A gundog training friend of mine likes to say that "champions are made in June." He was referring to field-trial dogs—which can benefit much from off-season work—but I think it applies to many aspects of hunting. If one sits idly by all summer long, it's hard to imagine him dusting off his shotgun in October and enjoying a successful season. There are clays to be shot, dogs to be exercised, gear to be polished up. Plus, I don't know about you, but I just can't go six months without tinkering with such stuff. So, here's my off-season checklist. Our preparation for opening day begins now.
Shotgun Inspection The summer months are a good time to ensure your shotgun is in working order. Thoroughly disassemble it, including the trigger and bolt assemblies. If the gun has sat in the safe for more than a couple months, lightly refresh the lubricant on all moving parts and exposed surfaces. Check all springs—including the firing pin and bolt return—and replace any showing rust or wear. Lastly don't forget to clean the magazine tube. Give the inside of the tube a light layer of gun oil, as well as the follower and spring. A clean magazine is as important as a clean action to keep the gun running smoothly.
Give the Dog a Tuneup My 19-month old springer spaniel and upland/waterfowl dog-to-be is steady—most of the time. My goal for the summer is to fine-tune his training and add a few layers. I'll bet there's training or refresher courses your dog could use as well. Whether it's taking hand signals, quartering closer to the gun or behaving more mannerly in the duck blind, don't wait until September. Now is the time! June and July are also fine months to get the dog in shape (water work is ideal) and, if necessary, to get him on a proper, high-protein diet. For more tips in this regard, check out a recent blog post by SportDOG Brand.
Clean the Decoys There's nothing like a season's worth of caked-on mud to dull your decoys' fancy paint schemes. However, washing each one by hand is a time consuming pain in the neck. Let's take a shortcut: Put all your decoys in a mesh bag and get out your high-pressure hose or take them to a car wash. Then, spray away. Rotate the bag as you go and give it a good shake now and then so that all decoy surfaces get their turn with the hose. In no time your decoys are spick-and-span and ready for October.
Take Care of Landowners Free private-land access may not come as easily as it did decades ago, but it can still be done. Especially if you exercise a little care. Never assume that just because someone let you hunt his land last year means you can show up September 1 expecting access. Stop by and visit him over the summer. Let him know how much you appreciate the opportunity to hunt his land. Mow his lawn; help bale hay; drop off some steaks—little gestures like that go far in maintaining landowner relations. And make it more difficult for him to lease the land without at least consulting you first.
Build Your Skills The summer of 2014 will be the one in which I finally become a modest goose caller. Of course, I said that in 2013. And 2012. But this year I really mean it. A few bad habits with my shooting have resurfaced as well, so you can bet on finding me at the clays range this month. Whatever the skills you need to improve (be honest with yourself), now's the time to get cracking.