For hunters, there is just something about this time of year. We’re all ready for the temperatures to drop, the days to get a little shorter, and those first hours in a tree stand. I’ve been reading, and re-reading hunting magazines, setting the DVR for all my favorite hunting shows, and laying awake at night thinking through my pre-season checklists and priorities as I prepare for the upcoming season. Now it is time to put some of this reading, watching, thinking, and dreaming into action. Here are a few items that might help you with your pre-season preparations.
Hopefully, you’ve been able to spend some time outdoors, and in your hunting area during the off season. If not, now is the time to get back out there. This is a great time to get some scouting in, and place your game cameras if they haven’t been deployed all year. Keep in mind that the deer on your property are still in their summer routines and travel patterns; so there is no need for alarm if you’re not seeing activity in your mid-rut hot spot.
In the scouting vein, this is also a great time to execute a herd survey with your game cameras. You can find complete instructions by watching the W.I.S.E. instructional video, Step 5- Herd Monitoring. Download W.I.S.E. from http://huntersclub.com/wise.aspx and follow the video tutorial. A little work here can give you an accurate idea of what animals are on your property, and help you formulate your harvest strategy for the coming season.
This is also a good time to make final preparations to your food plots (I live and hunt in Virginia, so obviously timelines will vary geographically). Many folks may have planted in the Spring, but you can fill in thin spots or plant plot perimeters with a Fall-specific seed blend to add some variety. Be sure to follow planting instructions, and give the seed time to germinate before it gets too cold.
Early Tree Stand Check
Since you will be spending some time on your hunting property, go ahead and inspect your tree stands, steps, ladders, and harnesses. Depending on their condition at the end of last season and your storage arrangement, the equipment may require repair or replacement. You are much better off discovering problems now (in the pre-season and while you have both feet on the ground) rather than later. If everything checks out and you use some hang-on style stands, go ahead and get a few placed in your “old standby” locations. Getting those stands in a tree will put you ahead of the game, and allow the area to cool off from the activity associated with getting the stand in position (noise, scent, lane cutting, etc.). Having these stands set up in proven locations will give you a good starting point for early season hunts.
Equipment and Technique
I bow hunt throughout the year, so some of my preparation work is archery-specific. However, the same principles apply regardless of your weapon(s) of choice. I also participate in 3-D tournaments throughout the summer to keep my archery muscles in shape, and because it’s a lot of fun. If you haven’t been shooting, get the bow (or crossbow, muzzleloader, shotgun, rifle) out today! Taking the time to inspect your equipment well in advance can prevent lots of scrambling and headaches around opening day, when pro shops are full of other guys who waited till the last minute. Make sure your equipment is functioning properly, and quietly. Check for arrow straightness and broadhead sharpness. Go ahead and sort through your secondary equipment (rangefinder, binoculars, flashlight, compass, knife, scent eliminating spray, lures, calls, decoys, etc.) to be sure that everything is accounted for and in good operating condition. Make a list of this equipment to keep track of items that need attention or replacement (and items for the wish list). Now is a great time to get all of that equipment organized for the upcoming season so you aren’t stumbling around the house at 3am on opening morning searching for your lucky knife.
Once you make sure everything is in order, start practicing. Even a few shots a day, 3 or 4 days a week can make a big difference come opening morning. Aside from increasing your chances for success, we owe it to our quarry to make the most ethical shot possible, so proper preparation is a must. Try to really focus on every shot, and simulate real hunting situations. Be sure to practice with your broadheads, and while wearing your hunting gear. If you hunt from a tree stand, get some practice shooting from an elevated platform (use your safety harness). Things change once you climb that tree, so get up there and figure it out now. If you hunt from the ground, practice shots from kneeling, leaning, and off-balance scenarios. In all of these out-of-the-ordinary positions, focus on maintaining your upper body position and anchor point to be consistent and accurate.
This is also a good time to inventory your hunting clothes to be sure that everything is in decent shape, and still fits (another good reason to get outside for some scouting). Hopefully you were able to store your hunting clothes in a dry, relatively scent-free environment. During the pre-season, I wash all my clothes in scent-free detergent to remove any residual odor, or “stale” smell from storage. Once everything is clean, dry, and scent free, I return my clothes to their sealed container. I use giant sized Ziploc bags (like 24 x 32”) inside Rubbermaid containers. This combination has proven to be an effective, low cost, portable solution to clothing storage, and a big part of my scent control strategy. This is also a good time to inspect your boots. Things can change through a few months of storage, and you’re better off finding a dry-rotten sole in your living room in August than in a creek in October, trust me.
Stay Out of Jail
A final tip that is often overlooked but can help you avoid serious trouble later is to pick up your hunting license early and grab the latest available version of your state’s hunting regulations. States routinely change these regulations, and it is in your best interest to familiarize yourself with the current rules. You can also find this information through your state’s game and fisheries website. Keep in mind that some game regulations even apply to activities outside of hunting season (often regarding baiting/feeding game animals). Don’t put yourself at risk when a few minutes reviewing new regulations can keep you informed, and on the right side of the law.
Hopefully some of these tips will help to focus your pre-season preparation. If nothing else, these tasks can occupy time between episodes of your favorite hunting show, and make you somewhat productive while daydreaming about all the potential held in the upcoming season. A little work and forethought now can make a huge difference come opening day, so get to it!