7. Whatever Floats Your Boat
In duck hunting, there's no such thing as a free ride. The fare for safe passage to your blind this season is a Saturday afternoon devoted to routine maintenance on your boat, motor, and trailer. First on your list should be an inspection of the boat. If the hull is aluminum, check it for stress damage near welds or rivets and for wear spots on the chines and bottom.
If your johnboat doesn't have plywood flooring, you may have to paint the deck every few years. When the paint wears off, the deck's bare aluminum will gleam in the sunlight, possibly flaring ducks. Some duck hunters are using the new polyurethane spray-on bedliners for this job. These products, available at auto parts stores, produce a textured, non-slip surface that is waterproof and helps dampen noise.
Run your outboard well before the duck season to assess if major repairs are needed. If it is running poorly, have a qualified mechanic service your motor. Otherwise, you can do much of the routine maintenance yourself. First, buy a flush kit from a marine dealer and flush out your motor. Then, drain and refill the lubricant in the lower unit. Install a new set of spark plugs, and lubricate fittings and moving parts.
Also, remember to inspect the gas tank for rust or leaks, and check the gas line and fittings for leaks. Make sure you start the season with fresh fuel. Try out your running lights and other safety equipment. Buy new life vests if yours are badly weathered. Test your trailer lights, lubricate your Bearing Buddies, and replace the winch line if it is frayed or damaged.
8. Secure Your Hunting Spots
At the end of every season, smart private-land duck hunters lay the groundwork for next season. They find an appropriate way to show their thanks to landowners, and let them know whether they hope to hunt on their property again next duck season.
Some finalize the details then; others wait until summer. Either way, it's important to keep in touch with the landowner throughout the spring and summer, not only to maintain a positive relationship, but also to keep informed of any land management or farming changes that might impact your hunting spot.
Say, for instance, one of your best spots, a beaver pond, sits in a large tract of hardwoods. During the summer, the landowner decides to harvest all the timber on one side of the pond. Ducks may not be attracted to the pond anymore, so spending some time over the summer investigating other beaver ponds might be wise. The sooner you know about land-use changes that could impact existing hunting spots, the more time you'll have to explore other options.
In some states, permanent blinds must be licensed before each duck season. Existing blinds generally receive priority status, but only if the hunter buys and displays the appropriate license by a certain deadline. Obviously, this is one deadline you don't want to miss. Put a reminder in your day planner, or affix a note to your refrigerator.
Looking for a place to hunt? Find a National Wildlife Refuge near you. Many of these refuges offer excellent public hunting.