What's the First Day of Every Hunting Season?

There you sit in the forest or atop a sage covered hillside, gun in hand as time limps tediously away.  Sunlight fades to dark twilight and another hunting season ends.  Now what?

It's an old truism; a hunting season's last day is the next season's first day.  The unfortunate fact is many hunters don't take this to heart.  They sigh at last light, hike back to the truck or pack up camp, and head home where they curl up on the sofa for a winter filled with TV, twelve-ounce curls, and spend long, wistful hours with the latest Cabelas catalogue.  If they recognized the opportunity life just handed them, they just might get more animals in the freezer next time around.  Preparation is the key to success.

Some off-seasons are longer than others.  A Colorado deer hunter, for example, gets one golden week a year to chase fuzzy beasts in hopes of giving them a dirt nap.  Whereas an active hunter in Montana or a subsistence hunter in Alaska, who hunts for everything in every season, may have at best one or two months to take a breath and regroup.  Either way, what can, or should, a hunter do with the time?  Here are seven valuable suggestions.

Guns and Ammo

No, not the magazine.  Once a season closes, clean all the guns you have used.  Scrub those bores free from all copper and gunge, get 'em right down to the steel (just remember to fire a fouling shot or two before you go afield next season).  Inspect every part, every fastener, every spring, every scope mount.  If anything is marginal, replace or repair it right now otherwise you'll forget about it--until it breaks at the wrong moment sometime later.

Inventory your ammunition.  How much will you need next season?  Is it available on a regular basis in stores, or might you have to wait for an order to arrive?  If you can't answer with an unequivocal "yes" to availability, better get some now.  If you hand load, do you have enough components?  If not, get out there and obtain what you need.  If your preferred load or components are in short supply, better read LocaCarnivore's post HERE about surviving ammo shortages for some sound advice.

Now's also the time to develop new loads.  Hit the reloading bench and find a good alternative to your primary load, just in case.  We'll deal with load development in a later post, but for now, leaf through a few reloading manuals and do some homework with ballistic software to see what looks promising.


Reassess your optics.  Would a better quality scope provide a clearer image at first and last light?  Do you need a spotting scope both for the firing range and to glass distant mountains?  If your state allows it, would an illuminated scope reticle improve your shooting in thick, dark timber?  Now's the time to talk yourself into a new investment which will pay dividends long after you forgot how much cash you shelled out.  

Clothing

Just like your guns, check all your hunting clothes and fix any issues while things are fresh on your mind.  Boots are a real concern because they need a break-in period before you can hunt with them.  If you suspect you have to replace them, get them now.

Give a thought to how your clothing performed this past season.  Were you ever too cold, wet, clammy, or hot?  Reassess what it takes to fend off the elements, where and when you hunt.  Improve your base layers, upgrade insulation, and increase breathe-ability whereever possible.

Physical Conditioning

I can hear the groans already.  "Do I hafta exercise?"  "I'm tired, let me just rest up for a few weeks."  "I'm tough, I don't need to do all that BS."  So it goes, and you know the old saw about excuses and sphincters.  A hunter's greatest fitness need is cardiovascular endurance.  If yours is marginal, it will take the whole off-season to improve it.  Remember, you didn't lose it all at once, so you won't get it back all at once.  Talk to your doctor or a qualified physical therapist, who will set you up with a program which is right for your needs and abilities.

Take up a winter outdoor activity such as cross country skiing or snowshoeing.  You can learn so much about an area during winter, and you'll become better able to function in cold weather.  For added excitement, take a dog with you (on a leash, please).  Most breeds love the cold and snow, plus they'll show you things you never knew existed.

Scout's Honor

Off-season is a great time to scout your hunting area(s).  It's also an opportunity to find a new area you didn't know about and get familiar with it.  A good hunter is always scouting, always watching and noting what animals do day-in and day-out.  That's the Locacarnivore's advantage over expedition hunters.  They live with their food supply.  They know the rhythms in the area, how the game ebbs and flows, how they act under various weather conditions.  All the old school stuff our hunter-gatherer ancestors did.

A great way to scout is to combine it with other productive activities.  Remember the conditioning program your doc gave you?  Yes you do, I can hear your groans.  Don't just go for a jog, hike, or bike ride; get out there and watch the critters while you're on the move.  It helps desensitize animals to human presence if they see you in their habitat on a regular basis outside normal hunting times.  They learn not every monkey in the "ville" is out to kill them all the time.  You'll learn more about their behavior, too.

Take a new look at all your usual hunting places.  Ask yourself if there's another way to hunt the area and if so, do you need any new equipment to do it right?  Maybe a portable blind will finally let you get the drop on those pesky critters who always hang just outside rifle or bow range?  Would pushing a certain spot with a few extra hunters work?  Is there a better place from which to glass the area and if so, how would you get up there?  Don't be afraid of new or "crazy" ideas.

Cruisin'

If you have a off-road capable vehicle, take it out for a few shakedown runs, maybe look for some new trails.  Stay on designated ones, please; no amateur road building.  While you're on the road/trail you might want to re-think your vehicle's equipment.  Would a mild lift or a new winch get you into places you've passed up before?  Again, think outside the proverbial box.  Cruising an area in the off season can provide opportunities.  Take a .22 along, or your favorite varmint rifle for some valuable rodent control or coyote hunting (where legal).  You might even find a cooperative land owner who's only too happy to give you the run of their place in return for a high pest body count.

Home on the Range

Now is also the time to get to the local shooting range.  If you're developing new loads, your shooting skills will benefit as well as your ammo supply.  One can't emphasize quality range time enough.  The disciple and control your gain here will follow you into the field for the magic moment your heart pounds while you take aim at a juicy deer or elk which just popped into view.  Range time let's you perfect wind and range estimation as well as ingrain useful habits.  It also lets you verify your bullets hit where you thought they would.

Hit the Books

A good hunter uses their head more than their muscles.  The off-season is a perfect time to increase your hunting knowledge.  Ask yourself, "Is their something about hunting I either don't know about or have ignored?"  Then do some research on the subject.  The world is awash with great hunting books and I don't think any one human being could exhaust everything available on the internet. (LocaCarnivore.com is a great place to start, by the way--wink, nudge.)  As a wise man (my best friend's father) once said, "They can never take education away from you."

The Big Picture

The bottom line is do not waste your time between hunting seasons.  When one ends, get ready for the next.  Preparation is 80% of the game.

--LJ Bonham