As any sportsman will tell you (or wolf will show), hunting is far more than instinct. Being a hunter means constantly learning. Adapting. Evolving. It has since the dawn of time. No matter the predator or prey, the act of harvesting one living thing to sustain another is paramount to nature. It is nature.
While this subject tends to get real heated real fast in today’s society, there will never be any denying humanity’s role as Earth’s apex predator. Our hunting prowess is what led us to tools. To art. To the top of the food chain.
There will always be an element of sacrifice to the hunt. But alongside that sacrifice comes knowledge, respect, and wisdom. And no tool will ever make for a better hunter than a sharp mind.
It may feel heavy in here, but we’re here to celebrate the hunt and the harvest. To do so, we’ve gathered 25 of the most astounding facts about our wildlife in North America – the one’s we’ve shaped this continent with – for better or worse. But we’re not just talking any old facts. We’re talking truly surprising, astonishing facts to add to your mental library.
For instance, you might know that moose are the largest deer species in the world by far – or that a full grown bison bull can weigh more than a VW Beetle (which is still mind-blowing). But did you know that alligators use tools and eat fruit? Or that foxes can literally see Earth’s magnetic field? And elk antlers can grow a full inch in one day, depending on how much sunlight they get?
Hang on to your hats, fellow hunters, and prepare for 25 amazing facts about animals we hunt or harvest in North America.
Elk Cows Can Count a Mate’s Antler Points
And what exactly does “wapiti” mean?
It sounds unlikely, but scientists have noted the ability in female elk (cows) to count. More specifically, wildlife biologists have observed cows counting to 10. How can this be?
According to elk-laden Estes Park in Colorado, (#1) when a female elk is given the choice between a bull with nine antler points or 10 antler points – she nearly always chooses the bull with 10 points for mating. In short: the ladies are paying attention, wapiti…
This should be unsurprising, too, as antlers are a massive part of elk life. Used in everything from these mating displays to a bull’s offense and defense, (#2) a male wapiti’s full rack can weight 40 lbs and grow a solid inch in just one day. Remarkably, their antler growth is directly linked to how much sunlight a bull gets, as well. The more sun an elk absorbs, the more testosterone their body produces, and the more growth their antlers see. Explains all that wapiti sunbathing as the bulls hope to grow those coveted 10-points for the ladies, eh?
Speaking of, if you’ve always heard your fellow hunters & conservationists referring to elk as “wapiti,” but remain stumped on what this word means, we’ve got you covered there, too.
If you guessed wapiti to be a Native American name for the species, you guessed right. (#3) Specifically, wapiti is the indigenous Shawnee people’s name for elk. In their language, wapiti means “white rump.” This, of course, refers to the bright, bone-white coloration of an elk’s backside. Now you know!
Yellowstone’s are Only “Prehistoric” Bison Remaining in U.S.
According to DOI.gov, (#4) “Yellowstone National Park is the only place in the U.S. where bison have continuously lived since prehistoric times.”
What makes this so remarkable a statement? For starters, Yellowstone is the only place in America where pure descendants of bison roam. This means the national park’s herds are the only U.S. bison free of cattle genes. That’s right, the species was so near the brink of extinction that early American conservationists had to interbreed bison with domestic cattle to keep them from completely dying out.
The bison’s plight was so bad, in fact, that (#5) Theodore Roosevelt would change his entire outlook on life based solely on his experience hunting the species. A lifelong hunter, Roosevelt saw the destruction U.S. settlers had wrought on the land’s bison first-hand in the Dakota Territory (before the Dakotas were states) in 1883. As a result of his experience, he would return to New York a changed man, starting the U.S. conservation movement with a primary focus on bison. To do so, he founded the American Bison Society with William Hornaday in 1905 to prevent the species’ total annihilation.
Thanks in no small part to his efforts, (#6) bison now live in every single U.S. State once more. We owe this to the Dept. of the Interior, conservation programs, national parks, preserves, and all-important Native American Reservations, as well.
