The hunting off-season is a quiet time for hunters, and it can be all too easy to hang up your weapons and forget all about it until the following season. However, if you want to ensure a successful next season, there are many tasks and projects you can be doing during this period. To give you some inspiration, we’ve compiled a list of 11 useful tasks, from repairing damaged gear to studying last year’s trail camera photos, that you can get done while waiting for the hunting season to begin.
1. FIX OR REPLACE DAMAGED GEAR
The off-season is an excellent time to take stock of all your gear and make a note of what is missing or broken. Inspect your weapons, hunting blinds, tools, clothes, and other equipment carefully and decide what needs to be replaced and what can be fixed. During the off-season, you’ll have more time to dedicate to repairing broken items, which can save you money in the long run. The off-season can also be an excellent time to snap up some bargains on gear that is beyond repair.
If you want to be really efficient, we recommend keeping a record of items that go missing, get damaged, or don’t work well during the season. A great way to do this is by carrying a pad of paper with you and making a note as you go; you may find that this is a useful habit to get into for a whole host of reasons. It might seem arduous, but having a written inventory record of your missing and damaged gear can make sorting it out in the off-season a much easier task. It can also help you decide what maintenance tasks need to be dealt with right away and what can be left until the season is over.
2. TEST AND BREAK IN NEW GEAR
Once you’ve purchased any new gear or finished fixing your old kit, it’s a good idea to test it before the new season starts, partly because you don’t want to be caught at a vital moment and partly because you don’t want to miss your window to return faulty items. You need to feel confident in the knowledge that your gear won’t let you down; there’s nothing worse than realizing you’re missing a vital piece of kit or discovering your boots give you a blister at the wrong moment. Try out new hunting blinds, break in your walking boots, set up the ladder stand, and experiment with your trail camera before you head off on your first hunt of the season.
3. GET FAMILIAR WITH THE LAND
The off-season gives hunters the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the land they will be hunting in the upcoming season and even discover new areas to go hunting. Try teaming up with fellow hunters. You might be able to offer each other some insight into the land and the way the animals you hunt use it. Keep a lookout for signs such as tracks, rubs, and scrapes, and make a note of them for next season. If possible, try to investigate the land in different weather, as this can give you a different perspective. For instance, in the snow, you can get a clearer idea of how animals like deer bed down, walk, and feed on the land.
4. MAKE IMPROVEMENTS TO YOUR LAND
While you’re exploring the land, you might find that there are things you can do to improve it and increase your chances of hunting success next season.
- Planting and Removing Trees
The right kind of trees and foliage can dramatically improve your hunting game. For example, while crabapple trees encourage deer, hawthorns are a deer-deterrent. But it’s not only the species of tree that you should consider when planting or cutting down trees on your land; you should also consider their placement. If you’ve studied both your prey and property well, you can use trees to change the game’s movement to your advantage. Deer hunters should consider hinge-cutting trees—cut through them half-way and push them over, still alive, to create a shelter—so deer can use them for bedding and cover.
- Adding Water Sources
Improving your land by creating additional water sources benefits wildlife and your hunting. This might sound like a mammoth task, but you needn’t build huge ponds on your property; small watering holes are usually enough to attract game.
Dig a few small ponds in an area with heavy clay soil, let them fill with rainwater, and you will find the game flocks to them, and you will have just made yourself a great new hunting spot. The real difficulty can be keeping the watering holes full during dry spells in the summer. The best way to retain water is to make deep ponds with a small surface area; the smaller the surface area, the less chance for evaporation. Leave a clay ramp in place to help animals get out if they fall in.
- Providing Food Sources
Food plots and supplemental feed should never be the primary food source for wildlife on your land, but they can be a significant help to critters during periods of the year when natural food sources are lacking. Once spring comes around, you can plant food plots, but, until then, dedicate some time to doing your research, planning, and preparing the land and equipment.
5. FIND NEW HUNTING GROUND
Even if you have several favorite hunting spots, it’s always wise to be on the lookout for more, especially if you don’t have your own property to hunt on. You never know when you might lose access to land. It’s hard to find time to search for new hunting grounds during the season, as all your time is spent on the next hunt, which is why the off-season is the perfect time to work on this task. It pays to get to know other hunters and become part of a hunting community. Other hunters may be aware of spots you’ve never heard of or know landowners who would be happy to give you permission to hunt on their property. You can never have too many quality hunting spots.
6. PREDATOR CONTROL
Predators such as coyotes can have a real impact on the population of animals like deer and turkeys. In addition to killing the animals you hope to hunt next season, predators can also stress them out, affecting the way they behave. The best way to deal with this is to hunt and cull the predators during the off-season. Although you might not enjoy this as much as hunting deer or turkey, remember that it not only protects the population of those animals but also keeps you in touch with your land and helps you maintain your hunting skills.
