Although Canada goose season along the Missouri River remains open for another month, for most waterfowl hunters in South Dakota the fat lady is done singing and has moved on to the post-recital buffet. With spring snow geese right around the corner, however, this pause in waterfowl hunting is only momentary, leaving only a few weeks to get your gear back in order.
Even if you don't choose to chase salt-and-pepper flocks wing their way back north, the time to start thinking about next waterfowl season is now. Here are five postseason to-dos you should be sure to cross off your list.
1. Stop at the Gun Shop
A waterfowler's gun can take a beating over the course of a season, and in spite of your thorough cleaning efforts, there are some things that require a professional's touch.
From replacing the spring in the stock of your Browning autoloader to cleaning the inner workings of your trusty over-and-under, a trip to your local gun shop should be at the top of your list. A little preventative maintenance now will go a long way toward eliminating those pesky gun troubles in the field later this spring or next fall.
One thing you can do on your own is loosen those choke tubes and apply a little anti-seize compound to the threads. When you need to change out tubes in the field next fall, you'll be glad you did.
2. Break in the New Gear
Hopefully Santa left you a few hunting-related items under the Christmas tree this year, and if he did, the off-season is the time to familiarize yourself with how they work. No one likes to share the hunting blind with someone who wastes the first, and often best, moments of shooting light trying to put together a new spinning-wing decoy and stake or the like.
Further, familiarizing yourself with new gear is especially important if the off-season acquisition is something for your four-legged hunting buddy. A dog trainer once told me that opening morning is not for training. A hunter can't expect his or her water dog to perform flawlessly from a new ground blind or stand on opening day if the dog hasn't spent a fair amount of time getting used to it in the off-season. Allowing a dog to familiarize itself with the new hunting tool is something that can even take place indoors during the cold winter months.
3. Stay in Shape
As much as I don't like to admit it, I'm not getting any younger and those long walks with a bag of decoys on my back through boot-sucking mud aren't getting any easier, either. Staying in shape for hunting season has become a reality for me. I dread the day when I can't hunt a money spot because I physically don't feel like I can do it. Inevitably, that day will come, but I'm hoping it is a long time from now, and doing my best to stay in shape will help make sure it's later than sooner.
The same can be said for my yellow Labrador, Murphy, who needs to stay fit to be able to perform in the field. As the saying goes, show me a dog that's out of shape, and I'll show you a dog owner who isn't getting enough exercise. This is an instance where you really can kill two birds with one stone.
4. Practice Makes Perfect
There are several excellent sporting clays facilities located across this region, and a visit or two to any of them would go a long way toward keeping your shooting eye fresh for next year. Targets on a sporting clays course are presented in ways to replicate realistic hunting situations, and success on the course translates well into success in the field.
If you've never tried sporting clays before, treat yourself to a round. It's a great way to break in a new gun; attempt to fix some bad habits with an old one; or just flat out have fun.
5. Commitment to Conservation
One of the best things we all can do this off-season as waterfowl hunters is take time to support those who work so hard to ensure that we have ducks and geese in the skies each fall. Stop in and say thanks to a local landowner whose wetlands help produce throngs of blue-winged teal, mallards and pintails. Maybe he could use your help with some work around the place.
Renew your membership to one of the many conservation organizations which battle behind the lines to see that landowners have options when it comes to including conservation into their farms' business plans.
Most importantly, make strides to introduce a youngster to hunting by taking him or her out to the range to shoot clay pigeons or attend a clinic on decoys, calling or other waterfowl hunting techniques. Time spent mentoring a new hunter is time well-spent, and introducing a child to hunting is an investment in both the future of waterfowl hunting and the betterment of future generations.
About the Author: John Pollmann, from Dell Rapids, S.D., slides into a slight depression once waterfowling seasons close. More of his work can be found in publications from Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl.