Tips to Make Waterfowling
Last Through the Off-Season
This year's waterfowling season is officially closed, but that doesn't mean hunters have to put away their gear. There are plenty of ways to make the sport of waterfowling last throughout the off-season. Here are some suggestions:

Revive your Retriever
Off-season training can mean the difference between a good retriever and a great one when the next season opens. By spending less than 30 minutes three or four times a week with your dog, your companion won't just be as good as last season, he/she'll be better! Experts suggest starting slowly with off-season conditioning — especially if your retriever hasn't been exercising regularly. Start with short, leisurely walks and work on refreshing basic obedience skills: heel, sit, and stay. Gradually work up to retrieving and practicing more complex skills such as blind retrieves and hand signals. Robert Milner's book, Retriever Training: A Back to Basics Approach, is a good guide for retriever trainers. Perhaps most importantly, in some areas off-season is synonymous with heat. To avoid overheating your dog — a potentially fatal mistake — try to do your conditioning in the morning near a lake, pond, or pool, and pay attention to your dog's signals. When he/she looks hot or tired, it's time to stop.

Give Your Decoys a Makeover
At the end of each season, chances are your decoys are dirty, weathered, and possibly punctured. But with a paint kit and a little patience, you can have those dcecoys looking as good as they did on opening day. Herter's sells decoy paint kits for most species, and Wing Supply (800-453-3593) offers Parker Decoy Paints, a popular choice among waterfowlers.

Perfect Your Calling Skills
Opening morning in the duck blind is neither the time nor the place to find out if you can still hit that hail call like you could last season. Instead, practice, practice, practice your calling skills during the off-season. Howard Harlan, custom call maker, former duck calling competitor, and judge of the world championship calling competition, recommends going to a local park or wildlife area during the off-season to listen to live waterfowl. "Listen to the birds at rest, listen to their conversations and interactions with each other — particularly if they're feeding — those are the sounds you want to mimic, not the sounds of your hunting partner," says Harlan.

Sharpen Your Shooting Skills
Whether you prefer to shoot trap, skeet, or sporting clays, a little target practice now will pay off come opening day. Many waterfowlers prefer sporting clays because the course and targets are designed to imitate true-to-life hunting situations. Sporting clays are generally more expensive, but with a group of friends and a pretty day, you can turn target practice into a social event.

Inspect Your Boat
For many waterfowlers, the duck boat is an essential piece of equipment, deserving of the utmost attention. Carefully inspect your boat for signs of stress — especially near welds or rivets — and for wear spots on the ridges and bottom of your boat. If you think you might have a leak, put the boat on two sawhorses and fill it with water to locate the leak, then have an aluminum welder patch the hole(s).

Order New Gear
The time to purchase new hunting gear is during the off-season, when those must-have items are fresh on your mind. Ordering gear during the off-season cuts down on back orders — which means you don't have to wait an extra month to get your gear — and you may even get a better price since waterfowling equipment isn't in such high demand in the heat of the summer.

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