7. PRACTICE SHOOTING
Once the hunting season is over, it’s easy to get swept up in work and family commitments and leave your hunting gear to gather dust, but taking time during the off-season to work on your shooting skills can significantly improve your future hit rate. Regularly practicing, whether with a bow, rifle, handgun, or shotgun, can make all the difference.
If you are serious about leveling up your shooting skills, hire a trainer. An expert can identify any bad habits you’ve picked up over the years and can suggest tweaks that can make a big difference. Even after just one season with a shooting coach, you’re sure to come away with some helpful pointers. By improving your shooting skills through regular practice, not only will you get more hits and potentially bag more game, but you will also wound fewer animals that you can’t retrieve. The better shot you are, the better for both you and the animals in the field.
8. WORK ON YOUR PHYSICAL FITNESS
Hunting is an intensely physical activity. It’s essential to maintain a certain level of fitness to ensure you have a good hunting season and remain safe out in the wild. It’s tempting to take the off-season to relax, but it’s important not to let your fitness drop, as it will be much harder to start again. Instead, think of this downtime as an opportunity to try out some new ways to keep in shape. Try to get yourself into a regular routine. Find a time that works for your schedule and make doing some exercise an ingrained habit. Come up with a training plan that combines strength training and cardio, and work out at least three or four times a week.
Hitting the gym is an excellent way to stay in shape throughout the year, but it’s also a good idea to keep heading out to the field. Regular scouting trips are not only useful for learning about the land and patterning animal movements; it’s vital for your field fitness. You deal with all kinds of factors that a gym can’t prepare you for in the mountains and woods. While hunting, you are exposed to the elements, walk on uneven ground, and sometimes experience high altitudes, and there’s no substitute for being out in nature. Whether you’re working out in the gym or scouting out the land, don’t neglect your backpack. Training with a backpack ensures you are prepared to handle the weight of your gear come hunting season. Start with a light pack and build your way up.
9. SET UP A YOUR HUNTING BLIND
Having a high-quality hunting blind can make all the difference to your hunting success, so, if you haven’t got one, now is a good time to do a little research and find out what could be the best blind for you. Some people prefer to build their own DIY hunting blind as they want to guarantee their blind suits them and their land perfectly.
If you already have a permanent hunting blind that works for you, the off-season is the perfect time to get any maintenance done. You should also spend some time at the beginning of the off-season preparing your blind for its long period of inactivity, making sure it can withstand being exposed to the elements and emptying it of anything that could get damaged. About six weeks before the new season begins, visit your blind and get it set up. Repair any storm damage, lubricate the door hinges and your folding chair, pre-stock any provisions you’ll need, and clean it thoroughly, so you’re ready to start the season strong.
10. STUDY YOUR TRAIL CAMERA PHOTOS
When you’re in the thick of hunting season, it is not always easy to find the time to thoroughly examine your trail camera pictures, but it’s the ideal off-season job. During this quiet period, you can carefully study the pictures from the whole season and get a clear overview of the animal patterns and behaviors. This is a big job that requires some time and dedication.
When studying your trail pictures, you need to focus on the details, such as what the barometric pressure, wind, and temperature were in each photo. Collate all this information and then see if you notice any patterns. Collecting this data can completely change how you hunt the following season, making it more purposeful and targeted. Instead of spotting an animal in a camera and making your way to it, you can anticipate where it might go, based on factors such as wind direction, and be there waiting for it.
11. VOLUNTEER FOR A CONSERVATION ORGANIZATION
Hunters understand the importance of protecting wildlife and nature. So, spending some of your free time during the off-season volunteering for nature and wildlife conservation organizations is a valuable and rewarding choice.
Team up with some hunting buddies or get your family involved and find a local organization that needs volunteers. The skills and knowledge you have about the land and wildlife will be greatly appreciated and put to good use. Volunteering gives you a great reason to get back out into the great outdoors, and there’s no better feeling than giving back.
DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE VALUE OF OFF-SEASON TASKS
There are enough hunting-related projects to keep you busy during the off-season, so you’ll never be bored. In fact, rather than viewing the year as having on- or off-seasons, it can be more helpful to divide it into three periods: preparing, hunting, and reviewing. Off-season tasks aren’t just time-fillers; each job will significantly increase your chances of success and make the following season more fun.
To prepare for the next hunting season, find high-quality hunting blinds and accessories at Shadow Hunter Blinds. Explore our online catalog or contact us at (888) 446-4868 for more information on our products.