Plan Now For Success Next Season
Duck season closed this week. Chukar season closes next week. Goose season is on for three more weeks. Then the long wait until spring turkey season begins. What’s a hunter to do? A lot of us turn to fishing, some to trapping or small game and predator hunting. I know I’ll be doing my part to thin predator numbers before fawns and calves start dropping in May and June. It’s also time to ramp up Hondo’s training again so he will be ready next fall to take the reins from Mackinaw who turns 10 in a few weeks. In short, there’s a lot to do and none of it will take care of itself.
Besides shifting hunting gears and dog training I really like to take some time and go through my gear with a fine tooth comb. This gives me a chance to take inventory for next season. I create lists of what I need to replace or rebuild supplies of and what I need to clean and or repair. Decoys, ammunition, dog stuff, clothing, calls; spending time with all of my gear isn’t just pragmatic either, it helps me relive the hunts from the weeks and months past.
Here’s my specific program.
Organize and Put Away Clothing - I like to lay out all my hunting clothes after each season and give them a solid once over. I look for wear and tear of course but I also go through the pockets, it’s amazing to me what gets forgotten in there. Candy bars, ammunition, ear plugs, knives, gloves… the pockets on my jackets and bibs tend to be catch-alls. Not only does this organization help me track down “lost” items, I know exactly what needs to be replaced for next season. If items are dirty they get cleaned if in need of repair or warranty work they get boxed up and shipped off. All the while I’m reliving the season’s hunts.
Deep Clean the Shotguns - This may sound like I don’t clean my guns during season which isn’t entirely true. I wipe them down after each hunt but unless they are malfunctioning I rarely take them apart and deep clean them until the season has ended. Probably not the best practice but it works for me and I enjoy the process of breaking each one down and intimately bathing the parts and pieces before oiling, greasing and reassembling them. There’s just something intoxicating about the smell of Hoppe’s No. 9.
Clean and Store the Decoys - I like to take the time to powerwash ALL my decoys before tucking them away for next season. This gives me the chance to toss broken dekes, mend lines, replace weights and take stock of what I need to replace before next season is upon me. I do this for both duck and goose decoys and either begin saving money to replace what I’ve lost or start shopping for replacements now. Waiting until August is too late in our days of supply chain woes.
Inventory Ammunition - Speaking of replacing what’s been spent… I think all of us are in the same boat on this one. When you find shotgun ammo, buy it! I normally burn about a case and a half of shotgun shells hunting waterfowl each year. Sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on how much hunting I do. I used to wait until season was over and ammo went on sale in August to replenish my stores, no more! When I find appropriate shotgun ammo I buy it. I’ve even resorted to getting on waiting lists and when my notification comes through I jump on what I need.
Clean and Tune Calls - I have no idea how my calls get so dirty each year. It’s a wonder that they work at all. I’m from the school of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This is especially true of my calls. I take them apart just enough to get them clean with warm, soapy water, dry them and then put barrels back into mouthpieces. I don’t re-tune my calls unless absolutely necessary but inspecting them for cracked reeds or broken stoppers and wedges is crucial. If you find an issue now is the perfect time to send them back for repair and retuning. It’s also a great time to buy a new call as manufacturers are releasing new models this time of year and you’ll have months to practice with it before next season.
Dogs and Dog Gear - It seems that dog vests, bumpers and leads are either in a constant state of repair or replacement around my house. Now is when I take stock, get replacements and fill gaps. I’ve added dog first aid kits from Gundog Outdoors to my vehicle and my hunting bag this past year and while I’ve not had occasion to use them, the peace of mind that knowing it’s there is comforting. That said, this is a great time of year to start training. Your dog has more than likely picked up some bad habits during hunting season and now is the time to break them and shore up any weak spots you saw over the past weeks. We have a tendency to gloss over concerns and weaknesses with time, address deficiencies now, you’ll be glad you did next season.
Lastly, don’t forget to take some time and reflect on your season. If you’re a writer, spend some evenings journaling about your hunts. If not, go over pictures and back through social media posts from the season. You’ll keep those memories fresh and remember just how good it was to be out hunting instead of whatever the alternative may be. This is also the time to rekindle the home fires. If you’re like me, your family has sacrificed weekends with you since about October, it’s time for dates and time together. If you do it right that means, fishing, dog training or even more hunting together, building memories. For many of us waterfowl seasons don’t truly end as they are part of who we are but it’s good to sit back, take stock and a few deep breaths every now and then spend the time now so that you’re ready to hit the ground running next fall.