern part of North America for the past 2 million years. During cold periods, glaciers form in the north, move south, and then retreat at the next warming period. Many such...
16. Wolves, Coyotes, and Deer
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Perspective is a great help in identifying some animals in the wild. For example, if you see a canid (doglike animal), you wonder if it’s a coyote or a wolf. If there’s just one, it can be hard to judge size. Through the years I have heard of reports of lone wolves in my...
17. Lead, Lead, Everywhere?
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No, they are not characteristics of your in-laws, as relevant as the last two might seem. If you answered lead in our bodies, you would be right (or you read the title of the chapter). This laundry list of human maladies caused by lead makes clear why we are...
18. Politics and the Lead Ammo Debate
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One of my essays on lead ingestion by Bald Eagles generated some controversy after it was published. One reader wrote that my article contained misinformation and was politically motivated. I had to chuckle at the thought of my having a political agenda, but...
19. Getting the Lead Out (of Chukars)
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At a recent meeting of ornithologists in Jacksonville, Florida, a paper by graduate student Justin Bingham caught my eye. He presented two papers on lead ingestion by Chukars, and since I regularly eat Chukars from a hunting club, I was immediately...
20. Sounding the Alarm, Mourning Dove Style
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One fine spring day I sat in a ground blind with my bow, waiting for Mr. Tom. This usually involves lots of inactivity, and to pass the time, I watched a Mourning Dove gathering nesting material from the ground. Mourning Doves make a nest consisting of...
21. Moaning Moose and Topi Lies
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I would guess that in general what we know about the behavior of animals is loosely related to their size. Small animals are often hard to observe and study. Conversely, you might think that we probably don’t have much left to learn about the behavior of an...
22. Turkeys and Love: What's Actually Happening Out There in Spring?
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The spring mating season of the Wild Turkey signals a welcome change from Minnesota winter. As hunters know, solitary toms or groups of toms patrol for available hens, each of which has figured out where they are going to nest. We know that this is the time...
23. Looking Back at Turkey Season: What You Might Not have Seen
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A quick glance is usually all that is needed to tell whether the turkey approaching your decoy is a mature tom, a jake, or a hen. Obviously, tom turkeys are larger than females and jakes, and toms are the most brightly colored, resulting from iridescent...
24. When Black Bears Attack!
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On September 28, 2002, a father and son were bow hunting for elk in Idaho. The son was waiting in ambush in a clearing, while the father was a hundred yards away, calling. All of a sudden, two black bear cubs entered the clearing, followed by their mother....
25. I Wouldn't Have Seen It if I Hadn't Believed It: A Look at the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Controversy
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I received a call from a person a few years back. He began by saying that what he was about to tell me would be hard to believe. Mind-blowing. He cautioned that I might consider him a kook, but in fact he prided himself on being a careful observer, and I...
26. Recent Developments in the Climate Change News
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Although I earned a Ph.D. in zoology, there is an enormous number of fields about which I know no more, and probably less, than the average person. Perhaps the most important thing I have learned is to recognize when I don’t know enough to have an...
27. Night of the Dead Birds, or Too Much Hitchcock?
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My old friend Larry Conroy, who passed away at all too early an age, was fond of saying, “You know, the odd thing about rare events is that they sometimes happen.” He would trot this out whenever some set of events occurred that people attributed to a...
28. Eagle Attacks Toddler!: Then Again, Maybe Not
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I’m sure many people saw the video of a large raptor, supposedly a Golden Eagle, flying through the sky, making a steep turn, descending, and trying to carry off a toddler, to the dismay and horror of the onlooking father. Several prominent television stations...
In the Water
29. Recreational Fishing Alters Fish Evolution
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I get depressed when I look at the price per pound for walleye at the grocery store, as it’s often under $15 per pound. I calculate what it costs me to catch them, figuring in the boat, gear, gas, and lodging. Somewhere near $11.7 million per pound is my estimate....
30. Duck Hunting in the Low Country: Or, How’s Your Kooikerhondje?
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On a recent trip to the coastal town of Gaast in the Netherlands, my host asked if I’d like to see a “duck decoy.” I figured something was lost in translation, so to be polite I said, “Sure.” Talk about a trip back in time....
31. Predators and Ducklings in the North Dakota Prairies
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Minnesota duck hunters have witnessed a big decline in the number of ducks seen during recent hunting seasons. There are lots of possible reasons, such as migration routes shifting westward, too little food in stopover areas, or too many predators. Lots of...
