By Nick Simonson
In about a week, hunting seasons will begin to open across the upper Midwest, starting with North Dakota’s early goose management season on August 15, with similar options available just a couple weeks later in South Dakota and Minnesota. Following that, mourning dove season starts the upland game portion of autumn on the first of September, and then the flood gates let loose as other small game, upland and waterfowl seasons kick off that month and into October. Regardless of summer conditions, hatch reports and recruitment hunters will take to the field this fall as they have in seasons past, and getting set for success helps make time in the field all the more enjoyable. Here are seven ways to get ready for your chosen shotgun season before it starts.
1. Shoot. Whether it’s off the old tire-anchored thrower in the back of the farmyard, or at your favorite shooting sports facility, getting in some pre-season repetition will help make sure your aim is sharp. Utilize sporting clays and skeet to get some fast-paced and field-simulating targets under your belt and hit the trap range to get form and aim down cold before your chosen opener.
2. Clean House. Inspect the firearms you will be using for the season. Give them a thorough once over and check connections and moving parts to make sure all is in order. Clean them up, removing residue and debris, or visit your favorite gunsmith if something looks amiss. My favorite 20 gauge for pheasant hunting basically fell apart the week before opener last year, and a few rounds of late September shooting with it tipped me off to a loose forestock which was repaired in time for opening morning. Check things over now, to avoid having to rely on a backup gun later.
3. Work It Out. Admittedly, the first evening of dove hunting or the opening morning of goose management season isn’t going to physically tax a hunter sitting in camo around a waterhole or laying out in a blind. But for those species that require covering some ground (ruffed grouse anyone?), getting in shape for the season is key. Start walking with your favorite four-legged hunting buddy each night after dinner or first thing in the morning, and progressively log more miles each week over the next month to get in shape for those upland seasons that demand more effort. If you have hills or hiking trails nearby utilize them for an added challenge.
4. Training Days. Along with those walks, add in some refresher training for hunting dogs during late summer to have them ready for their autumn adventures. Toss dummies and bumpers to sharpen retrieving skills, whether over land or in the water to simulate those situations. Work on commands, or visit a farm that allows live-bird training over pigeons or chukars, to give young dogs some experience before the real thing and work on steadying those pointers or getting flushers to quarter in mid-season style.
5. Gear Check. Beyond your firearms, check to see that all necessary gear is in order. Decoys, field kits, first aid kits for you and your dog, blinds, seats and other necessities should be inspected to ensure that they are full, ready and in good shape for another season of use. Restock those essential items that need to be added, or upgrade those that are worn down. While you’re at it, no season is complete without a new set of camouflage, so add to your collection.
6. Scout it Out. Now is the best time to start patterning birds and seeing what’s about during the times of day you plan to be hunting. Hit the gravel early in the morning if that’s your option, or check out your favorite dove pond or water hole in the evening to see where birds are moving in from. Identify the appropriate grain fields nearby which might bring birds in to feed and pick out sites to set up on in the coming weeks. Mark them on a map, or in a platbook or with a GPS so they’re easily accessible when the season starts.
7. Make Contact. Reach out to landowners now, even if your relationship is long-standing, to secure or confirm permission for private-land access this season. Stopping by in person on those after-work scouting trips is the best way to stay in contact, but checking in by phone or email is good too, if they’re busy in the field. Get the lay of the land and ask about any changes, and see if any hunting is going on or ownership changes have occurred in the area around the spots you have permission for. You’d be surprised how much nearby hunters can alter the path of birds you look to pursue.
These are just a few of the things to get done before seasons start in your area. Use what time remains in the back half of summer to set up a successful fall filled with great hunting…in our outdoors.
(Featured Photo: Mourning Dove Season opens on Sept. 1. Time behind the trap thrower and on your favorite sporting clays course now will help sharpen your aim for these fast fliers and other game birds. Simonson Photo)