For most, duck season and upland seasons are closed, there are still late honkers to chase and conservation season is just getting underway but for a lot of us it’s over and now is the time for some reflection. It’s time to ask the question, Am I happy with how this season went?
Reflection is necessary for growth and if you can answer YES to the above question without any reservations then this article isn’t for you and frankly you’re either a liar or one lucky SOB. For the rest of us breaking down our shooting, calling, gear, dog, scouting, amount of hunting time, or anything else hunting related with honest assessments is a vital step to making next season better than this one.
Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not talking about bird numbers or weather as those are things out of our control; for example here in Wyoming we didn’t see great numbers of ducks until just recently and the birds we did have weren’t inclined to move around much due to the incredibly warm weather. Sure we had some good shoots but I know a lot of guys out West who had very rough seasons and there was nothing they could do about it. So, let’s get back to the variables we have control over and look at some ways we can improve on them before next season.
Shooting - I don’t know many guys who shoot lights out all the time. Sure there are those who never seem to miss but for the rest of us mortals practice with the shotgun in the off season is vital to consistent success in the field. Anytime you can get out and break some clays will be helpful but consistent, focused practice is where real gains are made. Dedicating just a few hours per week to a skeet or sporting clays league or even hand thrown clays and focusing on your shooting fundamentals while you're out there will lead to more birds on the strap next season.
Calling - Suck at calling? Yeah well, we all did at some point so you’re not alone. The good news is that there’s no reason to keep being bad at it. The off season is the perfect time to improve, and I’m not talking the week before season, start now! The resources for improvement have never been greater; YouTube has made learning virtually anything doable. When I was learning to blow a short reed goose call it went everywhere with me. I practiced in the truck on commutes, in the garage, around water, open fields, in my layout blind… literally anyplace, anytime I had a spare moment that call was in my hands. I’m not claiming to be a great goose caller, the point is I worked hard at it and found success. Another tip on this… put some skin in the game and enter a calling contest or two. Pressure turns coal into diamonds, calling contests force self-evaluation and you just might meet some great folks while you’re at it.
Gear - This one is simple… happy with all your gear? If not replace it or as much of it as you can. This takes money and most of us are limited by budgets so overhauling all your gear before next season may not be feasible but doing it a piece at a time is. Look for post-season sales, pre-season sales, Facebook swap/sale groups, etc. Heck, even taking on a side hustle to fund the wingshooting lifestyle isn’t a bad idea. I guide a handful of fly fishing trips each summer to help pay for my fishing addiction. Getting back to our ingenious middle school roots and hustling for some extra coin isn’t a bad thing, especially if it helps replace some worn out or less than ideal gear for next season.
Dog Training - I’m not going to get into the cattails on this one but if you and your pup struggled to see eye to eye this season it’s likely your fault. Our dogs are most often direct reflections of the time, effort and consistency we as trainers/owners put into them. Sure, there’s the breeding quotient as some dogs are just naturally better hunters than others but for the most part how our canine companions perform in the field is a direct reflection on us. If your lab struggled taking hand signals this season then you’d better work on those now… you know what you’d like your dog to be able to do better and the off-season is the time to help them get better. Strained for time or unsure of where to start in the dog training process? Consult a pro, there are so many options, from local trainers who you can pay to help you achieve your goals or online programs in which you can enroll. The point is there is no excuse to stay where you are if you’re not happy.
Anything Else? Only you know where improvements in your hunting need to be made but without reflection and honest assessment those changes won’t happen and next year you’ll be wallowing in the same marsh as you were this year. Evaluate, set goals, make a plan and work consistently toward the changes you want to make, when opening day 2020 rolls around you’ll be glad you did.