By Jay Anglin
During these difficult times, it is a good reminder that there are few people as savvy as waterfowlers when it comes to adversity. Ever the optimists, nary a challenge will sway their fortitude. Sitting around the house waiting for the next news conference is not something many are content to do.
Waterfowlers are a restless lot driven to be outside or tinker with things around the shop. Luckily, success is often built upon the amount of work put into off-season preparation.
Cleaning, repairing, repainting, and maintaining decoys is something we should all do annually. Have you taken apart and cleaned your favorite shotguns yet? Consider organizing gear and doing some call maintenance, including cleaning and tuning your calls or replacing damaged reeds.
Jim Ronquest, producer of RNT-V, has a few recommendations for waterfowl hunters during any prolonged downtime. “There’s always time for calling, or just picking up a new call and messing around with it,” he says. “But one thing a lot of duck hunters need to do is take this long period of downtime and work on your duck boat. For some reason, boats are always overlooked.”
Ronquest recommends a good cleaning and even an engine tune-up, but he also focuses on the trailer. “You can always tear apart your wheel bearings and clean them up,” he adds, admitting that he’s going back to his wrench-turning days. “I’m sure your seals could be replaced, and you could be looking at rebuilding the entire hub. Boat trailers are something people tend to overlook, and they can always use maintenance after duck season.”
Cooking Your Harvest
Many of us consume what we harvest during the season, but most hunters have plenty of game in the freezer. If you’re stuck in the house, you might as well cook some of that prime game meat. And, if you have kids at home it’s a great way to bond with them as you prepare the meal together.
Ryan Sabalow is a newspaper reporter in California who has been keeping a close eye on the developments for weeks. Early on, he interviewed health experts, who advised that individuals should plan to have at least two or three weeks of food on hand in the event of a quarantine lockdown. With freezers full of waterfowl and venison, Sabalow made a shopping list and ran to the store.
“I knew that between doing interviews and writing, I’d want the sorts of savory comfort foods that I could put on the stove, smoker, or slow cooker and walk away from them for a while. I’ve already made Hank Shaw’s killer chili with some ground diver and shoveler meat,” Sabalow says.
A great resource for waterfowl recipes can be found on the DU website. These recipes have been tested and perfected by DU magazine Cooking columnist Scott Leysath. Far from mundane, yet relatively simple to prepare, these recipes often require only basic ingredients you may already have on hand.
“I plan on making lots of soups, jerky, honker pastrami, and slow-cooked duck and goose legs and wings in the coming weeks. I may be stuck at home writing all day with two crazy kids, but, hey, at least we’ll eat well,” Sabalow adds.
Given the sparse state of supermarket shelves right now, it’s prudent to make a list and see what’s available, which may dictate the recipes you chose to try. You can also check out more of Leysath’s wild game recipes at sportingchef.com.
Veteran retriever trainer Bob Sass has been busy working dogs and going about his normal daily business at Kankakee Valley Kennels in northern Indiana. With the unique situation at hand, he has some advice for retriever owners.
“During spring there are guys working older dogs, but many people out there are looking to buy a puppy this time of year,” Sass says. “So, they bring the pup home and start to work with it, and what does everybody think when they get a puppy? They make him retrieve, retrieve, retrieve, thinking, ‘I must throw something for this dog.’ And if the dog doesn’t pick it up and show interest, they get upset about it.
“But really, the main thing they should be focusing on is control. If people would focus more on control, it would be much easier for them to train their dog, not only at the earlier stages, but in the later stages of development as well. This is a perfect time of year to do all that stuff. If you have an older dog that went through hunting season with some issues, this is also the time to start working on them.”
These control and obedience sessions are easily done in small spaces, such as a tight yard for example, or even the living room or basement when working on basic commands, which is perfect for the current situation. Several of these training regimens can be found in the Retriever Training section of ducks.org.
While some hunters are content to read a book or watch hunting shows, most are happier in the field. Whether you own a property, lease, or just have a private spot you can hunt, working on the ground can be very rewarding. Greg Alex, a DU volunteer, spent last Friday working on his land in Missouri, finding his solace in the habitat and ducks.
“As my work-related travels have stopped and social distancing has been recommended, I’ve had additional time to work on my marsh. While drawing down water and addressing areas in need of repair, I was surrounded by hundreds of birds in prime breeding plumage, consisting of several species we don’t see regularly during the fall migration. It was very enjoyable, just what I needed,” Alex says.
With tough times facing us for the foreseeable future, it’s difficult not to get swept up by the stress of our daily lives. Waterfowl hunters and outdoorsmen and women in general have plenty of things to keep us busy as we wait for this storm to pass. Be safe and healthy.