Off the Chain: Which of These 70 Viral Outdoors Emails are Real and Which are Hoaxes?

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Just when it seems email is good for nothing but Viagra pitches and Nigerian banking scams, something weird or wonderful (or both) pops into the old inbox: a catfish with a basketball stuck in its mouth, a snake that ate an alligator, a hawk attacking a fox. Usually these email oddities--some funny, some grim--come from incredulous friends or co-workers who swear they're true, and they carry a gaudy train of forward headers that suggests plenty of others think so too. The amazing thing is, a surprising number of the photos are real, even if the stories behind them are slightly…modified. This our fully updated series of outdoors shots, with 44 new photos, most of which have made several laps on the viral email circuit and caused many to wonder if they are, in fact, real. Click through and see which of these popular chain mails check out and which are hoaxes, according to Snopes.com.

Charlton Heston’s Gun Collection

Charleton Heston's Gun Collection One of a series of snapshots that show the impressive gunroom of Charlton Heston, reportedly located in the basement of the actor's house. Burglar beware. True or false?
FALSE Snopes wasn't able to verify whom the gun vault belongs to, but it wasn't Charlton Heston. http://www.snopes.com/photos/architecture/gunvault.asp

Fire Escape

Fire Escape
A U.S. Forest Service worker snapped this stunning shot during a massive forest fire in the Bitterroot National Forest of Montana in 2000. Or in Yellowstone in 1988, British Columbia in 2003 or California in 2007--depending on which email you got. Either way, the photo spread across the Internet like, well, wildfire. True or false?
TRUE John McColgan, a Forest Service fire behavior analyst, took the photograph on August 6, 2000, near Sula, Montana, where wildlife found refuge in the East Fork of the Bitterroot River. The firestorm that produced 800-degree walls of flame and scorched 100,000 acres was among the top three he'd seen in his 20-year career, McColgan told a Montana newspaper. http://www.snopes.com/photos/natural/deerfire.asp

Just Quillin'

Just Quillin'
If this isn't real, then someone's got too much time on their hands--and a very patient dog. True or false?
TRUE A female bull terrier named Inca sported thousands of quills after an encounter with a porcupine. "Her tongue was so covered she couldn't close her mouth," reported the dog's owner. A vet removed the quills, and the dog recovered.

http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/porcupinedog.asp

Dam Sheep

Dam Sheep
Bighorn sheep cling to the sheer face of the Buffalo Bill Dam in Cody, Wyoming. If you can't imagine why sheep would do such a thing, you've never been to Cody on a Saturday night. True or false?
TRUE The details are wrong (these are Alpine ibex on the Cingino Dam in northern Italy, not Wyoming bighorns) but the photos and the remarkable feat they picture are very real. The wild mountain goats climb the face of the dam to lick mineral deposits from the stones.

http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/buffalobill.asp

Buck Out of Water

Buck Out of Water
Fishing five miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, an angler encountered a whitetail deer struggling to stay afloat. He lassoed the exhausted buck and hauled it aboard, then returned to shore and released it. True or false?
TRUE Again, although the details are wrong, the basic story is sound. Anglers Chad Campbell and Bo Warren were fishing in 80 feet of water a mile-and-a-half off Bloody Point in Chesapeake Bay (not 5 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico) when they saw what appeared to be a seal swimming toward their boat. As it got closer, they recognized a whitetail deer struggling mightily to stay afloat. Warren, who grew up on a cattle farm, managed to lasso the buck on the first attempt. When they released it on shore, the whitetail was too weak to walk. "We left him sitting there looking at us," Campbell says. "I looked him in the eye and said, 'See you on opening day.'"

http://www.snopes.com/photos/hunting/deerfish.asp

Bear Attack

Bear Attack
A wildlife photographer captured this shot--his last--before he was fatally mauled by a brown bear on the Kamchatka Peninsula in eastern Russia. True or false?
FALSE This digitally manipulated image is yet another Worth1000.com contest entry. A hoaxster later copied the photo and invented the claim that it was shot by Michio Hoshino, a wildlife photographer who was indeed killed by grizzlies on Kamchatka. http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/beartent.asp

