3. Give Your Shotgun a Checkup
At season's end, most waterfowlers break out their best gun cleaning supplies-a rag and spray bottle of gun oil-and treat their loyal duck guns to a good rub down before retiring them to the cabinet. By the end of duck season, however, most shotguns have endured considerable abuse and are due for a serious checkup.
A first step, of course, is a thorough cleaning. If you have access to a small compressed air tank, use it to blow powder residue and other grime out of the trigger assembly and receiver. Then treat all metal surfaces with a light coating of high-quality gun lubricant. (Some shotguns with complex mechanisms-the A5 and BPS immediately come to mind-should be fully disassembled and cleaned only by a gunsmith.)
While your shotgun is disassembled, check for excessively worn or damaged parts, and have them replaced by a gunsmith. If your autoloader's stock spent a considerable amount of time in water last season, ask a gunsmith to check the action spring for rust. A rusty, gummed-up action spring will cause some autoloaders to cycle slowly or malfunction in cold weather.
Lastly, before opening day, double-check to be certain your gun's factory magazine plug is installed, and if you have had repair work done, test fire your shotgun to verify that it is cycling properly.
Related: Shotgunning Tips
4. Hone Your Shooting Skills
Once your shotgun has a clean bill of health, you should put it to good use before the season starts. For duck hunters, sporting clays is a godsend, offering much more realistic targets than either trap or skeet. At many courses, a round of sporting clays or five-stand isn't cheap, but it makes for an entertaining afternoon with friends and will definitely improve your shooting skills.
If possible, try to shoot sporting clays with your duck gun. Remember, you're not shooting for a high score here; the idea is simply to get back on target. Also, let the range operator know if you are not an avid sporting clays shooter. Many facilities have different shooting stands at each station for novice, intermediate, and advanced shooters.
Practicing range estimation will also improve your wingshooting efficiency this fall. One easy way to practice involves taking a range finder with you while fishing or hiking.
Practice judging the distance of trees at typical shooting ranges, and check your accuracy with the range finder. A coincidence range finder, which costs as little as $40, is all you need for this exercise; laser range finders are a little easier to use, but more expensive.
Related: Shooting Tips