By Wade Bourne
I'd felt a slight leak in my waders, but ignored it. Then on the next hunt that pinhole leak turned into a gusher, and my foot got soaked and felt like an iceberg. I paid an uncomfortable price for my negligence.
All hunters have at one time or another suffered the consequences of not maintaining their gear. Waterfowl hunting is particularly equipment intensive, and dawn in the marsh is not a good time for making repairs.
These tips from the experts will help you keep your waders, shotgun, duck calls, and boat motor in good working order.
Repairing waders is simple, says Jeff Jones of Drake Waterfowl. "You can seal leaks on all types of waders with an Aquaseal Wader Repair Kit, which is sold through many popular retail outlets. I keep one in my shell bag so I can fix leaks in the field."
Jones cautions waterfowlers against taking the sturdiness of waders for granted, however. "They aren't body armor," he says. "Modern waders are generally tough, but they still shouldn't be worn when you're walking through briars or thickets."
How waders are stored during the off-season can affect how long they hold up, adds Jones. "Don't keep them in a hot garage through the summer, and don't crease them or pile them up in a closet corner. Instead, clean the waders, allow them to dry, and then lay them flat in a closet or storage room," he advises.
Dave Miles, of Mossberg firearms, offers the following advice for keeping shotguns in top condition: "After a hunt, take your unloaded gun out of its case to keep it from rusting. Also, spray your gun with a cleaning solvent to displace moisture from the metal parts. The best way to do this is to rest the gun with the barrel pointed down into a towel. After spraying the receiver and barrel, wipe the solvent off and apply a light coat of gun oil to the outside metal parts."
Miles warns against allowing cleaning solvent or gun oil to drain backward into the shotgun's action. "In cold weather, excess oil can clog up mechanical parts. Too much oil is a duck hunter's enemy," he says.
According to Miles, a gas-operated autoloader should be taken apart and cleaned after every other hunt. "Powder buildup can quickly gum up a gas system," he says. "Clean the gas piston and magazine tube regularly to remove any residue so your shotgun will eject empty hulls and feed new shells efficiently."
Rick Dunn of Echo Championship Calls, in Beebe, Arkansas, says different types of calls need special care. "If you're using a wooden call, take it apart after a hunt and let it dry overnight," he advises. "Otherwise the added moisture may make it swell and lose its tone.
"There's not much maintenance needed with acrylic calls. The main thing is to never leave an acrylic call in a hot truck during a summer day. Heat will cause the call to shrink, which can change its tone."
Keeping the sound board clean may require taking the call apart, adds Dunn. "If you have to take out the reed and cork wedge, be sure to reinsert the reed with the same side up and push it all the way back in the cork slot. Then push the cork all the way in on top of the reed," he says.
Last, Dunn advises waterfowlers to replace the cork wedge every year or two. "A cork wedge is just like batteries in a flashlight. If the cork gets weak, the call gets weak," he says.
Barney Myracle, who owns Beech Lake Marine in Lexington, Tennessee, says fuel system problems are a common cause of outboard motor breakdowns.
"Many hunters fuel up with old gas from dirty cans, which allows debris to get into the gas line or carburetor and clog things up," Myracle says. "To avoid this, always use fresh gas kept in a clean container. Adding fuel stabilizer made for ethanol gas is another good idea."
Myracle also recommends regularly checking a boat motor's fuel hose. If the hose is exceptionally soft or stiff, it's likely deteriorating and should be replaced.
For almost 40 years, Wade Bourne's fine writing graced the pages of Ducks Unlimited. He wrote "Waterfowler's Notebook" for a decade and was the magazine's longest-standing contributor, covering a variety of topics related to waterfowling and conservation.