Turkeys Never Lived in Turkey, But They DO Share The Name
How exactly does a wild bird native only to North America… wind up with the name of a Mediterranean country on the other side of the globe?
The National Wildlife Federation clarifies that our wild North American turkeys do, in fact, get their name from the nation of Turkey. But how?
(#7) Apparently, early European visitors to the continent saw this large bird and were reminded of one back home known as the “Turkey bird.” The culprit? Historians believe the African guinea fowl made its way to the countries of European settlers in Medieval times from Turkey, and named it as such. These guinea fowl were popular up through the end of the Middle Ages (or 15th century, right when European exploration of North America was at its climax). As the only creature Europeans had ever seen to resemble our giant North American birds, the name “Turkey” was quickly assigned to this wild fowl of the Americas, as well.
What a journey!
Black Bear Hibernation is Serious Business (or lack thereof)
And you’re as likely to outrun a horse as you are a bear…
Black bears are in many ways as symbolic to North America as the bison and bald eagle. Widespread, curious, and adaptable, they’re quite a common sight for Americans. Conservative estimates from Montana state officials place roughly 600,000 black bears present in the U.S. Hunters and conservationists here are quite familiar with this widespread species, too, as a result. Hunting black bears is legal in 27 U.S. states, and is often the subject of great debate.
With such exposure, it’s a bit more challenging to find black bear facts that will astound the average outdoors folk. Their expert tree-climbing and swimming abilities are well documented. It may shock you to know, however, that a black bear can match the sprint of a horse. (#8) A lean, summer black bear can run at 35 mph – full pace – and keep it up, too. So no matter what any myth or Survival Joe tells you, there’s absolutely no outrunning a black bear.
Even more shocking, though, is the ins-and-outs of black bear hibernation – or lack thereof. Black bears eat a remarkable amount of food before hibernation to build up fat reserves to last them through the winter months. They won’t eat or drink during, as a result. But did you know that (#9) black bears will not urinate or defecate during hibernation, either? Sure, it seems a messy business if they were to, but somehow this is far more shocking than not eating from October to April.
Moreover, (#10) black bears will only breath once every 45 seconds during hibernation, according to Montana’s Big Sky Park. Congruently, they will lower their heart rate down to 8 to 21 bmp (beats per minute).
Mallards are Everywhere – Including the Nobel Prize List
And we said the black bear has “exposure.” This won’t surprise a single duck hunter, but mallards are the most abundant duck in the world. FWS.gov estimates their U.S. population alone to be over 11.6 million ducks. As such, they account for one in every three ducks harvested in North America.
They’re so abundant, in fact, that nothing is safe from the mallard duck – not even the Nobel Prize. Mental Floss recounts what has to be the most astonishing mallard duck story we’ve ever read: (#11) A Netherlands museum scientist won a 2003 Ig Nobel Prize for the homosexual necrophilia of a mallard drake. You read that right.
“In 1995, Kees Moeliker, a curator at Rotterdam’s Natuurhistorisch Museum , documented the first case of homosexual necrophilia in mallards after he found one male mallard attempting to mate with another that had died after flying into a museum window,” says the trade.
Moeliker wrote on the incident that the mallard “mounted the corpse and started to copulate, with great force, almost continuously picking the side of the head” for over an hour before Moeliker stepped in. The resulting, full scientific paper won Moeliker his Ig Nobel Prize in 2003.
Ever since, there has been a holiday to celebrate this… incredible(?) duck, as well. (#12) June 5 is Dead Duck Day in the Netherlands, and honors the anniversary of the mallard’s unusual demise. The museum had the duck stuffed, and presents him to the public every Dead Duck Day, alongside a “splat” marker where the mallard hit their window.
White-Tailed Deer Can Jump a School Bus
Most North American hunters have seen the incredible, spring-like jumping abilities of the white-tailed deer on display. These commonplace deer will clear a 6 foot fence with ease and can clear a 4 foot obstacle from a standstill.
