The heck with joining a gym, saving money and other cliché New Year's resolutions that nobody sticks with beyond February. How about some that involve hunting? Now that would be something we could get behind, remain committed to and even have some fun with. With that in mind, here are 10 New Year's resolutions for hunters.
1. Improve habitat for wildlife. Build wood duck boxes. Volunteer at a local habitat project. Plant shelter cover and food plots. Regardless of your choice, habitat work is richly rewarding, as your labor benefits a host of wildlife—including non-hunted species—and helps preserve the sport for future generations.
2. Take a kid hunting Get in the habit of taking one new youth (or adult, for that matter) hunting every year. After all, where would you be without the person who first mentored you afield? It's time to pay it forward and keep hunting's legacy alive.
Bonus resolution: Take an old man hunting. Don't forget the previous generation's contributions to our sport. Do you know an elderly individual who could use some new hunting buddies or assistance getting into the woods? One of my most satisfying hunts of 2014 involved watching a once-dedicated waterfowler shoot his first duck in nearly two decades.
3. Keep your bird dog in shape. Be honest: Would your dog have had a more productive and enjoyable season if he'd spent the summer fetching bumpers rather than sleeping on the couch? You owe it to the dog to ensure he's in optimum condition next September.
4. Buy a second duck stamp. With 98 cents per dollar fueling direct conservation efforts, the Federal Duck Stamps program is arguably the most efficient of its kind. Since 1934, it has conserved 2.5 million acres in the Prairie Pothole Region, benefitting ducks, obviously, as well as upland game, songbirds and a host of other wildlife. So, what's a better gift to conservation than buying one stamp? Buying two, of course—one for you and one for the ducks.
5. Challenge yourself. We go through stages as hunters. Youngsters often equate filling tags or shooting limits of birds with success. However, with maturity comes greater restraint: We're happy to disadvantage ourselves in the name of greater challenge, even if it means returning home empty-handed more often. So, take up archery—heck, start shooting a recurve. Insist on shooting only those birds your dog pointed or flushed. Or switch from a magazine-operated shotgun to a double barrel. Perhaps you'll bag less game, but you'll gain satisfaction.
6. Stop making hunting a competition. You return home perfectly happy to have shot one drake mallard—until a buddy texts you a photo of the four he shot. You aren't happy for him, but envious, and your jealousy erodes the joyfulness of your morning. Don't be that guy. Hunting is supposed to be fun, not a competition. Take delight in every opportunity you have to get outdoors, and never compare your success to others.
7. Hunt a new species. Head west for a mule deer or elk hunt. Go north to witness the caribou migration. Or hunt something new in your own backyard. Few things in the sport are as exciting as pursuing and learning the ways of a new species.
8. Voice your support for hunting.Write well-informed letters to your senators, representatives and the local newspaper regarding hunting and firearms issues. If the topic of hunting comes up at a social gathering, politely share why you hunt. Attend state wildlife meetings. Lastly, at the very least, get out and vote.
9. Join a conservation group. There are dozens of hunter-funded conservation groups doing a multitude of good for wildlife habitat. I won't list examples, lest I leave out somebody's favorite. However, given your support of the NRA, it's worth noting those that have publicly endorsed the Second Amendment.
10. Make scouting fun. Do you know of hunters who just seem to have a "nose" for the game? Who have a knack for patterning bucks and finding which fields the geese are using? It isn't luck—they have an unsurpassed commitment to scouting. Generally I've found such folks are able to scout with determination because they see it not as a chore, but as part of the hunt. They genuinely enjoy it, and they appreciate scouting as further opportunity to get outside and enjoy wildlife. So, in 2015 make scouting fun. You'll be a better hunter.