I try to plan my hunting year so there is no ‘off-season’. All right, the deer, elk, moose, bear, upland bird, and waterfowl hunting seasons are long over. Sure, my gear is stowed in the closest till this coming fall (for the most part). For me it is certainly a time to relax, cook, and enjoy tasting the bounty of game and other edibles harvested. However this ‘downtime’ between hunts is also prime time for a number of tasks that help maximize my time in the field next fall, while having fun and feeling productive.
To get started I’ve come up with a “Top 10” list of things I can do between the ‘official’ last day of hunting season and the ‘official’ first day of the next hunting season. I have also considered renaming the months to reflect my favourite outdoor activity (definitely a topic for another post!).
If you have any off-season projects of your own that help you prepare for your hunting season please send me your ideas (activities, tips and projects) or share them in the comments section below. I will compile everything I get in a future post.
Some of the points are inter-connected, but I’ve separated them out for clarity. So here they are in no particular order:
1. Fix or Replace Broken Gear
I find there is no better time to go through my gear to see what is broken, has been lost, or needs attention. I always carry a notebook in the field and record any gear that needs work or items that are missing. These notes form the basis of my to-do lists (general repairs and purchases) as well as helping me edit my gear checklist(s) for my outdoor activities.
If you’re in the market for new gear the off-season is a great time to do research and shop around for good deals.
Tip: If you do end up purchasing new gear, make sure you test it and/or break it in before you take it to the field. Nothing is worse than trying to set up a new tent only to discover a pole is missing or broken from the store, or heading out on an difficult hike without a chance to break in your boots (if this sounds like the voice of experience talking that’s because it is).
– Get involved in a conservation organization. I belong to a number of great conservation groups (check out the conservation links on the side :arrow:), and this year I’m going to give more of my time as well as money to protect, manage, and learn about wildlife. Time is just as valuable if not more so than cash. Volunteers can assist with research, land management, and fundraising activities that benefit wildlife and their habitats. Wildlife conservation means more critters in the field and that is exciting for hunters and non-hunters alike. Besides it gives you a warm fuzzy (sometimes literally) to get your hands dirty in the name of wildlife conservation.
– Doing research can improve ‘success’ in the field. I believe in life-long learning. Sure, I may know how to do something already, but there is always something new to learn. There are always more efficient methods or better preparation that will bring my enjoyment of hunting to the next level. For example, understanding wildlife behaviour will aid in being in the right place at the right time. Calling sequences can and WILL change throughout the rut. Waterfowl WILL react to increased hunting pressure by changing their patterns and responses to different decoy spreads for example. Understanding animal behaviours and how they may adapt to changing conditions is key to employing effective hunting strategies in the field. What one can learn is only limited by time and imagination. Perhaps understanding care of game meat in the field, or how to make sausage or, or, or…you get the point! The list is endless. I’ve discovered all sorts of interesting learning paths.
– I’m going to touch on two points here: physical training and shooting. Starting a few years ago, an information page appeared in my provincial hunting and trapping guide from the Heart and Stroke foundation. It cautioned hunters to “take it easy” in the field – if you are not used to strenuous activity, you shouldn’t push yourself too hard in the field. A good idea. For myself, I think that staying active throughout the year is an even better alternative. I don’t want to “take it easy” when, like most people, I have a limited time to get out in the field each fall. Everyone has a different fitness level, based on age, daily activity, and dedication to training. I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to train like you are entering an adventure race! Maintaining a minimum level of cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength is a must for any age group. If, like me, you appreciate the challenge of a backpack mountain hunting trip then by all means train for it – your body will thank you and you will have a much more rewarding hunt it you are up for the physical challenge.
Tip: One of the main reasons I do physical training is because I love to eat, especially rich foods (hey blame it on my heritage). If I’ve been training regularly, I feel I can ‘cheat’ on a healthy diet every now and then… IF I am getting sufficient exercise to warrant the extra calories (primarily fat), I’ll indulge myself in a high fat meal.
Second, good shooting requires training (and practice). To be proficient with a gun every shooter needs some instruction. A few simple pointers (along with sufficient practice) will greatly improve shooting skills be it archery, shotgun, rifle, or handgun. Hire a coach to help you with the basics and perhaps catch any bad habits have been picked-up over the years. For example, a coach showed me small modification in the position of my finger on the trigger. My trigger squeeze and the resulting targets where much better because of that tip.
Correct shooting technique will increase your percentage of hits – period.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice
– The best ‘book’ knowledge in the world is useless without practice. We are all guilty of it – “My rifle shot good last fall – I should be good to go” or “I just don’t have the time to get to the range” are the typical excuses. This can be frustrating to the hunter if you miss what you are shooting at, as well as unethical if an animal is wounded and not retrieved. Admittedly, pretty much every hunter will occasionally wound game through a poor shot. However, if you practice shooting you will a) know your limits, b) be more confident in the field c) take more game, and d) have fewer wounded animals that you can’t retrieve.
Did I mention how much fun off-season shooting is? Competitive or just for fun – shooting games will sharpen your skills. The more I practice the more I anticipate a great hunting season – I am the best I can be.
6. Introduce Someone to Shooting and Hunting
– The best way to see hunting and shooting continue is to recruit new people into these great outdoor activities. I am a hunter safety instructor, firearms safety instructor, and a shooting coach. Why? Because hunting and shooting are safe and fun ways of getting people outside. Because more participants in these sports gives our community a stronger voice. Because hunting and shooting fosters responsible people that have made a choice to live a healthy lifestyle.
Tip: Starting people at a young age, instills a love of these sports that will last a lifetime. That said, you are never too old to give hunting or shooting a try!
Action: I plan to take people with me to the range and into the field, particularly if they are new to shooting or hunting. They don’t have to try it themselves until they are ready, I will simply bring them out to enjoy the experience. I suspect that after seeing it they will want to try it, and once they try it will be hooked.
7. Plan Your Hunt
– Planning can be ‘almost’ as much fun as the hunt itself: choosing the species and general location, finding a spot to hunt, scouting, getting gear ready, making arrangements, preparing food, etc. I like spend time organizing the year. Heck, if I can pull it off I might be able to fit a lot more time in the field than I originally thought. Once you have hunting dates on the calendar, when someone asks can you “make the meeting on September 8th? Nope…out of town that weekend. How about October 18th? No…busy that weekend too!”, 😉 See how this works?
8. Try Something New
– Related to learning, trying something new could mean anything from shooting at a competition such as a 3-D archery shoot, sporting clays, or field rifle. Last year I was given an ‘experience’ for my birthday. I had always talked about trying sporting clays, but hadn’t. My wife took this as a suggestion and booked me into a Ducks Unlimited fun sporting clays shoot and dinner – I had a blast and breaking some clays just before the bird seasons started really sharpened my wingshooting skills.
Take advantage of hunting opportunities like varmint shooting. Take a brick or two of ammo, your .22, some snacks and you are set for a day of fun (oh yeah, did I mention that this sharpens your skills?). Even better, take a keen new shooter with you.
9. Work Up a Handload
– I like to assemble and test ammunition for my rifles and handguns to see the loads they like best. In the coming year I plan to expand that to include shotshell reloading. Given the high quality of today’s factory loads, handloading is not for everyone. However for those people that shoot less popular calibers/gauges or those who are looking to add versatility to an existing cartridge may consider handloading an interesting off-season activity.
An example of a cartridge where handloading is a useful proposition is the 7mm-08 Rem (a personal favorites). It can be loaded for everything from coyotes to moose to silhouette competition yet it is not a cartridge you will typically find in the local hardware store, and when you do it is usually loaded with a 140 gr bullet designed for deer. Another nice thing about the 7mm-08 cartridge is brass can be easily formed from the more common .308 Win (parent case for a whole family of cartridges). Handloading the 7mm-08 makes this cartridge very versatile indeed.
A side benefit of handloading is the requirement to test various loads. By doing so you get more trigger time and that is a good way to increase your basic marksmanship skills. Once I’ve established a load that shoots well, I use it to practice shooting positions that I might encounter when shooting at game. I do this because shooting off a bench, while it is great for testing loads and giving you confidence in your rifle, doesn’t simulate field shooting conditions.
Handloaded ammunition gives me great satisfaction in the field as well – another step in the hunting process from field to plate that you have done yourself.
My blog posts and photographs should provide an entertaining read in your off-season downtime. By subscribing you stay updated via email or a feed reader on my latest posts – free as always. Check out other blogs as well. There are many people that write very passionately about shooting, hunting, wildlife, cooking, photography and the outdoors. You should find more than enough info to fill any downtime between doing any of the above points (and…oh yeah I almost forgot…work).
Hopefully you have taken a few new ideas from this list. As I said earlier if you have any off-season projects of your own that you would like to share please send them to me or share them in the comments section below.
Have fun, stay sharp, and most importantly stay safe this off-season.