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The Duck Hunter’s Summer Checklist

The Duck Hunter’s Summer Checklist

It’s this time every year that waterfowlers must beware a dreaded ailment: Duck Depression. It’s darn hot, we haven’t seen a pintail in months, and well, we just aren’t ourselves when we aren’t pitching blocks.

Take heart, folks: Within the next two months, the blue-winged teal will grow anxious to push south and many early Canada goose seasons will open. The time to prepare is now, and getting ready for opening day happens to be a great cure for the off-season itch. Here are a few items to check off your list before the ducks arrive.

Clean Your Duck Call
Mud and other gunk inside duck calls can affect their tone and cause reeds to stick, but fortunately they’re easily cleaned. Often running tap water through the call is all that’s required. Extra dirty acrylic or polycarbonate calls (don’t try this with wood) can be submerged in a solution of mild soap and water. Rinse thoroughly, allow the calls to dry, and remove any remaining debris by sliding dental floss over, under and between the reeds.

If the call’s reeds are cracked, you can order replacements. However, many manufacturers will replace them for free — and ensure it’s done properly — if you cover shipping costs.

Work Your Retriever
Summer exercise is critical, because poorly conditioned dogs exhibit lousy aerobic capacity, rapid dehydration and even diminished concentration — not something you want when multiple bluewings start falling. Whatever exercise method you choose, use care to avoid the perils of summer heat. Provide cool water every 15 minutes, exercise the dog in the morning or evening, and consider water work or wetting the dog’s coat prior to exercise.

Strive also to keep your dog’s training sharp. In particular, summer is a great time for your dog to perfect the tracking of wounded birds. Allow a clipped-wing training bird to walk off through knee-high grass, and then go get your retriever and send him in to sniff out the bird’s path. Gradually extend the amount of time before sending the dog. If he learns to find birds in the heat and green grass, he’ll really shine in October’s improved scenting conditions.

Ready Your Boat
Don’t just take your duck boat fishing a time or two. Give it a thorough inspection and perform routine maintenance.

Start by draining any fuel that’s sitting in the tank from last season, because octane plummets over time and ethanol’s water attractant properties result in corrosion. Check your owner’s manual for other seasonal maintenance, including changing oil and filters, replacing spark plugs and adding grease to engine parts and the frame.

Next clean your battery’s terminals, add water if applicable, charge it and ensure it held the charge. Replace if necessary. Check the kill switch and all electrical equipment such as running lights, GPS, the bilge pump and spotlight.

Don’t forget your trailer. Ensure its tire pressure, lights, springs and bearings are up to snuff, and beware of excessive rust.

Lastly take the boat for a spin. Does it start and run smoothly? How’s the carburetor sound? You’ll appreciate that peace of mind on opening day.

Tune Up Your Wingshooting
Busting clays is a great way to beat the summer doldrums, and it can translate to more ducks in the bag this fall — if you practice wisely. Your goal should be to simulate real duck hunting conditions.

Incoming targets, such as those presented on a 5-stand or sporting clays course, are the best ways to practice for decoying ducks. Like committed waterfowl, they fly toward you while descending and slowly decelerating. Other shots to focus on include high angling-away targets, which simulate flaring ducks, and tall crossers to practice pass shooting. The “springing teal,” despite its name, offers rare benefits — but it is fun to powder.

If possible, crank things up a notch by shooting from a layout blind or standing to shoot from a chair — whatever best duplicates your typical hunting position. Establishing muscle memory in these ways can be as important as good shooting form.

Clean and Repair Your Decoys
Time to remove caked on mud and restore the brilliant colors of decoys. Water and a scrub brush work well, but there’s an easier trick: Pack your decoys in a mesh bag, haul them to a local car wash and hit them with the power hose. You might find you don’t even need to remove them from the bag as crud is blasted away. Just don’t get the nozzle too close to the decoys, lest you risk chipping the paint. Avoid using soap, which can leave an unnatural sheen.

Next, inspect the condition of your decoys. If any are cracked, drain any water inside them and seal them up with an epoxy. If their paint is excessively faded or peeled, it might be time to sand and degrease them, apply a plastics base coat and touch them up with an appropriate color of flat, acrylic paint.

Finally, check your rigging for frayed cords, weak knots and loose crimps.

Hey, guess what, you’re ready for duck season!