32. Long-Term Sexual Tensions between Male and Female Ducks
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Once people learn I’m an ornithologist, I sometimes get motioned into a corner where I’m asked in a hushed tone, “Say, how do birds ‘do it’?” Birds are at the opposite end of things like some worms, where “the act” can take seven hours. In birds, the act is not particularly...
33. Vigilance in Ducks: More than Meets the Eye(Lid)
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Several potential advantages accrue to individuals who live in flocks. An obvious advantage is being able to share guard duty. If you trust your flock mates, you can sleep or not spend a lot of time watching for predators as long as someone else is on duty, being...
34. What Little We Knew about the Labrador Duck Just Got Littler
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We are all aware that the days of ducks filling the skies are long past. Still, seemingly good numbers are around, and none have recently gone extinct. This is not the case for the Labrador Duck, which was extinct by the late 1800s. Our knowledge of this bird is...
35. Mumbling Along: Lessons from the Past about Stopping the Spread of Exotic Species
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The spread of aquatic invasive species has become epidemic. Departments of natural resources struggle to stem these invasions, although their efforts sometimes seem too little too late. Many procedures have been introduced to reduce spreading from lake...
36. What You Don't See Under Your Boat
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One my favorite sayings from philosopher Delos McKown is “the invisible and the non-existent often look very much alike.” Of course, not everything invisible to us is nonexistent, but some of the things we cannot see, at least with the naked eye, are pretty...
37. Never Be a Baby Bird
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I learned ornithology from Dwain Warner, a longtime curator of birds at the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum of Natural History. Dwain, or DW as we called him, had a number of sayings, but one of his favorites was “never be a baby bird.” He was...
38. Oh, No! Duck Hunting Videos Might Not Be Realistic!
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I spend a lot of time watching duck, goose, and archery deer-hunting videos because they cut the boredom of my treadmill sessions. My unofficial opinion is that in deer-hunting videos, there’s a 95 percent chance of a shot and kill. If I took that literally, I’d have to...
39. Snow Geese and Polar Bears: Collision Course
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For several years I took my ornithology class to the Dakotas to witness the spectacle of the spring Snow Goose migration. Huge, noisy flocks of migrating geese stretching from horizon to horizon provided an experience we will all remember for a lifetime. The...
40. Species Conservation at the State Level: A Fish-Eye View
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Most people have heard of the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA), federal legislation passed by Congress in 1973, which extends protection to species, subspecies, and distinct population segments (of vertebrates only). Recognizing that our natural...
Animals and Us
41. Reconsider Your Walk with Fido?
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Most people have heard of the negative effects that house cats have on our native wildlife. Cats on the loose kill about a million birds a day, and they kill an even larger number of native rodents (wonder why we have fewer raptors?). But what about man’s best friend?...
42. Loon Hunting: A Bygone Tradition
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So begins a fascinating article on the hunting of Common Loons written by Storrs Olson, Horace Loftin, and Steve Goodwin in the December 2010 issue of the Wilson Journal of Ornithology. I had never heard of loon hunting, and what I learned was some...
43. Market Hunting and the Demise of the Eskimo Curlew
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It is not hard to imagine that if this quote referred to your favorite species, its long-term survival would be in doubt. Indeed, the species is the Eskimo Curlew, and although it was once abundant, of May 1950, residents reacted negatively. According to Olson and...
44. The Ethics of Baiting and High-Fence Ranch Hunting: A Perennial Debate
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What do baiting deer and hunting at high-fence ranches have in common? Ethics. Few topics are as guaranteed to start an argument as different hunters’ perceptions of what is ethical. For example, many factions have dug in their heels and deemed...
45. Hunters and Conservationists at Odds over Shooting Shorebirds
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The ornithological community was up in arms recently over the shooting of two large shorebirds, called Whimbrels, on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, in French West Indies. Of course the question is, how would ornithologists know this even occurred?...
46. A Converation about Hunting in the Netherlands
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Here on reclaimed land are agricultural fields with lots of grazing sheep. In these fields, my hosts and their colleagues study large shorebirds, such as breeding Black-tailed Godwits, and other birds that use the area as a “refueling site” during migration....
47. Back from the Dead; Mother Goose Goes to the Poor House, Cooked
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Once upon a time, we thought we had lost the giant “race” of the Canada Goose. Habitat loss and overhunting of the big geese resulted in their apparent demise. But in the early 1960s, some representatives of the big goose were found in southeastern Minnesota....
