Even though you know what you are about to see as you open the freezer, the sight of your last delicious duck making its final flight from its frozen tomb to your countertop is bittersweet. The little bird will dance in your cast-iron skillet soon enough, but it still doesn't feel right. The freezer that was once dominated by the coveted protein is now ceding space to frozen peas and flavorless chicken. It's a sad sight, but one you mean to right, and soon. Summer is over, your true calling is about to begin again. Your last meal is delicious.
Shotguns get the last of the Hoppe's 9. Gear is packed and then packed again leaving nothing to chance. The night before is restless, you spend it tossing and turning like a kid on Christmas Eve regardless of the fact that you know what gifts await you in the morning. You've been waiting for this day for the last six months, when it was still cold outside. Now it's hot, and you're in luck because it's September, the start of teal season.
Your mind races with thoughts of what this early season will indicate for the remainder of the year. Will the ducks show? What about numbers? You know the immediate answer to most of these questions already due to your diligent Internet scouting. You've checked the breeding reports. The reassuring phone calls to friends up North tell you what you want to hear—the birds are on the move.
You trek to the blind on autopilot. You could've made it blindfolded, and would have if the instance had called for it. Nothing will keep you from today. Your hunting partner knew it too and didn't hesitate to jump from the truck and disappear into the marsh. You allowed him this freedom, a gift for the opener. As you step up into the blind he gives you a look as if to say, "Where have you been? Don't you know what day it is?"… You know.
You planned to put out a small but effective spread, its shape determined days ago. Each deke has a home and must be placed precisely. That all goes out the window as you hear the first whistle of wings overhead. No time for precision, they must go out now!
Your eyes focus on two spots—the sky and your watch—waiting for the moment when the two align beneath the fading stars and creeping sunlight. Shadows zoom by overhead like missiles, splashes sound off deep in the spread. You look down … five more minutes.
Guns are loaded with the least-rusted of last year's 3-inch mags. You adjust the lanyard around your neck. Taking one last sip of coffee, you look to your watch and then to your partner as a crooked smile engulfs your face. It's shooting time.
Do This at the Range
Start range sessions with an understudy rifle
that mimics your deer rifle. You likely haven't fired a round in earnest in months, and no doubt your skills are rusty after the winter/spring layoff. So don't beat yourself up, waste expensive ammo or grow frustrated. Use a rimfire to concentrate on breathing, relaxing, squeezing the trigger and following-through on meaningful shots. Then move to your centerfire rifle of choice.
Bore-sight a new scope at close range.
Weighing 55-70 pounds, shorthairs push size limits, but they can make charming house pets if not overly hyperactive. They may not require as much exercise as setters or pointers, but probably need more than any dog on this list.
Move off the bench.
In preparation for hunting, a bench rest is good for one thing only—assuring your rifle is zeroed. There are no shooting benches in the woods, so why use one for practice? Instead, fire from the prone, sitting, kneeling and offhand positions most likely used while hunting.
Become proficient with artificial shooting rests.
The best field-shooting position can always be enhanced with a backpack, a pair of shooting sticks or a proper sling. Practice shooting with all three, make them part of your "kit" and never leave home without them.
Identify problems with rifles and ammo now.
Extractors break. Scope erectors grow weak and stop taking adjustments. Ammo misfires. Now, not November, is the time to wring out problems with equipment.
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Like the fossilized skeletons of its ancestors displayed in the Smithsonian, a 12-foot alligator can be scary even when it's dead—something that Shooting Illustrated's Adam Heggenstaller learned in person during a gator hunt in Florida. Read More »
Could 2011 be the year of the work truck? If so, the Ram Tradesman is ready to clock in. Equipped with a juiced-up HEMI® engine.... Read More »
The year that Sumner, Mo., erected a statue of "Maxie" to commemorate being the "Wild Goose Capital of the World."
Maxie sports a 65-foot wingspan while resting on a cinderblock building in a community park.
The number of cackling subspecies.
The cackling goose, a smaller-bodied goose prominent in Canada and Alaska, is a tundra-breeder with considerably more black plumage than the Canada. At one time, the cackling goose was considered the smallest subspecies of the Canada, but is now recognized as a separate species.