It’s less common knowledge, however, that (#13) white-tailed deer can jump a remarkable 10 feet (over 3 meters) into the air. We’ve never seen a white-tail jump a typical school bus… but now we kind of need to.
The lesson here is – if you’re building any sort of fence to keep white-tails out, it better be at least 11 feet tall.
American Alligators are Tool-Using Engineers
And we now know they actively eat fruit, too…
Welcome to the Southeast, my friends – where we hunt, harvest, and live side-by-side with behemoth reptiles that predate the dinosaurs. These remarkable beasts have been studied intensely, revealing many fascinating facts that lie beneath their leathery hides. But nature will always continue to surprise us – and the American alligator remains one of her most surprising creations.
For starters, (#14) Florida wildlife officials have recently observed their alligators using tools. The species will balance sticks or branches atop their snout and head, using them as lures to attract nesting birds. You can guess what happens afterwards.
American alligators are fine ecosystem engineers alongside their tool use, as well. The ponds they create, known as alligator holes, retain water during dry seasons. As such, alligators are literal habitat engineers for other animals.
Even more incredible, however, is that (#15) the American alligator has recently been observed, reported, and confirmed to eat fruits. Thought to be fully carnivorous for centuries of science, we now know that alligators will eat wild grapes, citrus fruits, and elderberries, and may even play a role in spreading fruit seeds in their ecosystems.
Bighorn Rams Will Battle Over 24 hrs for a Mate
And can be larger than an American black bear in size…
Hunting and harvesting bighorn sheep species in North America has become a grand privilege. The species’ scarcity mostly results from overhunting and diseases in the 20th century. Conservation efforts have helped our bighorn species bound back, however, and will continue to do so.
Bighorns are, either way, accustomed to a hard life – literally. When it comes to the rams (males) of the species, opponents will charge and smash into each other’s skulls at a speed of 20 miles (32 km) per hour. Repeatedly.
In fact, (#16) Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife officials have observed two rams in combat over a mate for as long as 25 continuous hours. Within, the rival rams collided no less than 5 times per hour. Even in this particular contest, the victor would have continued sparring if his opponent hadn’t conceded.
Alongside their ramming namesake, we typically imagine our wild sheep and goats on the sides of steep cliffs as they perform death-defying feats, as well. It is an incredible internal sense of balance allows for bighorns to do jus that.
Amazingly, (#17) bighorn sheep can stand comfortably on ledges that are a mere 2 inches (5 cm) wide. From this, they can then spring 20 feet (6 meters) from one 2 inch outcrop to another – and stick a perfect landing near-every time.
If you thought these wild sheep were cuddly-sized like our domestic breeds, however, think again. All of these feats are performed by bighorns as the largest sheep in North America. We’re talking enormous. (#18) Bighorn sheep males can weigh over 300 lbs and can stand over 3 ft (1+ meters) at their shoulders alone. Both of these measurements are above the average black bear.
Ring-Necked Pheasants Aren’t Long for this World…
But they sure have seen a lot of it.
One of the more peculiar, yet commonly-hunted species on this North American list is the Ring-necked pheasant. As popular as these game birds are, you would assume they’re native. Sharp hunters will know this is not the case, but how recent an addition they are to the Americas is quite shocking:
(#19) Ring-necked pheasants have only been present in North America since 1857, and are only truly-native to continental Asia. These gorgeous grouse relatives were first brought over to the Americas by European settlers, a land from which they’re not native, either. It goes to show you: any bird this beautiful – and this delicious – will travel.
Moreover, if any non-hunter ever gives you grief about harvesting a creature this pretty – just let them know that (#20) pheasants only live for 1 year or less in the wild, on average. Again, anything nature makes this tasty isn’t going to last long. Everything from foxes and coyotes to raccoons, wild cats, birds of prey, and us humans dine on pheasants regularly.
Foxes Can See the Earth’s Magnetic Field
Talk about astonishing. These sort of incredible facts are the kinds we live for at Outsider.
