Just like sportsmen in north Alabama have a great deal of work to do to properly store their implements for the off-season, the gearing up for hunting season can require just as much effort. The difference is the amount of fun and enjoyment we get from preparing to use the gear as opposed to storage after use.
It is the second week of August in Alabama and it’s been hot. Very hot. And humid. Very humid. We have also just seen the first very mild cool front come through in the past few days. Most people may not have noticed it or paid it any attention, but I promise you, those that hunt noticed it. That first cool front shakes things loose up north and gets birds moving our way. And that is what the early season is all about – the birds. Dove season as well as early teal and goose seasons are all a month or less away at this point and it’s time to get ready to hunt.
Shotguns that have been properly stored will need to have the excess oils removed from the bore and internal metal surfaces before heading into the field. Make sure magazine plugs and choke tubes are in place and properly seated. Perform a visual inspection of any leftover ammo that you plan to use and discard any that is visibly damaged, overly tarnished, or in visibly poor condition. I also strongly suggest that you test fire your arms and ammunition that have been in storage since last winter, just in case. It is always better to recognize a problem prior to the season opener than to find it in the middle of a hot dove field or the first flight of teal through the decoys. Verify the mechanical condition of all safety features on your firearm, but always treat every firearm as if it were loaded and ready to fire. Never cover anything with the muzzle of a firearm that you are not willing to destroy.
Clothing will need to be checked as well. If stored uncovered, check for moth holes or other damage that may have occurred since their last use. Make sure you try everything on. If you are like me, you may have gained a few more pounds than you thought since last season and you may be making a trip to your local sporting goods store to buy new duds. I suggest laundering all clothing just in case there are any insects or other nasties hiding away under a collar or cuff. Again, better safe than sorry. Stored clothing makes a nice home for just about any creepy crawlies, but spiders in particular seem to like mine. Waterproof rain gear may need to be treated with a waterproofing agent just to maintain the integrity of the Durable Waterproof Repellant (DWR) finish most garment come with these days. If the DWR wears off, the waterproof membrane in most waterproof clothing will keep you from getting wet, but without the DWR the outer shell will absorb water, become heavy, and can be hard to dry out. Any specialty waterproof aerosol will fill the bill when it comes to touching up your waterproof rain gear.
Boats, ATV’s, and tow vehicles are another of our tools that need some pre-season attention. If you have a dedicated hunting boat that does not get used for anything else, it’s time to get it out and make sure the batteries are in good working order and holding a consistent charge. We also need to make sure that our running and anchor lights are functioning properly as well as the trailer lights. Check your life preservers and safety equipment like flares and fire extinguishers to make sure everything is charged, ready, and in-date. If your boat was stored with fuel in the tank, you may want to properly dispose of the old and refill with fresh fuel. Also make sure to take it for a test run or at least hook it up to a hose and run it in the driveway to make sure no mechanical issues have developed during storage. Check tire pressure and visibly inspect trailer tires for damage or rot. Inspect trailer bearings and re-pack with quality grease if needed. Check the trailer tongue and hitch as well as safety chains and connections. On the tow vehicle, just make sure the trailer ball is properly torqued and that light connections are solid. Many early season hunters use ATV’s to access their hunting areas. Again, just make sure that brakes, bearings, fluid levels, and tire pressure are all verified and attended to as needed. Fresh fuel and a test run are also recommended.
If you hunt with a dog, you need to make sure you are adjusting his nutrition and his routine for the upcoming season. Dogs need to be exercised to get them back into hunting shape. You cannot just take a dog out of the kennel or the house and expect it to perform well in the field. Make sure your partner is getting enough exercise, retrieving practice, and proper nutrition before the season. This is also a good opportunity for the hunter to get back into hunting shape as well.
Once the big chores are accomplished, it’s time to make sure that we have everything we need for opening day. For dove, a basic kit would include: shotgun; appropriate shells for the game and the gun; a dove stool, seat, or bucket; a game bag to keep insects off of harvested birds, a cooler with plenty of water for you and your dog, appropriate clothing for the location and time of year, a small bottle of your preferred gun lubricant, additional choke tubes and a choke tube wrench, a good hat or cap, shell bag or belt to keep shells handy for quick reloads, and appropriate hearing and eye protection. In areas that are hot, a personal cooling towel is a good idea. There are several brands to choose from and they are readily available at most sporting goods stores. Another handy item to have along is a lightweight rain suit or rain jacket just in case you get caught in an afternoon shower.
Of course, you would adjust your attire and your ammunition when pursuing early geese or teal. Non-toxic shot is required to hunt waterfowl in Alabama, while you can still use lead shot for dove. Make sure you don’t get confused when preparing to hunt both and accidentally carry lead shot to the duck blind. This will be an expensive no-no if you get caught and violates the ethics of hunting and fair chase to boot. Lightweight, breathable camo waders are a real blessing during early teal and goose if you are hunting in or around water, which most are. Paired with a lightweight long sleeve technical tee in your favorite camo pattern, you have a great early season combo that will help keep you comfortable and cool (or at least as cool as you can be during the first week of September in Alabama).
If you are hunting with a dog, make sure you have enough water to keep both you and it hydrated properly. This is more than you might think. When you think you have enough, add three more 20 ounce bottles and you should be god to go. Also carry a good first aid kit suitable for both you and your dog. Accidents happen and it’s always better to be prepared than to end up letting it ruin your opening day.
If you have the opportunity, please take a child hunting, fishing, or just into the outdoors on a hike. You never know what door you might open or what tradition you might start or perpetuate. And that’s the thing about traditions – once they are no longer carried out, then they are no longer needed. Once they are no longer needed, they become memories rather than traditions. And while traditions are carried on, memories only fade. Don’t let your hunting and fishing legacy and heritage fade. Share it with someone that can enjoy and carry on and most importantly, share what we know and love with those who are to come. Share your love and your passion that you might leave a mark on this world. Make sure you thank God for making it available to us and for the bounty of the earth that we enjoy daily.