No Off Time in the Offseason

There’s plenty to be doing before September rolls around and hunting seasons start to open

It’s mid-June, and if you haven’t started preparing for the upcoming hunting seasons, you’re behind. Whether you’re going after turkey, whitetails or waterfowl next, there’s plenty to be doing right now to make sure you’re ready for opening day.

Scouting 

This is a given. If you don’t know where your quarry is, you’re going to struggle come the season. Whether you’re hunting a new piece of private land this year or expanding your public land repertoire, there are certain things you should be doing. 

First, you need to identify a piece of land. If you’ve been eyeing a piece of private land and haven’t gotten permission to hunt it, square that away now. You don’t want to get caught up in work only to forget about the farm or private forest full of game when it’s too late. Can you still pull off a successful private-land hunt even when you’re late to the game? Sure, but it’s best to take care of things early so you can parcel out what deer you want to kill and which ones you want to pass. Make sure you set up your trail cameras, too, but don’t get antsy and go check them all the time. You want to keep your scent out of the area as much as possible and keep the pressure down. I always carry a bottle of scent-blocking spray with me when I check or place my trail cameras. Whether this helps, I can’t say for sure, but I’m still getting a ton of deer on camera so I won’t be changing that any time soon. 

If you’re fond of a piece of public land, get out there and hike around. Take your time, look for areas on a map that would be popular spots for deer, especially mature bucks, such as points, hilltops, transitional cover, etc. Also, look at the food sources around there, which will help you identify quality habitat. 

In both cases of choosing a piece of private and/or public land to hunt, a large part of scouting is sitting behind a set of binoculars or, if the situation calls for it, a spotting scope. Bring snacks and drinks – if you want to catch deer movements, you’ll be out there for a while.  

But what if you can’t get out to a piece of public land that much, or what if you don’t see a good deer herd when driving past someone’s property? This is where e-scouting shines. 

My favorite scouting software by far is onX Hunt. It provides updated land maps with both private and public land boundaries, Chronic Wasting Disease information by county, and hunting zones per species. Here in West Virginia, we don’t have to worry too much about hunting zones, but for other states, this is incredibly useful. Those are just some of the tools it provides, though. I highly recommend you looking into it.

The system is fantastic to work with year-round. I don’t think a week goes by that I’m not spending some time looking at maps of different areas around the Mountain State or finding new places to hunt upland game, deer, waterfowl, or longing over the chance to hunt mule deer out west and looking at the vast differences that area has to our Eastern ecozones.  

Staying in shape

This is probably the easiest thing for me to gloss over throughout the year, but I’ve begun to take a more serious stance on my physical health. I saw a recent meme on Facebook that said, “You never know how out of shape you are until you drag a deer out of the woods.”  

Because I’m not going on wild western hunts that will have me packing out an elk, I will still be going on backcountry hunts this year. With some planned outings for the southern part of the state, the whole process of carrying a dead animal on my back isn’t lost on me. With that, I’ve been preparing quite a bit.  

To start easy, I start with simple exercises while wearing a heavy pack. For the record, I don’t have one of the fancy packs with a loading shelf, but rather I have a really solid, heavy-duty multi-day pack I found on Amazon two years ago. It’s not perfect, but it works, and it’s rated for heavy loads. 

So, I pack my hunting pack so it weighs between 20 and 30 pounds and set it correctly on my back. I then do planks, squats and push-ups. The most important thing to keep in mind is to not stress yourself. If you can’t do many reps or hold planks for your normal amount of time without weight on your back, that’s OK – there’s no need to injure yourself. 

After those basic exercises, I walk up my home staircases until I can’t go anymore. While this may seem silly and not mimicking some of the degrees of slopes you face in the field, it’s basic enough to build needed strength. 

Finally, after recovering for about 30 minutes, I hit the Peloton for a ride. If I’m exhausted and feeling a lot of tension, I’ll either give myself extra time to cool down or do an easy class/scenic ride. And, I’d be remiss to not mention how important it is to stretch through this entire process. Stretch before your workout and after to keep yourself loose. 

Practicing with your bow/firearm 

This is as much a given as scouting. If you aren’t proficient with your weapon, you’re risking injuring an animal – maybe not enough to kill it. 

I’ll shoot here and there from Jan. 1 to June 1, but once June hits I begin to focus on my shooting. Before I got into archery hunting, I was going to the gun range to work with my 30-06 at least once a week. Now, I’m practicing multiple times a week, or a few times a week for longer intervals. I’m lucky to have 25 yards in my driveway, but with a ton of neighbors around me, I’ll soon be paying for a membership to my local bow shop’s range to get more comfortable with long distances. 

Right now, my comfort zone is between 30 and 40 yards. 

I won’t keep straining your eyes with this, just make sure you’re proficient. 

Replacing gear and breaking it in

Some folks may call me a sycophant for certain brands. While it’s true that I don’t buy many things outside those brands for my gear, it’s because after years of buying stuff that didn’t wear well, that cooperate with my body, or work with my weapons, I’ve found products I trust and I’m sticking to them. Could things change? I sure hope so, I never want to see innovation cease. 

No matter the brand of gear you buy, you need to know how it works, feels, and stands up to your needs. When I ordered a pair of rubber Lacrosse boots from Amazon, I chose to utilize the site’s “wardrobe” function. This allowed me to test out the boots before buying them, which was fantastic. And, luckily, I found out that the pair I thought I wanted was horrible for what I needed them to do, while another pair of Lacrosse boots were much more suitable.  

I wish more companies had a feature like this – try it before you buy it. With many different hunting clothing companies out there, I’ve found significant differences between First Lite, Sitka, and Under Armor – the three I’ve given plenty of money to. All have their perks, but First Lite was more comprehensive for my specific needs. Maybe others want the stuff they’ve been wearing since they were teenagers; there’s nothing wrong with that either.  

The most important part about gear checks is making sure things are good to go. If you’re questioning the usability of your worn-down boots, wondering if they can make it through another year, you likely need a new pair. If you’re wanting to buy your first compound, you need to know how it feels in your hands. If you want to switch from your dad or grandpa’s pump shotgun and are buying your first over-under or side-by-side, you need to know how it feels in your shoulder and how balanced it is. Unfortunately, you’re not always going to get the chance to put an arrow downrange or knock down some clays with a weapon off your local shop’s shelf, but if you know your stuff you may not need to. 

So get out there, set those cameras, watch those waterfowl ponds, and notch another day off the calendar as one step closer to seasons’ open. 

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