48. Cats Outdoors and Native Birds: An Unnatural Mix
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To say that letting cats roam outdoors is controversial may be the biggest understatement since Noah (reputedly) remarked, “It looks like rain.” Many have written about the detrimental effects on native birds caused by house cats that are allowed outside. Pure...
49. Five Million U.S. Residents Don't See the Problem with Their Cat Killing Just One Bird a Day
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I admit to adapting this title from an article in a well-known satirical newspaper named after a vegetable. But I had to get your attention, because hasn’t the cat-wildlife issue been visited enough times? Many have pointed out the problems caused by irresponsible...
50. Cats on Birds: A More Insidious Side
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One might think that the authors who titled their scientific paper “Urban Bird Declines and the Fear of Cats,” published in Animal Conservation in late 2007, intended the title to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Indeed, the title does mislead in the sense that...
51. Some We Love, Others Not So Much
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Invasive species often threaten the ecosystems on which our native species depend. We mount vigorous campaigns against the spread of carp (of various kinds), purple loosestrife, spiny waterflea, Eurasian watermilfoil, emerald ash borer, buckthorn, and...
52. RICO, the Circus, and Conflicts between Hunters and Nonhunters
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Oddly, people who strive to see animals killed ethically and humanely, namely, hunters, aren’t always friends with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), who, it would seem from its name, has a similar goal. Many people think that this organization...
53. A New Respect for Porcupine Quills
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I own pointing dogs, which I let range far afield, and when we’re hunting, several major concerns loom. One is that they’ll get caught in a trap. Second, they’ll find a skunk that they can’t help investigate (been there, done that). Lastly, the dog will corner a...
54. Outfoxed Again!: Foxes Use Built-In Range Finders!
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We tend to view ourselves as the ultimate observers. We can experiment, watch, record, and interpret what animals do in the real world, and we’re pretty sure they don’t have the same capabilities. Our confidence in our abilities was shaken, however, when...
55. How Do Ground-Nesting Grouse Ever Breed Successfully?: An Oily Subject
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Spring and summer are not the favorite times of year for my English setter and my drahthaars. Every day they check me out in the morning when I come down the stairs to see if, by any chance, I’m wearing hunting clothes. After this wardrobe check, when they...
56. Our Chickadees Are Smarter than Theirs
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The Black-capped Chickadee is one of eastern North America’s most familiar birds. We see them in many places all year long, from deer stands to duck blinds to bird feeders, from the forests in the far north to woodlots in the prairie. It is one of the first...
57. Neck-Deep in Guano: A Recent History of Chimney Swifts
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Everything we do, did, and will do is framed in the context of time. But given the universality of time, we have a surprisingly poor grasp of it. I know, usually, what I’m doing at the moment, but I don’t have to go far back in time, say, yesterday, for what I did to...
58. Shake, Rattle, and Spray, Doggie Style
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My English setter is great at finding birds and holding a point. I once watched a bird walk under him at a game farm, and he didn’t break point. He once pointed a wounded, but live, bird under four inches of snow with no visible signs that anything was there....
59. Drahthaar Follies
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On a recent trip to Texas we were bow hunting hogs at a ranch, and the guide killed a rattlesnake. Although I don’t condone the random killing of snakes, my son had just discovered a rattler in the stick blind he was hunting from, and the guide would...
60. "Trash Birds," the Law, and Amazing Biology
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The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 made it illegal for any citizen to possess (or sell) any part of a bird, including a feather, egg (even an egg shell fragment), or nest, from any species, excluding the House (or English) Sparrow, European Starling, and Rock...
61. The Dating Game, Antelope Style
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People have known for quite some time that children born from marriages between close relatives often have serious defects. We term this inbreeding. A prime example of the negative effects of inbreeding in people was revealed in a recent study of the...
62. Camouflage: One of Life's Universals
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Blending into your environment can take many forms. One dictionary defines camouflage as “the devices that animals use to blend into their environment in order to avoid being seen by predators or prey.” Most hunters have a variety of camo clothing...
63. One More Cup of Coffee
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How many times have you been fishing or duck hunting and told yourself “one more cup of coffee and we’ll call it quits”? We must have all done this once and then either hooked a fish or had ducks rain from the sky over our suddenly irresistible decoys. That must...
Postscript: Confessions of a Three-Minute Outdoorsman
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I think it must be true that you cannot take the boy out of the man. Despite the heavy responsibilities that come with being adults and parents, we still find time to do the things we loved as children. My outdoors experience as a youth involved fishing....
About the Author
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Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2014