Preparing For Waterfowl Season

By Nick Johnson

The humid heat of summer keeps many of our minds averted from cupped wings and bobbing decoys. For a lot of hunters, myself included, it can be tough to get in the mindset of waterfowl hunting until the season is literally upon us. You rush to assemble the gear, maybe the shotgun forgot to get cleaned from the previous season, decoys still have mud on them. Alas, tomorrow is opening day and you won’t be able to check all of those items off the list of preparing.

Having confidence as a hunter I feel is very important and also motivating. When I know all of my gear is ready to go it makes everything else feel so much smoother. Perhaps by the time you are reading this, teal season or early goose may have already started but there is a lot of season left and a few important things to touch on that will make any waterfowler feel much more prepared and confident.

The Gun
I’ll start with the obvious first and point out the importance of a thorough cleaning on the shotgun. I’m not just talking about snaking the barrel and wiping down the outside. I’m talking a full-on deconstruction and cleaning of all the little parts, making sure everything is cleaned and lubricated. If you are unsure on how to safely or effectively do this, there are loads of YouTube videos out there that I would bet cover the most common models of shotguns.

While you most likely will not have to disassemble the trigger assembly, you can at least spray that part off with a gun cleaning spray to get all the dust and burnt powder out of it. My personal waterfowl gun is a Benelli M2 and I especially like to pull the recoil spring out of the stock, clean that tube out along with the spring and stretch the spring out a little. You’d be surprised as how much gunk collects in places like that. Cleaning guns like this is also a fantastic opportunity to talk to your kids about the gun itself and show them the importance of caring for a firearm.

Shooting Practice
This is more of a friendly reminder to pick up some trap load and clay pigeons and go spend a little time knocking the dust off and practicing. This can go a long way even if its just a single trip. We are lucky in Iowa to have many opportunities to go shoot clays. Some are full-on trap ranges where you pay a small amount to use their throwers and setups, while many are the do-it-yourself fields that are free, but you need to bring your own clays and thrower.

This can also be a great opportunity to pattern your shotgun. Lots of videos online demonstrate how to do this properly but, in a nutshell, you are shooting at a large piece of cardboard with a 30-inch drawn circle on it at ranges from 25-45 yards. Some folks like to run an aftermarket choke tube on their shotgun or play around with some different types of shotshells. This will help get your setup dialed in and make sure you choose the best combo of choke and shotshell for your gun to maximize the number of pellets hitting a target.

Now is the time when you still have the hose hooked up to the outdoor spigot to get a few things cleaned. Throw the decoys in the yard and spray any of last seasons mud off. If you hunt with a boat, chances are the bottom of that boat probably has some mud and debris you can spray off as well. I use my boat to fish as well, so I actually give it all a good cleaning in the spring.
On the exact flipside of cleaning mud off would be putting mud on. This may sound strange but one trick I’ve found to be surprisingly effective in camo and concealment is adding a little mud to newer blinds. You absolutely don’t have to do this but if you buy a new layout blind or a boat blind with a camo pattern that is especially vibrant, they can often look a little unnatural until wear and tear subdues the colors a little. Just simply take a very watered-down dirt mixture and rub that on the blind material. A little goes a long way and you don’t need to go overboard.

Bits and Pieces
There are a few other things for consideration that I’ll just rope them under one heading. If you hunt with a boat, make sure the motor is ready to go and has any maintenance needs taken care of. Check the trailer bearings or even re-grease them if need be. Waterfowl season has its dangers while boating from a cold and weather standpoint. I like to keep a water-resistant toolbox on my boat with some basic tools that cover everything from the wheel hubs to the battery and even minor electrical repair. I also keep a spare wheel hub in the storage compartment of the boat. Verify all other safety items are checked off the list such as life jackets, throw cushion and a fire extinguisher if you run an outboard larger than 10 horsepower. Yes, the fire extinguisher is a requirement by Iowa boating law.

Most waterfowlers have some sort of a blind bag for toting around shells, calls and smaller hunting gear. I like to pack a small first aid kit in mine as well just in case. We all like to be tough hunters and wrap a cut in electrical tape but its always a good idea to have some additional supplies, especially when hunting with kids or a dog. A tourniquet is a really smart thing to bring in any hunting scenario and hope that you never have to use it. Watch a video or read and be familiar with how to properly use one. You just never know when that could potentially save a life.

These are a few of the basic things I go through before each season. It pays to spend a little extra time and make sure all the checklist items are done in advance, so you aren’t scrambling the night before or morning of. Other things like dog training and practicing on the calls are important as well. Like I mentioned before, being prepared brings a high level of confidence and motivation, letting you enjoy what you set out to do. Hunt! Have a great safe season afield.