Duck hunting season has come to an end for most throughout the country and the inability to drop a limit of drakes means the onset of Duck Depression (yes, it’s real) for many.
For those of us who practically live to hunt waterfowl, duck season never really ends…it just bleeds into the preparation period for the following season. We go from cleaning corn-fed mallards to cleaning our shotgun and all the decoys we own; there’s no waiting until September to “get ready” because there’s something to be attended to nearly every day of the eight-month “off season.”
No matter your level of commitment to filling your strap, when it comes to a hunter’s shotgun there are three simple things every waterfowler can do at the end of the season to prepare for the next and help fend off Duck Depression.
Pattern Your Shotgun Load (yes, again)
Assuming you’ve patterned your shotgun with your normal choke/load combinations at the beginning of the season (and kept your paper), you can now compare it to see if anything has changed. Large variations between pre and post-season patterning can indicate a change in your choke tube or barrel that you’ll want to investigate.
If you’re curious about that hot new load your buddy used all season, now is also a good time to see how it stacks up against your go-to load.
Resolve Any Issues With Your Shotgun
If you worked through any issues with your shotgun during the season, now is the time to take care of them. Give your shotgun the once-over; clean it thoroughly and inspect all its parts for anomalies.
Check the alignment of your stock, too. Could an adjustment in cant, length of pull, or drop help your accuracy? If you find serious mechanical issues, contact the manufacturer or talk to a good gunsmith. Give them the facts of the issue including your load specs, firearm serial number, and purchase date and see what they recommend. After four years of failure-to-eject malfunctions in my Benelli Super Black Eagle II, I just sent it in on a Warranty Return Authorization and won’t see it for at least a month and a half.
Off-Season Shooting Routine
At the end of any season a hunter should take stock in their performance and identify areas where they can improve their shooting ability. Most certainly we can all benefit from more time behind the bead, so develop a specific plan that addresses the biggest challenges you encounter when shooting your shotgun in the field.
Whatever your plan, do everything you can to practice like you hunt. Wear the same gloves, eyes, and ears you’d use in the field. Shoot 5-stand (“0 card” preferred) or sporting clays as opposed to any variety of trap. When calling for your clay bird be sure to hold the shotgun like you would in a duck blind, keeping the safety on while you mount to the bird. Make yourself work a little harder now and you’ll benefit when it counts.
Once your new patterning benchmarks have been analyzed, all mechanical issues resolved, and skills enhancement routine set, move your focus to the evaluation and maintenance of the rest of your gear. But don’t get complacent with your routine – order a few cases of target loads and buy a punch card or membership for your local range so you’ll have no excuses.
A little work now will ward of the duck depression and yield more birds in the fall.