From the May 2011 issue

Off-Season Tips To Boost Hunting Success In 2011

By Babe Winkelman

For every season ­ turn, turn, turn. Aren’t those the lyrics to that song? Every time I hear that tune it makes me think of the seasons we sportsmen and women find so magical. Hunting, fishing, trapping, spearing, for turkey, deer, elk, you name it.

When the various hunting seasons across North America wind down, I must admit I feel a bit melancholy. Luckily, there’s always another season to take its place. Still, I’m already pining for the sight of another rutting whitetail with a swollen neck and curled lip. I dream about hearing the bugles of rival bulls in a mountain valley. I can’t wait to feel the air shake when my faithful Springer Spaniel, Scamper, flushes his next ruffed grouse or magnificent pheasant.

There are remedies to cure the off-season sickness and make it pass quickly, and with ease. Use the non hunting time to prepare for the upcoming months, when the air once again turns crisp.

Job No.1 is to unpack, clean and organize all the gear you used during the 2010 season. If you’re like me, various calls, clothes, decoys, packs and hunting accessories have a tendency to go here and there. It can really become a bit of a mess. So, what I like to do is set aside an afternoon where I grab all the bins and boxes and empty them out on a wide open floor. I compartmentalize all the stuff into organized piles; clothes here, ammo there, you get the picture.

With my hunting clothes, they all get laundered in H.S. Scent-A-Way detergent, even if they’re not my big game hunting clothes. I’ll tell you why. It’s important to be scent conscious no matter what you’re hunting. Can turkeys smell you? Nope, which is a good thing, because then they’d really be tough to kill. No, turkeys can’t smell you, but where there are turkeys, there are almost always deer. Many’s the time when some distant whitetail smelled me, blew, and scared the nearby turkeys away too. These critters are smart, and they’ll observe the actions of other animals to help them detect danger. Even circling ducks will head for the hills if they see deer below waving their flags.

Next, with every piece of equipment, I test and clean it if necessary. A goose call for example, rattling around inside a gear bag, will get all kinds of debris in it. A stray piece of straw caught between the reed and stop will make your honker sound like a squeaker when you pull it out on a 2011 hunt. It’s a good feeling when you store all your hunting accessories knowing that they are ready for the next season.

Another pre-season preparation that really pays dividends, is scouting. I’m talking about springtime scouting, particularly for whitetail deer. Spring scouting gives deer hunters a very visible snapshot of the deer movement that has taken place throughout the long winter months. Trails are easy to see. Bedding areas and feeding grounds are instantly identifiable. Scouting around your hunting grounds will allow you to visualize where key ambush points are for the upcoming season.

I like to carry a handheld GPS unit on these scouting adventures so I can log waypoints for trails, trail intersections, bedding areas, potential stand locations and more. In addition, spring scouting offers the opportunity to find shed antlers to determine which bucks made it through the hunting season and the harsh winter. Look at the most successful deer hunters in the country, and you’ll find that they all have one thing in common; they scout hard during the off-season, and particularly during late winter, and early spring.

The final preparatory tip I’ll leave you with is practice, shooting practice. Whether it’s busting clay pigeons with a shotgun, honing your long range rifle skills or punching hundreds of arrows into your Block target, shooting practice is absolutely critical to ensure success during the up coming year. Best of all, it’s so much fun to practice with family, and friends. It keeps the predatory fire burning hot during the off-season, and gives you the confidence to make a perfect, lethal shot when one presents itself next, which sadly won’t be for several months.

Oh well, there are always fish to catch! Good Hunting!

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