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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.


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  1. What is this “off” season you speak of? Something is always in season. My favorite is quail. But I’ll hunt whatever is open.

    • My feelings exactly. Just over a month to go here in Colorado, can’t wait! Love huntin’ those elusive mountain gobblers.

  2. I don’t get the bug that bird hunters get. Perhaps it’s a severe form of “itis”?

    My father in law is an absolute nut for bird hunting, it’s like crack to him. He’ll drive hours after work every day to bag… Nothing. I don’t understand it at all. Are addictive drugs used while birding?

    • “He’ll drive hours after work every day to bag… Nothing. I don’t understand it at all.”

      Perhaps he’s enjoying the peace and solitude he’s not getting at home? 🙂

      I’ve known folks who work 2+ jobs, not for the money, but for the sanity…

    • Birding is full of action and movement. Hunting deer is a static, mostly, pursuit where you might fire 2 shots.

      It’s a rush to have a covey of quail, I’ve seen as many as a hundred in a covey, bust all around you.

      hunting deer will fill your freezer. Hunting birds will fill your day with fun and excitement. And it’s a more social event than deer hunting. Talking during a quail hunt is not verboten.

      • All that, and one thing more for the ducks.
        You know what I’m going to get when I hunt deer? Most likely, deer.
        For ducks? Mallard, teal, canvasback, merganser, widgeon, wood, who knows what will come in. It’s hunting and it’s gambling, hence the addiction.

  3. My family, friends, etc, will NEVER hunt in this cesspool state again. That’s right, Kalifornia! We got treated like criminals on our last hunt. Six state game wardens, in six state vehicles, descended upon our party like thugs from some third world police state. All of our party were legal, all our equipment legal. Hell, we had not even taken a shot! WTF? After the “raid” and cleared of any wrongdoing. We as a group, tore up our Kalli hunting licenses/stamps and gave them to the rat bastards. Packed up and left.
    Yes, we made a complaint that fell on def ears. Folks, stay away from this hell hole, KALIFORNIA. Take your money and spend it in a state that supports you.

  4. The author forgot the number one and number two things you should be doing for the rest of the year.

    1. Eat your ducks.
    2. Mount your ducks.

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