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Off-Season Hunting Tips

Across the FenceDelaware has one of the longest continuous bowhunting seasons in the U.S., stretching from September 1 through January every year. But those 30 weeks in between can seem like an eternity for the avid hunter wanting to stay sharp at his craft.

The hunting offseason should be regarded like any other sport's downtime. These are the months that will decide whether you remain an average hunter or become a master marksman. These four activities are sure to improve your next hunting trip from both ballistic and schematic standpoints.


Rifle hunting seasons typically end around mid-to-late December in most states. But winter is the perfect time to scout and track deer movements. A fresh blanket of snow means anything that moves through the woods has to leave tracks leading to their current locations and sleeping areas.

Head out to your favorite hunting spot the morning after a decent snowfall. Any deer tracks you see indicate recent movement either the night before, or pre-daybreak wandering. Use the GPS on your smartphone or draw an old fashioned map to remember these patterns in the summer.

The typical "home" of East and Midwest whitetails covers less than 4 square miles of land, according to a 2013 study by the state of Washington Fish and Wildlife Department. This method may not be as useful in the Northwest, as researchers observed a doe that traveled 20 miles between summer and winter homes.

Dog Training

Use the off season to train your dog | Shutterstock/Jari Hindstroem

Photo: Shutterstock/Jari Hindstroem

Beagles and Retrievers are born hunters particularly for rabbits and fowl, respectively. But just like you need practice shooting at the range, a gun dog needs to get repetitions in as well.

There are two characteristics that make dogs bad hunting companions: being gun shy and/or gun anxious. David DiBenedetto, writing for Field & Stream, chronicled a duck hunt during which he realized (too late) that his dog Pritch had not been through a full dress rehearsal. The dog would whimper when multiple individuals were working their calls, culminating with Pritch bucking around anxiously when the first shots went off.

Make certain you expose your gun dog not only to the sound of your rifle, but also the calls and any potential distractions. You can teach them to swim as early as 8 weeks old. Toss a tumble bumper into swallow water and gradually throw it farther until the dog actually swims. Never force a dog into the water, or you could potentially scare it into never learning to swim.

Study Regulations

State and federal governments constantly update hunting regulations and its your responsibility to know the latest details. Log onto your state's Game and Fish Department for the most up to date information. You could also stop into a physical office and pick up any pamphlets or brochures they have available. Most states require a hunter safety course before issuance of a license, but you can take practice tests online to prepare.

Lose A Few Pounds

Let's face it. The older we get, the less agile we become. Further, the more weight we carry, the more difficult it will be to climb up (and down) a tree stand. Being overweight will also make it difficult to cover several square miles of land on foot to increase your chances of a successful harvest.

Those who don't like the gym environment can start out by taking the stairs at work, walking, and even jogging. Subtle changes to your diet, like replacing sugary sodas and beer with water, will likely drop several pounds off you with no further effort.

The hunting offseason is your opportunity to be better than you were the previous year. Don't forget to head to the shooting range a few times as well.

Steve Hartford is a dog trainer, travel blogger and BBQ connoisseur.