Plan Your Bucket-list Trip
Every hunter has felt the itch to break away from their seasonal routine and set out with their dogs to explore new country. For some that means heading out West and hiking miles of open prairie in search of sharptails, Huns, and pheasants.
For others it means traveling to the flooded duck timbers of the Mississippi Delta. Whatever your dream hunt might be, the time to start planning it is now. Call biologists who specialize in the areas you want to hunt, talk to local hunters, and scout potential spots using satellite maps and related resources. Doing your research now means more time on the ground with your dogs when you finally hit the road on that bucket-list trip.
Correct Last Year’s Mistakes
Every hunter can recall several things he wished would have gone differently during last year’s season. Maybe your retriever missed some blind retrieves, or your bird dog came unhinged when he spotted a bird walking away from his point. The off season is the best time to tune up your dog and get him ready for next year. Most pro trainers view basic obedience training as the foundation for everything else. Sometimes all it takes are some simple yard drills to get your dog back on track. Just like us, dogs make mistakes, and the off season is the best time to correct them.
Improve Your Shooting
It can be pretty frustrating when your dog performs well, but you miss an easy shot. Improving your shooting skills during the off season can be a lot of fun. Try to imitate actual hunting conditions as closely as possible. Practice with your hunting shotgun, using the same choke and load if possible.
Trap and skeet are excellent for improving your mechanics, but nothing beats sporting clays for realistic practice. Having multiple clays in the air teaches you to pick a single target, which is exactly what you have to do when faced with a rising covey of quail or an incoming flock of teal. The more you practice, the more muscle memory you will develop. Practicing now means you will shoot instinctively during hunting season rather than overthinking a shot.
Get Gear Smart
Most hunters are gear junkies, and the off season is the perfect time to work out the kinks from your gear. Break in those new boots, familiarize yourself with new GPS tracking collars, and pattern new shotguns with new loads. Tune up your truck or your boat motor, and inspect trailers, hubs, and lights. Rewax chaps and jackets, and patch holes in vests, brush pants, or shirts. New batteries for beeper collars and headlamps are important, just as is attending to any first aid kits.
All registrations, licenses, and stamps should be current, and check the regulations for any changes, as they’re part of gear. Tents, rainflys, and sleeping bags have to be in good working order. Stock up on backup supplies, including performance dog food, that may be difficult to find in remote, birdy areas. Replace rotted blind boards and re-grass as needed. Making sure everything works flawlessly now will ensure that you won’t have to deal with unexpected problems come hunting season.
Off-season conditioning is as important for us as it is for our dogs. More miles usually means more birds, and a productive hunt is often the result of hard work and dedication. Come hunting season, it’s critical to be in shape. Take your dog for a hike, or harness him up and go for a run. Get together with your hunting buddy and exercise together. The important thing is to make workouts fun for both you and your dog.
Lots of hunters are in good shape during hunting season, but then grow sedentary as winter drags on. Fitness for you and your dog should be a year-round activity. In the long run, keeping fit will bring huge benefits for both you and your dog.
If you want to ensure a future of great seasons, with plenty of birds and places to hunt, consider getting involved with a local conservation organization. Paying yearly dues goes a long way, but there is no substitute for boots on the ground. Volunteer at a field day doing habitat restoration, or help organize an event to raise money for your local chapter. More habitat means more birds and more opportunities for you and your dog.
The off season goes by a lot faster if you keep busy—and when it’s go time, you’ll be ready to roll. Proper preparation prevents poor performance, so get ready for your best season yet.