Off Season Preparation Equals Success

Off season preparation can help ensure a great waterfowl season. Like an early season teal zipping through the decoys, the 2014-2015 waterfowl season will quickly be upon us. Preparing throughout the off season will maximize your time and lay the ground work for a fruitful waterfowl season.

Off season prep begins with preventive maintenance, including your shotgun, hunting vehicle, boat, motor and trailer, etc. Routine inspection of your hunting equipment can reveal potential future failures. Preventive maintenance can be as simple as applying anti-seize lube to the threads of your choke tubes or using the correct lubricant on the recoil components of your favorite auto loader. Inspect all of the components of your boat trailer, such as the tires, wiring, lights, jack, and brakes. Inspect the axle bearings and regrease them. Service your motor. Now is the time to replace the water pump impeller, change the lower unit oil and check for cracks or damaged seals. Replace the spark plugs and inspect the fuel lines.

The off season is also the time to clean all of your hunting gear. Duck and geese are constantly cleaning their feathers. It would only make sense to clean your decoys and touch up their paint. Clean decoys look more natural than decoys covered in a season’s worth of muck and mud. Clean your boat trailer to minimize rust formation. A clean boat hull produces less drag on the water and allows the motor to operate more efficiently.

This is also the time of year to start honing your shooting abilities. Visit a sporting clays facility. Most sports clays courses are modeled to replicate authentic hunting scenarios. Building your comfort level with shooting a 4-inch orange rocket will boost your confidence with shooting a football-sized target in the field. To aid in waterfowl shooting, I follow the quote, “Aim small, miss small,” from one of my favorite movies The Patriot.  By concentrating on the white cheek patch of a Canada goose or the green head of a mallard drake you focus on a specific target instead of aiming at the whole bird. By aiming at the head of the bird, your lead increases by 6-12 inches and reduces the chances of crippling the duck or goose.

Along with keeping your shooting skills in check, your four-legged hunting partner needs to maintain its retrieving abilities and remain physically fit. You cannot expect your dog to be a world-class retriever after being a couch potato all year. Hunting dogs love to hunt and, at times, will actually run to the point of dying. Routine exercise and year round training sessions will keep your valuable retriever in hunting performance condition.

The off season is also the best time to introduce your retriever to any new hunting gear or equipment. Familiarizing your dog to a new dog step, blind or dog stand eliminates any confusion prior to season and offers command reinforcement opportunities. Off season gear introductions also prevent the opening day of season from turning into a retriever training day.

There is no better time to begin your scouting sessions than in the off season. With the availability of high quality topographic maps, aerial photographs, and easily accessed programs, such as Google Earth, waterfowl hunters can better prepare for the upcoming season. You can discover new potential hot spots. If you hunt farmland, off season scouting allows you the ability to talk with the farmer to learn with crops are planted or will be planted, along with their potential harvest dates.

One of the most important off season preparations is calling practice. Every accomplished duck or goose caller practices year round. Routine practice will keep your calling ability in peak duck hunting condition. Routine calling sessions can reveal potential problems with your duck calls or goose calls. Don’t wait until opening day of duck season to become an expert duck caller.