By Bill Buckley
Planning is the key to any successful vacation. This is especially true when your idea of getting away entails hitting the road for several days of unguided waterfowling in another part of the country. My longtime hunting partners Hank Garvey and Duane Gasner are the most experienced and organized freelance hunters I know. Heed their advice to plan a hassle-free waterfowling adventure away from home.
Garvey begins preparing for a hunting trip by making a detailed list, which he breaks down into categories such as lodging, gear, dogs, and so on. Such thorough planning helps ensure that he will have everything he needs for a successful hunt. Garvey also refines his list from year to year. "Having to pack and then unpack an overloaded vehicle can be a real hassle and a waste of time. Learn from past trips and economize what you choose to bring," he says.
Before embarking, Garvey has his vehicle serviced and the tires checked to make sure they are road worthy. The same preparations should be done for trailers, boats, and ATVs. He also recommends bringing along a battery charger as well as an air compressor for filling tires and a towing strap or Bubba Rope in case someone's vehicle gets stuck.
Where you will stay is another important consideration when planning a hunting trip. Gasner suggests renting a cabin or house instead of staying in a motel. "While some motels cater to hunters, farmhouses offer more privacy, a safer place for dogs, and better security for your gear and vehicles," he says. "Plus you can cook your own meals, including the birds you shoot. Be sure to ask about the amenities and the owner's dog policy before booking a place."
Gear and Clothing
Where and when you plan to hunt will largely determine the gear and clothing you'll need. Garvey never leaves home without a spare shotgun, plenty of ammo, a cleaning kit, and binoculars. If he is planning to hunt over water, he brings an extra pair of waders, along with a repair kit to fix any unexpected leaks. Because fall weather is notoriously unpredictable, especially in northern latitudes, he packs an assortment of clothing that can be worn in layers for comfort in a wide range of temperatures.
Gasner makes careful preparations for cleaning and storing harvested birds during his trip. He takes along a fillet knife, a sharpener, freezer bags, and a vacuum sealer. He plucks and guts his ducks, leaving a wing attached to each bird for identification. He then vacuum seals two birds in each bag, to which he attaches a tag that contains all the information required to legally transport the birds. Once frozen, the birds can be taken home in a cooler.
Travel can be stressful for dogs, so hunters should ensure that their faithful companions have comfortable accommodations. Pack plenty of dog food, water, and nutritious snacks (such as Purina's Pro Plan Sport Bars). If you expect cold weather, bring along a high-quality insulated kennel cover and pad to keep your pup warm. While in the field, Garvey carries a well-stocked canine first-aid kit with saline solution to flush weed seeds and grit from his dog's eyes. Prepare in advance for more serious issues by looking up the phone numbers of local veterinarians and adding them to your contacts list. And make sure your contact information is written on your dog's collar in the unfortunate event that he gets lost.
Know Before You Go
The first step in planning a waterfowling road trip is to obtain the current hunting regulations for the area that you'll be visiting. Most hunting licenses and waterfowl stamps are now available online. Don't wait until you reach your destination to buy them, because the stores might be closed or sold out of licenses when you arrive. If you will be hunting on national wildlife refuges or other public lands, check to see if any special regulations apply. And new hunters should inquire about hunter-safety certification requirements well in advance of their trip.