Off season you say? What off season? Just like any sport, a season must come to an end. Whether it’s one of the major sports or any type of hunting, they all stop for a break at some point. Most major sports fans will state that a particular season ‘flew by so fast’ even though it probably did not, it’s just the perception that it does. For whitetail hunters, there is no more accurate statement than a season literally flying by. Our actual seasons really do go so much quicker than we would like but that does not mean the work stops. Not even a little bit. Now is the time where the real grind starts to prepare for the following season which can feel like an eternity. Below are a few tips and tasks for any whitetail hunter to do when the season comes to a close. 1.
Gear storage: There are all sorts of product options available to wash and store your hunting clothing. Scentlok, Scent Killer, Dead Down Wind to name just a few. Scentlok offers various types of OZ products to combat odors during the season and the off season. What works for me is simple. I use non-scented laundry detergent such as 1824 Funk along with an earth based scented dryer sheet. Once the clothes are washed and dried I place the clothes in a sealable bag and lock them up in my Plano Sport trunk. Throw in a few cedar chips and that’s really it! If you are interested in these products, I picked up the Plano Sport trunk at Home Depot and it fits everything I have. Also, 1824 Funk is available at www.1824funk.com
2. Tree Stand Take Down & Maintenance:
If you hunt with a ladder stand, now is a good time to take these down and look to reposition them for next season. This would be the ideal time of year since the season is over and you’re not concerned about pressure or spooking deer as you trek in and out of the woods. For those hunters that use climbers and lock-ons, you may want to conduct some inspections on the components of the stand and climbing sticks. Tighten the nuts and bolts. Inspect the pins and hooks. Look for any rust and wear. Check the seat pad for tears or rips. Also, check silent tape for any signs of wear and possible replacement. Give it a good cleaning and hang in an area with minimal to no moisture. 3. Additional equipment Maintenance: Check out your trail cameras, range finders, headlamps and GPS devices if you use them. Now is a good time to make sure those are in working order. Check batteries and look for any possible internal corrosion or water damage. The same goes for range finders and headlamps. You never know when those will need replaced and you definitely will not want to scramble before opening day. Trail cameras in particular you will want to check. Whether the operation type of the camera is cellular, solar powered and/or battery operated, you will want to continue to use these cameras throughout the season so verify they are good to go.
4. Shooting Lanes and Trails: If you already know some potential hunting areas for next season, be sure to clear out some lanes to not only shoot through but also to get to the areas you may consider putting a stand up. Nothing is more frustrating than walking in with barely any light to guide you and crashing and snapping your way in to your hunting area. So before those trees start budding, now is as good a time as any to clear out paths and shooting lanes. 5.
Post Season Scouting and Mapping: Even in late season and into the off season, there are still visible signs left over such as rubs and bedding areas. Make note of these and other signs such as tracks and droppings. Know the land and the layout. OnxMaps is a great application you can use on your phone to mark potential areas to scout before you even step foot in the woods. Look for watering holes and potential bedding areas and as you are trekking through these areas you can document on the fly with the GPS feature. Learn more at https://www.onxmaps.com
6. Shed Hunting: When is the right time to go shed hunting? If you go in too early you may spook some bucks that are still walking around with head gear. If you go in too late you might miss out on some nice antlers that were snatched up from other hunters or even a wild animal. If you can, use your trail cameras and check if you see the occasional antler or two still being carried around by these bucks. Once you no longer see any antlers, it is usually a good time to head out there. Early spring is a guarantee that both tines have dropped off and if you’re not hunting in a high pressure area this activity will be more enjoyable. Not to mention it is usually better weather by then. Start out looking for small ivory tips. Usually in thicker areas of brush is when an antler can get caught and come off. A good place to start is along trails that deer use. I recall walking along a trail with my Dad years ago and we stumbled across a beauty of a shed right off a main trail. This was just after walking 20 minutes. He reminded me this isn’t supposed to be that easy so be patient especially in thicker areas. So take your time and enjoy this outing with hunting buddies or family.
7. Shooting Skills: Along with putting in the work such as maintenance, scouting and prepping for the upcoming season, let’s face it, we all enjoy shooting the most! Whether it’s your bow or rifle, get out there and shoot. Shoot your current model or even test out the year’s new models, any time of the year is the best time to practice your shot skills. In the winter, most archery ranges offer winter leagues to compete in. This is also a good way to reflect on your past season by talking with other shooters and hunters.
Additionally, there are also tournaments in various regions to participate in such as the Lancaster Archery Classic, a very popular shoot if that is your brand of off-season shooting and you prefer the open competition. For me personally, here in the North East, I am still outside in the yard shooting my bow at 3D targets even in the 20 and 30 degree weather. When time allows for me to head over to the range, I work on tight groups by ‘spot’ shooting at a dot on the target from 15-20 yards. Once the warmer weather rolls in it’s off to the local archery clubs for their outdoor 3D shoots, which I take full advantage of. And for you rifle hunters, there are precision drills that you can practice indoors and outdoors to stay strong on target. The type of range you are at will determine the distances at which you can practice various drills. For more information and a great resource on shooting drills, check out https://www.shootingillustrated.com 8. Stay In Shape: Depending on the terrain and your style of hunting, it helps to set a fitness goal for yourself prior to the next season. If you hunt the hard woods like I do, which is usually thick brush cover, steep inclines/declines and numerous obstacles like down falls and rock, then it makes sense to find a fitness program tailored for that. Core exercise and lower body are key for these types of conditions. Adding in upper body conditioning to that, along with interval training on the treadmill, will be very beneficial come hunting season. There are an abundance of programs out there directed at hunters. MTNTOUGH Fitness Lab or WILDER Brand’s Daily Lift offer great options for hunters ready to take their hunt to the next level. See more at https://mtntough.com & https://www.mywilder.com/pages/the-daily-lift
9. Wildlife Management: Either on your own hunting property or even in your community, you can contribute to wildlife management. Food plots, watering holes or predator removal makes a difference. It also is worth it to stay current with conservation. Back Country Hunters and Anglers, for example, is a national conservation group and is a great community to be a member. Find more information at https://www.backcountryhunters.org
and see about your local chapter and how you can get involved. All states offer conservation efforts and wildlife reports through their respective DEC offices (Department of Environmental Conservation) and there are always educational and volunteering events taking place throughout the year.
10. Reflect, Learn and Share: Once the hunting season is over it is always a good time to reflect back on your most recent season. Think about what worked and what didn’t work for you throughout the season. If you were successful, replay in your mind and share your story with others. If you were not successful, also share that story as well because fellow hunters may provide suggestions and tactics for you that may apply to your hunting style. Every season is a success, whether you are fortunate to harvest or not, because you can always learn and educate yourself. Make a plan for the upcoming season to apply new tactics and knowledge that you have obtained to become a better hunter year after year.