These tips will help you get ready for duck season and make the most of your time in the blind
Leaves are beginning to change color and a cool north breeze has me looking toward the sky in anticipation of fall waterfall migration. Every year about this time I experience feelings of both anticipation and mild anxiety. Anticipation of greenheads riding a cold north wind and the anxiety associated with all the tasks remaining to be completed before opening day.
One of my off-season passions is participating as an actor in live community theater productions. One might not think there are many parallels between waterfowl hunting and theater but I’d beg to differ. Take, for example, the dress rehearsal. Much like opening day of duck season, theater actors look forward to dress rehearsals with eager anticipation of the show to follow.
I use the weeks leading up to opening day of waterfowl season as the dress rehearsal for the show I hope to see from my front row seat in the duck blind. Following is my waterfowl season dress rehearsal routine I use every September and October. Give it a try to help better prepare for waterfowl season this year.
Let’s get physical; exercise ideas for preparing for waterfowl season
Waterfowling is a strenuous and physically demanding pursuit. Carrying heavy decoy bags, mucking through knee-high mud, and wrestling with a duck boat in frigid conditions is a workout for anyone, let alone someone who is not prepared for it. So, give yourself a leg up and prepare your body just like you prepare the gear you depend on. Here are a few things I incorporate into my daily and weekly routines beginning September 1:
- Walk. Yes, it seems simple but it’s also a great activity to work some muscles you’ll need when you strap into your chest waders. I walk my Labrador about one mile every weekday morning. In the evenings we lather, rinse, repeat our morning walk, usually joined by my wife. Often our evening walks range up to two miles.
- Hike off the beaten path. Once every week or two my wife and I will hike at a nearby public area that contains some moderate hills and valleys. We take along our Labrador on these hikes, too, for a 2-3 mile jaunt. Hikes off of paved surfaces with a little variation work the muscles that can be sore after high-stepping through a muddy marsh.
- Throw on a backpack or game vest. Toss on a backpack loaded with a few pounds of gear or your upland game vest with some weight in the game pouch to get your back muscles broken-in for toting decoys to your favorite duck hole.
- Go biking. Biking is a great cardio workout that can be less stressful on your joints than running. Ride through the neighborhood for thirty minutes. Ride a nearby offroad trail if you have one. Just ride. It’s fun and gets your heart muscle pumping.
If you’re like me, it’s impossible to practice shooting too much. The older I get, it seems the more practice I need. Shooting clays is fun and relatively inexpensive. Some options include:
- Old fashioned clays with your family, friends, and a clay pigeon thrower—automatic thrower or hand thrower, it doesn’t matter. My family will set up different shots that simulate shots we’ll take in the duck blind such as hard crossers, targets floating into decoys, or a duck springing up and away off the water.
- Sporting clays. A little more expensive than shooting clays at the farm, but a round or two of sporting clays prior to hunting season can do wonders to get you in the swing of wingshooting live ducks. It’s also a great way to spend time with your family outdoors.
- Watch ShotKam videos on Youtube. You may think I’m crazy but watching ShotKam videos has helped me become a better wingshot. Shooting instructors will coach you to “visualize the shot” and what better way to visualize different hunting scenarios than literally visualizing shots? Search Youtube for ShotKam videos and you’ll find everything from clays to decoying ducks captured with a ShotKam.
Retriever training of some sort should really be a daily event. I admit I do not engage in formal retriever training as often as I should. But, every day I reinforce obedience with my semi-pro Labrador. For example:
- She is required to sit and wait prior to eating. There’s your reinforcement of steadiness.
- She walks at heel during our twice per day walks.
- When she’s in the house she is on her dog bed. Do I hear “place training” reinforcement?
- Every day I send her on at least one “blind” retrieve of a hidden bumper or something as simple as a work glove in the yard. Retrievers are hard-wired to retrieve; they don’t need much reinforcement for the average hunter.
This one should be a no-brainer. Change the oil, lube the chassis, rotate the tires, and have your mechanic give a look-over prior to season. It’s much better to proactively make repairs vs. an emergency situation on a muddy North Dakota backroad 70 miles from the nearest town.
Developing and maintaining landowner relations
I’m a landowner myself so I feel qualified to state that if a hunter waits until the last minute to communicate with landowners to secure trespass permission for hunting private land the answer will usually be “no.” The off-season is a great time to make new contacts and renew old relationships. Don’t bug landowners too much, though, as their lives are just as busy as yours. Be genuinely interested in them, their families, and their lives. It has to be about more than shooting a few ducks on their farm pond. Make a connection. You may be surprised when one of those connections turns into a new friendship.
Plan hunts and stick to them
Think back to last season. Were there any hunts with friends and/or family you wish you could have shared but did not because of failed planning? Now is the time to plan those hunts for the upcoming waterfowl season. Contact friends and family early and get dates inked on the calendar. Hold those dates sacred barring an unforeseen event or emergency. Time shared in a duck blind with family and friends is irreplaceable, especially during this time of social distancing. Make. It. Happen.
Start a hunting journal
My wife is a journalist so I may have a little bias when it comes to journaling. If you have ever read through an old hunting club journal you know what a treasure those memories are. A waterfowling journal doesn’t have to be fancy, keep it simple. Grab an inexpensive bound ledger at your local Walmart or office supply store if you prefer a handwritten journal. Ducks Unlimited members have access to their online waterfowl journal if you want a more high-tech approach. There’s never a better time to start a waterfowling journal than right now. Who will tell your stories if you don’t?
It’s an exciting time of the year for waterfowlers. Preseason anticipation is heightened as gear is checked and blinds are decorated with a motley assortment of weeds, grass, and brush. Channel some of that energy into strategic “rehearsal” for the impending waterfowl show. It’s almost time for the curtain to go up. Places everyone. Break a leg! Or, actually, tread carefully through the marshes—let’s not have any broken legs this season!
Brad Stefanoni grew up hunting quail and waterfowl in southeast Kansas, where for the past 20 years he’s been passing on what he learned to his wife and their two sons. His diverse background includes work as a biologist, a science education center director, an outdoor writer and a developer of public/private partnerships. With a degree in wildlife biology, Brad’s current work-in-progress is transforming his family’s 80-acre farm into a living laboratory of upland and wetland habitat. His passions include spending time with his family and black Labrador retriever pursuing waterfowl and upland birds, and fly fishing.