The off-season is a time for waterfowl hunters to take a step back and assess gear, hunting areas, retrievers and guns. This moment of pause also can provide the time needed to fix, organize and maintain your hunting strategy. The Ducks Unlimited Newsletter editorial team chose three avid waterfowl hunters to interview about their off-season tactics. Their answers may help you get prepared for the upcoming season, starting now.
Sorting and organizing hunting gear is far from simple, as it seems to multiple exponentially as the season approaches. The work generally begins with decoys, but can snowball into boats, trucks, guns and dogs. Read how these avid waterfowlers stay focused in May and throughout the off-season.
DU Editors: What are you doing with your gear (boats, decoys, etc.) this time of year?
Martin Hesby Avery Outdoors pro staff – Brookings, S.D.
In South Dakota, we have waterfowl seasons pretty much from Sept. 1 through the first week of May. So almost eight months out of the year we are actively hunting, which leaves little time for organizing and fixing up our gear. May, June, July and August all serve as essential months to get my gear "squared away" and ready for the upcoming seasons to begin again. I find myself going through and taking inventory of all my gear: What needs to be repaired? What needs to be replaced? What new items do I need for the upcoming season? Once I have taken my mental inventory, I spend the entire off-season organizing my gear and getting things ready to go for the next season so everything is not an organized mess from where you left off the previous year. Cleaning decoys, blinds, guns, trailers and boats, and making repairs to trailers and other gear, all take time, and during the summer months is the only time to take advantage and totally focus on getting things squared away.
Peter Wyckoff Ducks Unlimited engineer – Ann Arbor, Mich.
The boat is prepped for fishing season. The blind is taken off and the trolling motor is put back on. The onboard safety equipment is evaluated and any repairs are made prior to putting the boat in the water. Decoys get repainted and re-rigged in September; they are in storage this time of year. I also make a list of supplies that I ran out of during the previous hunting season and budget funds to replace necessary items.
David Rearick Avery Outdoors pro staff – Butler, Penn.
During the off-season, getting gear ready for the fall is crucial. I typically will go through my decoys to fix and repair any issues and then assess my needs in terms of purchases during the summer months. Then I clean all of my layout blinds, empty out of the footbag and again inspect for potential problems that need attention.
Boats are a whole other issue, as it seems after a year's worth of hunting, there is a lot that needs done. Engine maintenance and tune-ups, fixing the trailer lights and checking things like the battery and bilge pump are all a small part of the process to have my boat ready. I also take the time to clean out a season's worth of grass, mud, spent shell casings and other things that get overlooked after a long day in the field.
Time spent in the field scouting is vital to success during the season, but even during the off-season, scouting, blind maintenance and a long list of odds and ends need to be done.
DU Editors: Do you spend time scouting or working on getting permission to hunt other areas this time of year, and what do you recommend others do to improve their hunting spots?
During the summer months, I find myself spending a great deal of time working on my permanent duck blind and making improvements for the upcoming seasons. Brushing the blind, replacing rotten boards and making things more functional all play a role in preparing for the next season, so you are not scrambling to accomplish your goals at the last minute or while the season is underway. This is also a time of the year when a man can "dream" of all the things he wants to add to his gear to be more successful. Or hunts he would like to plan for the coming year. I think that one thing that makes waterfowl hunters unique is that they are always dreaming about the what-ifs and future hunting trips, always looking for that golden area to find and hunt. Waterfowl hunters are dreamers that always want to perfect what they do, and find new areas and ways to do it. During the off-season, I find myself doing a lot of dreaming, planning and working to accomplish those dreams.
I spend time scouting this time of year to locate broods so I can narrow down my scouting efforts for early-season hunts. Early hunts are usually local birds, and knowing where the concentrations are now will help you find them just before the season starts.
This is also a great time of year to talk with private landowners about permission or mutually beneficial wetland-management strategies.
Along with maintaining relationships with farmers during the summer months, I like to check crop rotations and get an idea of what fields will be cut and ready for Sept. 1 or the November regular-season opener. Along with checking on farms where I already have permission, I like to look for new spots and obtain permission before the mad rush. One good tip to find new hunting spots on both public ground and private ground is to use a tool like Google Maps to look for hidden marshes or water. You will be amazed at what you can find, and it can really help you find a little-known spot for early-season wood ducks or late-season mallards.
DU Editors: Can you think of anything you do during the off-season that's unique and keeps your mind on waterfowling?
One thing that I find enjoyment in is working on my farm for the wildlife. I work on providing nesting cover for the ducks, geese, pheasants and other animals living on my property. Planting and spraying the grasses on my [Wetlands Reserve Program] acres and working to make my property the ultimate waterfowl area is very enjoyable to me. I spend countless hours working on habitat projects on my property, and see many ducks utilizing it for nesting. I am fortunate to live in an area that produces ducks, and find enjoyment in helping them have quality wetlands and nesting areas on my property.
To keep my mind on duck season this time of year, I keep a countdown on my calendar for the last Saturday in September. I also visit my list of mistakes my dog made during the previous hunting season that still need correcting (breaking, ignoring hand signals, etc.) and work with the dog to correct these problems. I tune in to DU-TV or watch old episodes.
One thing I like to do to keep myself entertained and ready for the next season is stay active. It seems to allow me to get a lot of chores done that I neglect during hunting season, and mixing in summer maintenance of my gear makes the summer months go quickly while keeping my mind on waterfowl. Before you know it, fall is in the air and Sept. 1 launches our resident goose season.
Another thing I like to do is go through hunting pictures and start compiling a scrapbook of sorts. I print out my favorite pictures and compile them with information from my journal to note the dates and stats from each hunt, along with the conditions and my hunting partners. This allows me to reflect on the season, laugh about something funny that may have happened during these hunts and look for trends in terms of what areas are good during certain times of the year based on a few past years' experiences. While it is a lighthearted time, it also is a good learning experience for the upcoming season."
Every waterfowl hunter has a unique way of staying focused during May, June, July and August, and all the planning and maintenance that can be performed now will pay off when opening day arrives.