Cat Eats Man

Cat Eats Man
The Chinese government censored news reports after a huge catfish caught in Furong Reservoir was found with human remains in its stomach, but these cellphone pics winged their way through cyberspace. The fish was 3 metres long with a head 1 metre wide. True or false?
FALSE This big fish is no man-eater. It's not even a catfish, but a whale shark, a slow-moving filter feeder that lives in saltwater. Whale sharks are the largest fish species, with the biggest on record stretching 41 feet--and this specimen is nowhere near that large. http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/giantcatfish.asp

Polar Opposites

Polar Opposites
National Geographic photographer Norbert Rosing caught this unusual encounter in Canada's Hudson Bay, between a playful polar bear and a frisky sled dog. The bear reportedly returned every night for a week to play with the dog. True or false?
TRUE Rosing regularly photographs polar bears on the western coast of Hudson Bay, and his 2006 book The World of the Polar Bear follows a family of bears over the course of a year. These photos were used in a slide presentation by a psychiatrist who studies the evolution of human and animal play. Apparently, no sled dogs were harmed in the making of these images. http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/polardog.asp
100-Pound Coyote?
This deer-dwarfing beast reportedly weighed 115 pounds and set a New York State record. True or false?
FALSE What we have here is a shaggy dog story: The photo is real, but the animal on the right is a wolf-dog hybrid shot and killed in Pennsylvania. The beast weighed around 100 pounds and was neutered, indicating it was probably someone's pet. http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/coyote.asp

There's Your Problem Right There

There's Your Problem Right There
A Baltimore Gas & Electric service technician supposedly discovered this unfortunate deer on a 25-foot-high utility pole after a customer reported a power outage. The pole was located near a railroad track, leading some to speculate the deer landed there after being hit by a train. True or false?
TRUE Several people saw the deer--near Winnipeg, Manitoba, not Baltimore--and the incident received wide coverage on Canadian TV and radio. Explanations vary: Some say a deer landing just so after colliding with a train is technically possible, but highly unlikely. Some credit pranksters. In short, no one has explained what the deer was seeking at that altitude.

http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/poledeer.asp
Hang 20
A bear crossing Rainbow Bridge near Lake Tahoe, California, scrambled over the rail after being startled by a passing car--and found itself clinging precariously to an arch 80 feet above a rocky gorge. The stranded bruin spent the night under the bridge before animal control officers rescued it with a net. True or false?
TRUE Animal control officers did indeed rescue this 250-pound bear after it became clear that the stranded animal couldn't help himself. They shot the bruin with a tranquilizer dart, used a pole to shove it into a net and then lowered it safely to the ground.

http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/bearledge.asp

Upended

Upended
Emails attributed this spectacular scene--a golden eagle battling a fox for rights to a snowbound carcass--to a hunter in Montana. True or false?
TRUE Finnish photographer Pekka Komi took this photograph, not a hunter. The complete series reportedly suggests that the fox interrupted the eagle feeding on the carcass, not the other way around. http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/eaglefox.asp

Landing Spot

Landing Site
Moral of this story: Never take skydiving lessons from an alligator farmer. True or false?
FALSE Another Worth1000 entry (the theme this time was "Unlucky Day"). The composite photo digitally added a hapless parachutist to a shot identified elsewhere as an alligator farm in Louisiana.

http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/parachute.asp

Elk Crossing

Elk Crossing
Circulated with the subject line, "If you build it they will come," this photo claims to show an overpass constructed near Banff to ensure safe passage of wildlife across the Trans-Canada Highway. It appears to be working. True or false?
TRUE The email garbled the facts, but the image is real. To protect wildlife and drivers, Parks Canada erected tall fences and built overpasses and underpasses for wildlife along several sections of the Trans-Canada Highway. However, this photo shows elk crossing a Canadian Pacific railroad bridge.

