Summer is a difficult time to be a hunter. It’s not just the heat, or the unnerving reality that turkey season is over and dove season is many weeks away. The most dreadful aspect of summer is the separation from the outdoors it threatens to foist upon us. When we don’t experience wild places, well, are we truly ourselves?
Summer can, however, be overcome. There are ways to indulge your outdoor spirit—thereby keeping your sanity intact for fall—even when deer and ducks cannot be pursued. Here’s a list of summer survival tips for the hunter.
Take a Rifle Class
Why tuck your rifle away and spend the summer missing it, when you could take a shooting class and hit the woods this fall as a much-improved shot? Arizona’s renowned Gunsite Academy offers a three-day “Hunter Prep” course designed to bolster rifle skills specifically for hunting. Instructors evaluate everything you’ll take afield—from your pack to your rifle and ammo—and make suggestions accordingly. You’ll practice field positions and woodsmanship while shooting at 3-D animals on the 2,000-acre property. Tuition is $1,539.
Or you could opt to attend one of the NRA Whittington Center’s many academies. For instance, those who attend the “School of 1,000 Yards” learn to engage targets from 100 to 1,000 yards. You’ll learn to estimate range and overcome the unique factors that affect a long-range shot. Perhaps best of all, the course isn’t conducted on some flat range, but in the New Mexico mountains—you’ll learn to take shots at steep angles in the midst of picturesque scenery. The course isn’t specifically built around hunting, but certainly the skills it teaches are beneficial to sportsmen. Tuition for the three-day camp is $750.
Set Trail Cameras
Trail cameras aren’t just beneficial from a scouting perspective—they’re downright fun. Receiving photos of deer, turkeys and bears throughout the summer will give keep you motivated. Fall is just a couple months away, and now you know what awaits. Plus, in selecting a good location to photograph a buck, it’s almost like you’re hunting him. If you succeed in taking his photo, you win—even if you don’t have the grilled backstraps to prove it.
Build a Food Plot
We all know the benefits of a good food plot in terms of healthier deer and more successful hunting. However, working a food plot can also be beneficial to our summer survival. For instance some friends and I are spending the summer constructing a duck food plot around a large pond. Every time we work the soil, I feel a little more connected to the earth and it’s easier for me to imagine the arrival of waterfowl in November. I’ve never worked a food plot without leaving in better spirits than I arrived.
Bust Some Clays
Shooting a few clays during the summer can keep your shotgunning sharp, and frankly I can’t imagine going all summer without experiencing the fantastic aroma of burnt shotgun powder. Which is the best clays game for hunters? In short, they’re all good. For me personally, though, I find that skeet most effectively smoothes my swing. The linear nature of trap probably makes it least relatable to hunting, but I won’t rule it out as somewhat beneficial. Here’s my biggest tip: If you’re there to improve your skills as a hunter, shoot as you would afield and don’t worry about your score. For instance, I suspect improper mounts have far more to do with missed game than poor leads. So, consider calling for the clay with a low gun and practicing your mount with each bird.
An additional reason to shoot clays this summer is that low-brass shotshells are one of the few types of ammo with pretty good availability during the current ammo shortage. Even if you’re not a big shotgun person, you can bust some clays without worrying about drying up your ammo supply.
You might be surprised to learn how many critters can actually be hunted in the summer months. Crow season in my home state, for instance, begins July 1 and has no bag limit. Crows are a challenge, there are actually some good recipes for them and each one you bag is one less egg-eating pest for squirrels, ducks and other animals to contend with.Did I say pests? Ground hogs, prairie dogs and prolific numbers of feral hogs can be hunted essentially 365 days per year in many regions.
A final animal worth mentioning is the nilgai antelope—one of the toughest, most challenging and delicious big-game animals I’ve ever hunted. The natives of India roam free-range across much of southern Texas (I shot one in the small town of Raymondville). Given that they aren’t historical inhabitants of Texas, nilgai aren’t considered game animals and may be hunted year-round.
Train Your Gun Dog
You’re not the only one who misses hunting. Working your dog on a few pigeons during the off-season will keep him or her sharp, in shape and allow both of you to have a little fun. Remember to follow these guidelines to safe summer exercise. Just think: If your dog can find birds now—when scenting conditions are extremely poor—finding birds in October will be practically easy.
3-D Archery Tournaments
Backyard archery practice is all well and good, but it has its flaws. Is shooting from the ground at a square-shaped target the best way to prepare for drawing from a treestand at an actual deer? That’s where 3-D archery tournaments come in. You shoot at a variety of realistic, three-dimensional targets from elevated positions. The scenarios change, requiring you to judge distance just like a real hunt, and the adrenaline of competition simulates the buck fever you’ll need to fend off in October. Archery tournaments are fun, and arguably one of the best possible ways to survive the summer while preparing for fall. For a list of archery events in your area, visit 3dshoots.com.
Now it’s time to hear from you. After all, you’ve been surviving summers from the first fall you became a hunter. What are your favorite ways to beat back the summer doldrums?