Waterfowlers obsess about fall. We look ahead to days when the leaves turn golden and brown prairie grasses sway in a north wind, and we post pictures of frosted grain fields or half-frozen lakes and long for weather that stings our cheeks and numbs our fingers.
But unless you slip into a coma from February through August, you must deal with life during the off-season. This is actually a good thing … though you’d rather be hunting. That down time lets us recover, reload and prepare for next season. So in that spirit, here’s a loose monthly guide to make the most of the off-season.
Two great options here: conservation-season hunting for light geese or the four-R plan. If you choose the former, start in Arkansas or other Southern hotspots, and work your way north as snows, blues and Ross’s make their return journey to their breeding grounds. Spring seasons provide a unique opportunity to witness one of North America’s greatest wildlife spectacles and, if you time it right, enjoy spectacular high-volume shooting. Everyone should do it at least once.
The four-R plan isn’t so bad, either: Rest, recover, reflect on past hunts and reload for fall. Basically, appreciate the season that was, and begin planning for autumn. Clean your guns, repair your boat and decoys, take birds to the taxidermist — heck, make reservations for the hunt of a lifetime months down the road.
By the start of meteorological summer, you’re out of hunting options. During these long, warm days, the off-season really takes hold. No worries. Spend time with your family. Catch up on work and household chores. Be a normal person for a while.
But meanwhile, this is a great time to resume regular dog training, hoping to get your pup in game shape and work on shortcomings. And summer nights bring trap, skeet and sporting clays leagues. Keep shooting — a lot. You’ll be glad you did in October. Don’t neglect your calling, either. There’s nothing wrong with working on your duck and goose chops during spare moments. Regular, consistent practice results in better sounds in autumn.
Repeat June, only train, shoot, call and plan more. Oh, and bring more Gatorade.
As summer wanes, you begin to feel it. Fall isn’t just a rumor. It’s coming — quickly. Rig decoys. Prepare your boat. Take your calling to another level. Continue to shoot, but work on weaknesses or troublesome shots. Put the finishing touches on your dog’s off-season regimen. Oh, and scout. Watch fields for early geese. Explore new backwaters or hidden sloughs. Gather in-the-field intelligence to supplement your online explorations.
Are you kidding? Go hunt geese or teal.
OK, if those options aren’t open to you, hunt doves. It’s laid-back enjoyment with a heavy dose of wing-shooting practice. If you can consistently shoot streaking doves, you’ll have little problem with ducks and geese.
If you have to ask, we have nothing to say. It’s fall. Go hunting. Repeat through January.
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.