http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/banffelk.asp

Pink Dolphin

Pink Dolphin
Reports of a pink dolphin had been circulating in Calcasieu Lake, Louisiana, before someone finally snapped photographs that reportedly show a rare juvenile albino bottlenose dolphin. True or false?
TRUE Biologists say this is only the 14th pink dolphin spotted in the world since 1962, and they speculate that blood vessels beneath a dolphin's relatively thin skin create the albino's pink hue. Poor eyesight, increased sensitivity to sunlight and coloration that makes albinos easily spotted by predators probably contributes to their rarity. http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/pinkdolphin.asp

Beast of Burden

Beast of Burden
Hey, if Clydesdales can play football, why can't a moose skid logs? True or false?
FALSE Sure, it's fake, but the prankster gets points for taking the time to weave a long and tangled tale that explains how a moose raised in close proximity to draught horses came to find itself in harness. This certainly isn't the first take on this theme (as the photo above shows) but it may be the most entertaining. http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/workmoose.asp

A-OK

A-OK A 15-year-old boy on a "scoober diving" excursion in Australia snapped this underwater photo of his parents, then scurried back to the boat as quick as his swim fins could kick him. His parents followed, mystified by his hasty retreat, until he showed them the photograph--and the great white shark looming behind them. True or false?
FALSE The Worth1000 photo contests offer fertile ground for pranksters. Simply grab a composite image someone else created, invent a catchy story, and forward. Then sit back and watch your fake go viral. http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/scubashark.asp

Moose on the Make

Moose on the Make
A randy moose mounts his mate: a bison statue in a homeowner's front yard. "We did try to prevent the damage," the homeowner wrote in an email, "throwing stones at, and hitting, the attacker. The attacker could not be dissuaded and kept up his assault for eight hours." Impressive. True or false?
TRUE Not only did the moose ignore the irate homeowner, but he also paid no mind to the cars backed up on the street out front. They got photos, too. It's no prettier from this angle, is it? http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/moosemount.asp

World Record Elk

World Record Elk
Killed with a bow in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, this elk reportedly green scored 575 inches (with a nearly 7 foot outside spread) and projected as a new nontypical world record with any weapon. True or false?
FALSE This big bull did indeed score higher than any elk taken in the Selway-Bitterroot, but it was shot in 2006 on a high-fence game farm in Quebec, Canada.

http://www.snopes.com/photos/hunting/bigelk.asp

Giant Buck

Giant Buck
This whitetail killed in Nebraska or Pennsylvania weighed 412 pounds. Could it be? True or false?
FALSE Not likely. An Arkansas man named Stan Whitt was eventually identified as the hunter who arrowed this deer, reportedly on an Indian reservation in Nebraska. He told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he shot the buck on a Saturday morning in November 2005 and didn't recover it until noon the next day. By then, the buck was "somewhat bloated." Officials at the tribal wildlife office estimated 412 pounds based on a formula that converts girth to weight. The deer was never weighed. http://www.snopes.com/photos/hunting/412deer.asp

Clever Camo

Clever Camo
An Oregon doe reportedly left this fawn on a porch step littered with apple blossom petals--an ingenious and very effective camouflage for her dappled newborn. True or false?
WHO KNOWS? Snopes refused to render a judgment, mostly due to lack of information. But to someone who once saw a doe hide two fawns in the middle of a corporate campus parking lot, it seems plenty plausible.

http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/fawn.asp

’Yak Attack

'Yak Attack
A doctor in Sitka, Alaska, dodged a close call as he paddled across the gaping mouth of a humpback whale while kayaking near the ferry terminal north of downtown. This is actually an organized sport in Alaska. True or false?
FALSE Photographer Tim Shobe decided to combine two of his photos "as a small piece of entertainment" for a few friends, then was shocked at how far and how fast the image spread. Photoshop--and the Internet--strike again.

http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/whalekayak.asp
Just when it seems email is good for nothing but Viagra pitches and Nigerian banking scams, something weird or wonderful (or both) pops into the old inbox: a catfish with a basketball stuck in its mouth, a mule that mauls mountain lions, a deer perched on a utility pole. Usually these email oddities--some funny, some grim--come from incredulous friends or co-workers who swear they're true, and they carry a gaudy train of forward headers that suggests plenty of others think so too. Get one, and you probably snicker and repeat that famous P.T. Barnum quip: "Rubes! Hasn't anybody heard of Photoshop?" And yet … often the rubes are right. A check of Snopes.com, which calls itself the "definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation," reveals a surprisingly high percentage of the most well-known forwards have checked out to be true. Or true mostly. See for yourself. Click through our collection of the most popular chain-mails from the last few years, and see if you can guess (or remember) which are stranger than fiction and which are too good to be true. We'll supply the answer, and a link to Snopes for more photos and the full story.
Sometimes It's Better to Be Lucky Than Wily
Through the magic of email forwarding, this photo of a fortunate coyote caromed around the Internet in 2009. A brother and sister supposedly discovered the animal wedged behind their bumper after they drove from Colorado to California. They'd hit a coyote--at 75 mph, 8 hours and 600 miles earlier near the Utah-Nevada border--but kept going, assuming it dead. Spotting what he thought was a remnant of hide behind the car's grill, the brother tried dislodging it with a broomstick--and was shocked to find a whole coyote, very much alive. True or false?
TRUE Tevyn East told the Daily Mail that when her brother, Daniel, poked at the fur sticking out of the car's grill, "It flinched. It was a huge surprise. He got a little freaked out." They summoned wildlife officials, who used a catch pole to restrain the animal while they carefully extricated it from the car. The coyote not only survived, but also escaped from a wildlife rescue center before it could be relocated. http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/luckycoyote.asp
Gator Takes Buck Out For Lunch
This aerial shot of an alligator crossing a lake with an adult whitetail clamped in it jaws made the rounds in 2004, with various stories placing the incident in Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida--leading some to speculate the whole thing was a publicity stunt by the Southeastern Conference. One version claimed the gator stretched 25 feet, based on an estimate that the deer was every bit of 11 feet. Shockingly, no one thought it happened in North Dakota. True or false?
TRUE Terri Jenkins, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service District Fire Management Officer in Georgia, photographed the gator and the buck at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge in March 2004, according to a press release issued by the USFWS in August of that year. Jenkins estimated the gator to be 12-13 feet long. Notably, the version that portrayed a 25-foot gator hit the Internet in 2008, long after the mystery supposedly had been solved. http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/gatordeer.asp#photo
Grizzly Green
Reportedly taken at the Yellowstone Country Club in Big Sky, Montana, where the course hazards don't just lie there, they come at you with teeth bared. Good call to concede this putt: Looks like the big fella wants to play through. True or false?
TRUE The photo appeared in the book, Lost Balls: Great Holes, Tough Shots, and Bad Lies by Charles Lindsay. According to his website, Lindsay "photographs at the interface between nature and culture." And how. Lindsay knew he was working at a course where golfers regularly encountered bears, and he even had a professional animal handler on hand to advise him on the bear's body language. http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/golfbear.asp
That Last Step's A Doozy
This photograph of a British Navy diver training off the coast of South Africa was supposedly nominated for a photo of the year award by the German magazine GEO--after it went viral on the Internet. True or false?
FALSE The image is a composite, a classic hoax technique that combines two photographs into one. The helicopter shot is a U.S. Air Force photo taken in San Francisco Bay (with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background). South African photographer Charles Maxwell photographed the shark. http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/sharkdiver.asp
Gutbuster