Foxes – the red fox, in particular – are striking canines that have held man’s fascination for millennia. They’re heavily featured in folklore both abroad and in North America. Red foxes have long been hunted both for their gorgeous pelts, as well as their penchant to decimate small livestock (especially chickens, ducks, and geese). As stealthy and effective a hunter as the fox is in the wild, anything cooped up like our poultry will never stand a chance unless heavily fortified.
But did you know there’s a remarkable reason behind the fox’s uncanny stealth and predatory precision?
Astoundingly, (#21) Foxes can see Earth’s magnetic field as a “ring of shadow” in their vision, and harness it to hunt. This ring darkens as the fox heads towards magnetic north. ” When the shadow and the sound the prey is making line up, it’s time to pounce,” cites New Scientist.
Biologists have long observed other animals using our magnetic field to their advantage. Many birds use it to migrate, as well as sea turtles. The fox, however, is the first scientists have ever discovered to use a magnetic sense to catch prey. Unreal!
Moose are Far Deadlier to Humans than Bears & Wolves Combined
Say it with us: “Respect the moose.”
All hunters, conservationists, and wildlife appreciators know that moose are enormous. The largest extant member of the deer family by far, bull moose regularly weight 1,100-1,500 lbs. They stand over 6, sometimes 7 ft (2+ meters) at their shoulders alone on average, too. With their head raised and antlers spread, a moose can reach 8 or 9 ft (3 m). No other living cervid comes close.
Even these typical statistics, however, pale in comparison to the largest moose harvest ever on record. In fact, (#22) The largest moose ever recorded was an Alaskan-Yukon bull weighing over 1,800 pounds, just shy of a full ton. The harvest was made by Debra Card and her rifle near Cordova, Alaska in September 1999. Just as remarkably, her bull had an antler spread of over 74 inches, with 19 points on one side and 20 on the other.
As you can imagine, anything this mammoth (the largest mammal in North America) is bound to pose a threat to us humans. According to Big Sky Park, Montana statistics, (#23) Moose attack more people yearly than bears and wolves combined. In the Americas, moose are responsible for more injuries to humans than any other wild animal, period. Worldwide, only the vicious hippopotamus injures more people in a year. (That’s a serious statement, too. Hippos are wildly dangerous, aggressive behemoths. But that’s a subject for another list!)
Again, say it with us: “Respect the moose!”
Eastern Coyotes Are No Longer Coyotes
Enter the Coywolf.
If you’re first thought upon seeing this photo was “those aren’t coyotes, those are wolves!” – you’re not far off. Coyotes are much smaller than their wolven cousins on average, but interbreeding between the species in the Eastern United States and Canada has produced a remarkable new hybrid.
Enter the coywolf: (#24) The eastern United States is now home to a coywolf population in the millions. These hybrids, or Canis latrans var., is a whopping 55 pounds heavier than a pure North American coyote. They larger jaws and canines, longer legs, stouter ears and more wolf-like, bushy tails.
North American coyote and wolf species have always been genetically similar – to the point where such interbreeding is not only possible, but frequent. As human’s hunting, deforestation, and poisoning greatly endangered eastern wolf populations, the western coyotes began moving into their territory – and interbreeding came naturally.
In fact, these eastern coyote coywolves are a true hodge-podge of North American canine DNA. Incredibly, (#25) Recent studies indicate the subspecies is “part eastern wolf, part wester wolf, western coyote and with some dog (large breeds like Doberman Pinschers and German Shepherds)” mixed in, reports The Economist.
Now, if you see a large, wolf-like coyote in the Eastern U.S. (a common site for this remote forest-living, Tennessee based author) – you’ll know it’s on average a quarter wolf, a tenth dog, and wholly unlike your great-grandfather’s pesky coyote.
Are You Sufficiently Shocked & Amazed?
25 astonishing facts later, we certainly hope so. If you care to further quench your curiosity, stick with us at Outsider.com for all the latest hunting & outdoors headlines, tips, tricks and facts. Up next: