We all know that excitement and the sleepless, restless night before the opening day of hunting season! And, we also know that feeling’s polar opposite, the last day of hunting fading into darkness. It seems like an eternity, from that moment until the next season’s opening day. This break between hunting seasons is our chance to do a little self reflection and analyze our hunts. This is also the time to fine tune gears, skills, and information and knowledge of hunting areas.
Now is a great time to look over your existing clothing and look for damaged items that need to be fixed or replaced. There is a number of quality products that not only protect you from the elements, but are comfortable as well, and designed to work in a layering system. This gives a hunter the ability to quickly add or take off layers depending on changing weather conditions, or physical activity. Being ultra light and compact, they are easy to fit in a backpack. During off season, go over your hunts. Did you have good insulation, or waterproof layers when you needed them? Did you have ultra breathable layers for those very first hunts when it was sunny and hot?
Another crucial item to check on is your weapon. There is always some work that need to be done. Gun hunters obviously need to make sure that the gun is cleaned and oiled if it’s going to be stored for a while. Next, are you going to change anything about your setup for the coming year? Is it time to replace the scope and sight it in? Maybe it’s time for a new sling, a new butt recoil pad, add a muzzle break, or add other accessory instead. Were you happy with your ammo, and if you use handloads, are you going to experiment with some different loads? Do you have empty brass to start cleaning up and reloading? Do you need to do more long range practice? Now is the perfect time to really take your time and get it just right.
Archery hunters have a lot of decisions to make at this time of year as well. If you’re getting a new bow, it will need to be setup, tuned, accessorized, and practiced with it. Besides the bow manufacturer itself, sights, quivers, arrow rests, arrows, vanes, broadheads, and releases are just some of the things you will have to decide on. Tuning your bow, whether it is new or older, is important so that you can be accurate while you practice shooting, or even join winter indoor leagues.
Older bows may be ready for some new strings for the coming year. Replacing your strings while they are still in decent shape is a great idea. Set aside the string you replaced as a backup in the field for an emergency. Make a record of all your bow’s measurements before changing your strings out, and put that with your spare strings for reference. Now is also a great time to try out whatever new arrow setups or combinations you wanted to. Any damaged arrows, or bare shafts, can be refletched. There are always different broadheads to try out and see how it compares to the ones normally used. Your confidence in your equipment will soar when you spend this time getting to know your gear and know that it is hitting exactly where you want it to.
Give your camping gear a good and thorough inspection now. Tents need to be repaired of any holes or tears they have. Check zippers, poles, and shells for signs of damage. It is also a great time to upgrade your air pad or sleeping bag. There is nothing worse than tossing and turning all night because your air pad is too thin, and you can feel the cold coming up from the ground. Upgrading your air pad will help you get a better night’s sleep, when sleep is crucial to rest sore and tired muscles. Upgrading the sleeping bag may be higher on the priority list if backcountry hunts are in your future and you are trying to trim extra weight.
If you’re looking to replace your pack to carry your gear, it is a good idea to write down a list of some of the qualities you’re looking for in the new pack. Friends, family, web sites, and social media are all means to get input or opinions on specific packs and how they performed for others. Having a pack with an adjustable torso to fit you is important. If it doesn’t fit right, it will be uncomfortable and will wear you out quickly. Accessorize your pack with water bladders, rain fly, and bow or rifle holders, if needed. This may be the time to order a different sized bag for a particular hunt planned for the next season.
This is also a great time to shoot more and work on your technique and form. For archery hunters, consider joining indoor leagues or 3D target tournaments for more shooting experience and some competition. Picturing vitals, where we want to place our shot, and getting to see how much angles affect our placement are all valuable information to have on hand. Start an exercise program. Joining a gym and working out will make the time fly by. You will also feel better, fitter and stronger. You may even meet new people at the gym who have a similar goal in mind and make new friends. Lifting weights, running, cardio, cross-fit, bike riding, cross country skiing, and swimming are all exercise options you may want to try.
Through the use of the internet or with maps, study the areas hunted and make notes of the terrain where game was found. Look for more of those types of terrain to explore. Find bedding and feeding areas and mark their coordinates for future scouting trips. Learn areas for your out of state units from maps as well, and talk to game biologists from those areas as well as check the harvest reports. Keep track of the out of state application periods to submit your special hunt applications. Each state is different and some of the deadlines come up rapidly after the holidays.
There are many things we can do in between hunting seasons to better our gear, our knowledge, and ourselves that there really is no more off season. We can turn down time into productive time by planning and preparing for hunting as a year round activity. Good luck with all your preparations for a successful coming season!
Written by: Dennis Donati