What happens when a 13-foot python eats a 6-foot alligator? Something's got to give. In this case, from the Florida Everglades in 2005, both animals were found dead with the gator's hind legs and tail protruding from the burst midsection of the snake. One theory holds that the gator clawed its way out of the snake's belly, another that the python just bit off more than it could chew. True or false?
TRUE The photo is genuine, but exactly what happened can't be determined. Only the gator and the python know, and they ain't talking. As a matter of fact, the python's head was never found, which led to some interesting theories about what really went down. http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/snakegator.asp
Outfoxed
The picture says it all: In plain sight is sometimes the best place to hide. True or false?
FALSE Another composite, this photo merging a fox into a pack of hounds was actually an entry in a photo effects contest sponsored by Worth1000.com. http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/foxhound.asp
Fifty-Pound Rattler
Emails reported this West Virginia rattlesnake at 50 pounds and eventually bumped him up to 114 pounds and moved him across the state line to Pennsylvania. A case of interstate rivalry, or nature gone wild? True or false?
FALSE This snake--nowhere near 50 pounds, much less 114--stretched more than 6 feet long and weighed 11 pounds. It's also a western diamondback, a species found only west of the Mississippi. This one hailed from Texas. http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/claysnake.asp
Bad Ass
This widely circulated photo was one of a series that shows a mule mauling a mountain lion that ambushed a party of riders in Arizona. Supposedly the mule killed the cat before its owner could get off a single shot. True or false?
FALSE The photos are real, but the story behind them has been seriously retouched. An account in Western Mule Magazine in 2005 set the record straight: The mule's owner, Jody Anglin, hunted mountain lions. Over time the mule became aggressive toward the animals--but only after Jody had done his part. The lion in this photo was already dead by the time Berry the mule got hold of it. http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/mulelion.asp
"You're gonna need a bigger boat"
What does a man in a 3.8-metre kayak do when shadowed by a 4-metre shark? Paddle faster. True or false?
TRUE The photo appeared in the 2005 Africa Geographic article "Shark Detectives." Researchers used kayaks to study sharks in shallow waters off South Africa because the big predators quickly adjusted to their presence, allowing scientists to get a close look at natural shark behavior. http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/sharkkayak.asp
Hogzilla
"The Hogzilla photo that took the Internet by storm in the last week of July 2004 is an oddity in the world of online rumor, in that the presenting tale and its accompanying snapshot of a giant hog strung over a pit went unnoticed until the media popularized it," reports Snopes. Shot by hunting guide Chris Griffin at River Oak Plantation in southern Georgia, Hogzilla supposedly stretched 12 feet and weighed 1,000 pounds.
FALSE Because Griffin and landowner Ken Holyoak produced no documentation other than one photo, skepticism reigned. A National Geographic Society team of scientists later exhumed the big pig and gathered the only objective evidence on record: They estimate Hogzilla measured 7 ½ feet long and weighed around 800 pounds. Naysayers note that while farm-raised hogs routinely top 1,000 pounds, feral hogs never do. But, hey, farm-raised hogs don't inspire parade floats and horror movies. Hogzilla did. http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/hogzilla.asp
Mountain Prowler
A hunter using a camera mounted on a shooting stick took this self-portrait trophy shot and got a big surprise when he viewed the results, according to this widely distributed 2010 chain-mail. True or false?
FALSE Another Photoshop composite: Here's the original photo, taken by a wildlife biologist in California. http://www.snopes.com/photos/hunting/stalking.asp
Ball Hog
Catfish will eat anything, right? That idea got a boost from this photo, which claims to show a flathead catfish spotted in a Kansas lake with a red basketball stuck in its mouth. Sure, he can handle the rock, but can he shoot? True or false?
TRUE When angler Bill Driver spotted a ball bobbing oddly in Sandalwood Lake near Wichita, Kansas, he investigated further. He found a 50-pound flathead with a child's basketball stuck in its mouth, exhausted and unable to dive. Driver struggled to remove the ball until he hit on the idea of deflating it first. "I never considered using a kid's basketball" for bait, he said. "Maybe I should have." http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/catchfish.asp