By Brock Stuber
We’re in the dog days of summer and the heat is so intense I’ve started cooking my morning eggs on the sidewalk. For most hunters like myself, summer can seem to drag on. The temperatures are hot and time in the woods is a little less enjoyable. The lengthy summer days have me yearning for Fall when the greenery of the woods will begin to transition to oranges, yellows, and reds. Where the temperatures are cooler and the woods come alive as the critters begin their preparation for the winter days ahead of them.
The off-season is where success is made. This is the time when I prepare for the season ahead. Rather than waiting around, I use this time to make myself a better hunter and woodsman. I keep a general checklist of pre-season preparations that I follow year after year. For more unique hunts, I’ll add things that are more specific to that particular hunt. The goal is checking each box and by doing so, I know I’ll be ready and put the odds of success in my favor. Whether I’m chasing mallards in the marshes or waiting for that big buck to cross paths, the success I will have is based on the steps I take to prepare myself for those situations.
- Sight in/shoot rifle or bow
Sighting in your rifle or bow is crucial. Learn your weapon. Know how it operates and simply get comfortable with it. Your weapon is just an extension of you as a hunter. You should be able to shoot at various distances that pertain to your hunts ahead and shoot consistent groups at those distances. The more familiar you are with your weapon the less you have to think when your target animal presents itself. With a little practice, you can ensure a perfect shot every time.
- Clean firearms
A clean weapon is a happy weapon.
- Sharpen knives and broadheads
The sharper the better!
- Stock up on ammo
Nothing is worse than being a week out from the season and then realizing you only have a few rounds left from last season to work with. Make sure you have ammo available for your firearms. Especially with the ammo shortage we have been dealing with for the last couple of years as it is not always easy to find. Get plenty for the season ahead. Don’t wait, get it yesterday!
- Condition boots
I prefer leather boots; therefore, it is imperative to condition them properly. Not only will this weatherproof your boots but it will make them last for years and years. I condition mine prior to each fall and maybe mid-season depending on the circumstances. For those of you who don’t rock leather boots, ensure your boots are well broken in before the season starts. Nothing is worse than sore feet and blisters from new boots.
- Organize pack
I have my pack with me no matter the hunt. Inside I keep a first aid kit, survival kit, flashlights and other gear that assist me in the woods. Before each season I take the time to go through my pack and make sure I know where all my items are. If I need to resupply my first aid kit for example, this is the time to do it. A tip with pack organization is to place your more often used items in easier to get places. You’ll thank me later.
- Check trail cameras
Check those cameras to see what may be lurking in the woods. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll find your target animal.
- Scout (both e-scouting and boots on the ground, if possible)
Pre-season scouting is a key part to success. By scouting a section of land, you are already giving yourself an advantage to fill a tag. I spend a lot of time looking at maps and aerial views of the places I hunt, hoping to see promising terrain or land features. I also try scouting with my own two feet but sometimes it’s just not always possible. Whether it is maps or hikes, make sure you set aside the time to scout properties. It goes a long way.
- Set up stands/blinds
This one and scouting go hand in hand. If you scout properly, you’ll know where to have your stand or blind located to give you the best opportunity.
- Cut shooting lanes
Nothing is worse than squeezing the trigger or releasing an arrow expecting a perfect shot, only to see the projectile’s flight altered by that tiny branch you ignored when you set up your stand. After you get your stand or blind in-place, take the time to sit in it and determine where shot opportunities will be. Trim up those areas enough to leave room for your arrow or bullet.
- Practice game calls (if applicable to your hunts)
This is one I can’t stress enough. Practice, practice, practice. Whether it’s ducks, turkey, or elk. A good sounding caller can make the difference between a full freezer and tag soup.
- Clean/touch up decoys
Let’s face it, decoys go through hell during the hunting season. Treat them right in the off-season so they’re ready to perform for you when it counts. I am a big believer, especially with ducks, that clean decoys make birds commit more easily. I never regret giving the decoys a nice bath every once in a while.
- Get in shape
A lot of people overlook being in shape for hunting. I think it is an important factor. Not only physical shape, but mental as well. How many times has cold toes pushed you out of the woods and back home to more comfortable surroundings? Or maybe you’re out west hiking miles in the backcountry to a prime location but your tired legs keep saying “not any further” and you settle for where you’re at? It’s not our cold toes or our tired legs that are stopping us; it’s our minds. Humans do not like to be in a state of discomfort. However, the most successful hunters are not necessarily the most skilled, but rather just good at being uncomfortable. They just tolerate the aches and pains and keep on. After all, the more time spent in the woods, the more opportunities that person will have.
My personal go-to off season exercise is running. Why? Because it’s not easy and frankly, it sucks. It tests your body and your mind. Exercise callouses the mind and I’ve learned that I can tell my body that it’s okay and to keep going. Being in shape also makes long hikes or heavy pack outs easier. By no means am I saying that hunter’s need to be able to run marathons or lift heavy weights, but it doesn’t hurt. What I am saying is that hunting requires us to be in shape, physically and mentally. Figure out what works for you to prepare your whole self for the season ahead.
- Walk through various hunting situations
You never know what may happen in the woods. Being prepared for different shot opportunities, stalks, or whatever it may be only increases your chance at success. I like to get my heart rate up and then shoot my bow, creating a similar situation to taking a shot on a monster buck. Make it a game. Allow yourself one arrow or one bullet. Will you make the perfect shot?
- Hone your skills
Whether you’ll be spending the fall in a tree stand or heading out west on a backcountry journey, make sure that you have the skills to better yourself in the woods. Study different knots, make fires with different materials, set up your tent. Simply just understand your equipment that you’ll be taking with you in the field. Whatever adventure awaits you, be ready and study up!
- Animal education
As a hunter, I am in a constant state of learning new information, especially about the animals I pursue. I like to know everything I can about the animals I hunt. Not only, do I become a better hunter, but I learn to respect the animal I am after as well. This year, I am headed back to Colorado in pursuit of elk. Elk not being an animal I hunt for regularly; I have spent a lot of time simply reading about elk behavior. My goal is to know everything possible about the animal. This knowledge will aid me when in the field and help my decision making when opportunities do present themselves.
Simply obsess. The more you want it, the more success you will have. Whether it’s hunting or life in general, obsession takes people to higher levels.
So, there you have it, my pre-season checklist. Have you checked off all the items on your list? If not, no worries. There’s still time. Just remember, the season is just right around the corner. Don’t let the off-season blues let your season become a wash. The key to success is preparation and discipline. The animals we chase are always prepared. Their preparedness is the epitome of what we as hunters should strive to become. When that buck of a lifetime steps out this fall and your heart begins to race, will you be ready?