By John Pollmann
Most waterfowlers are aware of the need and the process of preparing for the upcoming season. What many don't know is that there are benefits to staying on top of off-season tasks. Here are 10 reasons you should hit the ground running when waterfowl season kicks off in your area.
1. Early Scouting
Late summer to early fall is the perfect time to start scouting for places to hunt, according to veteran Missouri duck and goose hunting guide Tony Vandemore.
"Hit the road or hop in the boat and start scouting now to find those areas that are holding water or have a good food source," he says. "Make a list of those places that look good; it will save you time by giving you great places to start your scouting when the birds arrive in the fall."
2. Ready the Machines
Vandemore also stresses the need to have all mechanical tools inspected before the season starts.
"You don't want to discover that your pump or motor is malfunctioning or there are issues with your well on the day you need to start putting water on the ground," he cautions. "Same goes for boat motors or any other mechanical gear – test those items out in the off-season to ensure that all is running properly."
3. Brushing Blinds
It pays to get an early start cutting branches to camouflage permanent blinds , Vandemore says, and while you're at it, don't be afraid to cut an extra trailer-full or two to have on hand for touch-ups throughout the season.
"This way you don't have to cut any more during the fall," Vandemore explains. "If you wait until the middle of the duck season to get extra limbs from a pin oak that has already changed colors, it seems that the leaves don't stay on nearly as well as limbs that have been cut earlier."
4. No Surprises for Sparky
If you bought a new accessory for your hunting dog during the off-season, now is the best time to introduce it.
"The hunt on opening day is not the place to be introducing a dog blind or a stand to your retriever ," says Ben Fujan, an Avery pro-staffer from South Dakota . "It is super easy to build that new toy into your daily training or exercise routine, even if it's just in your backyard. Your partner will be much more comfortable and confident using it, and that will lead to smoother hunts in the fall."
5. Focus on Five
The five-note greeting call is one of the first a duck hunter learns, and it is also the one to know on opening day.
"Forget the fancy feeding chuckle – if there is one call to be comfortable with, it's the basic descending, five-note greeting call," Fujan says. "When you can blow that call , you can modify it for just about any situation: add volume for a hail call, add speed for a comeback, soften it for working birds up close or draw it down to just a single quack for confidence or a lonesome hen type of call. If you can blow a greeting call, you will put more ducks in your decoys ."
6. Off-Season Shape-Up
The hot days that bring summer to a close are also the perfect time to take your dog to the lake for a swim, Fujan says, which is a perfect way to increase physical activity before the season starts.
"You can't expect your dog to go from the kennel to the marsh or the field and perform without some help," says Fujan. "Swimming provides a great workout for dogs and is easier on the joints, but running and walking are good, too – anything to make sure that your dog is in proper shape when the season starts."
7. Hardy Hunters
Getting back in shape isn't just a necessary step for hunting dogs, says Texas hunter Dallas Branch. Over the past decade, the Avery pro-staffer has gotten more serious about pre-season training.
"You read all the time about having your gear ready before the season starts, but more important is getting yourself in shape," he explains. " Waterfowl hunting can be a very physical activity, and your body can wear down over the course of the season. Running, lifting weights and proper nutrition before the season starts will help you haul gear through those muddy marshes, which makes watching the sun rise over the decoys in that spot no one else was willing to try and reach that much more enjoyable."
8. Landowner Relations
Investing the time to visit with a landowner in the off-season can pay dividends come opening day, according to Vance Stolz, who hunts along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains in northern Colorado.
"Hunting land is at a premium in this area, with more ground being sold or developed for housing or leased every year," Stolz says. "We try to maintain the relationship with the landowner by stopping by before the season begins. It just isn't fair to see birds in a field, knock on a door to get permission, hunt and then never talk to that landowner again until there are birds in his field the next year. Do it right; take care of those landowners, or someone else will."
9. Revisit Hunts from Seasons Past
Whether it's through reading a hunting journal or simply talking with hunting partners, Stolz says it's important to revisit hunts from previous years.
"Try to take into account what worked in the past and what didn't, and then make corrections to equipment or hunting locations accordingly," Stolz says. "Looking back on previous years has also helped me identify how certain weather patterns produce better hunting conditions in certain areas and how they impact bird behavior."
10. Don't Forget the Basics
As exciting as it is to see opening day creep closer on the calendar, Stolz adds that it is important to remember the basics of pre-season to-dos.
"Obviously, you want to make sure your decoys are cleaned up and ready to go, and if you've purchased new shotgun shells or a choke, you're going to want to run those things through your gun to see how they pattern. But spread the tasks out a bit so you don't get overwhelmed," he says. "Preparing for the season can be as much fun as the actual hunts. It's fun to work on decoys and guns and calling – kind of an extension to the season – and it really helps keep your head in the game."