When it comes to improving your next hunts, spending the winter offseason perfecting your hunting skills instead of amassing new gear is an excellent place to start.
It’s a tough call to begin with. The colder offseason is typically spent indoors, not out in the biting winds. It’s a chance to reflect, warm up, and peruse your favorite online merchants in anticipation for the next seasonal string. But how much good is this sort of habitual hibernation truly doing us?
“It’s easy for us as hunters to get wrapped up in gear, especially in the doldrums of the winter offseason when all manner of new gear, guns, cartridges, and equipment are flashing across our screens,” OutdoorLife‘s Tyler Freel agrees. And he’s right. While there’s nothing wrong with developing your “kit” as Freel calls it, this does far less to improve your next hunt than actually putting in the time to practice raw skills.
Don’t get us wrong: gear prep & kit building is one of the great joys of hunting. “It plays an important part in both the anticipation and the effectiveness in our upcoming hunts,” as Freel says.
But there will always be the better cartridge – the better tree stand – the better bow. That’s the name of the game. The gear will always “improve” with technology, and most hunters will always have access to this same gear. That’s why it’s our true hunting skills, knowledge, and experience that will make us the superior hunter – every time.
Hone Your Mental Hunting Skills this Offseason
It’s the tougher decision to make, sure. Practices makes perfect, but it’s also a huge investment of time and effort. Buying new gear that will hopefully carry some of the hunting load for us is, in turn – easy, fun, and sometimes effective.
There is no buying the improvement that comes with muscle memory and mental reflex. And no gear, no matter the precision of the scope nor casing of the cartridge, will get you the results either of these will.
As such, Freel suggests balancing the purchasing of gear this offseason with a plan to improve your hunting skills and knowledge. Doing so simultaneously will, undoubtedly, produce “tangible results in the field next fall,” he says.
Naturally, “every hunter is different, so this will look different for each person,” Freel continues. As such, he suggests that each individual “pick one or two things to improve on this offseason” and focus on those specifically.
“For me personally, this means shooting my recurve bow all winter, mostly at short range in my garage,” Freel reveals. “I focus on developing and maintaining good form and a mental shot process. Many of the nuances of shooting a bow are perishable, and rather than struggle with frustration by only shooting right before a hunting season, it helps me to be in a constant state of development.”
Dry Firing, Research, and Getting in Shape
As for the riflemen among us, Freel suggests plenty of ways to keep sharp this offseason – even amidst the current, unprecedented ammo shortage.
“Rifle and pistol shooters can maintain and fine-tune certain aspects of their skillset through repetition,” Freel notes. “Dry firing from practical positions will keep your trigger control crisp and consistent. Moreover, “A 3-gun or action-pistol shooter can make mini targets and poppers out of cardboard,” he continues. “Tape them to the wall, and practice drawing, reloading (dummy rounds), cycling, and dry firing to gain valuable repetition without actually sending rounds downrange.”
Even if dry firing isn’t for you, there’s a laundry list of other ways to hone your hunting skills before next fall. Hunting is, after all, both an intense mental and physical exercise at its core – and there’s a scarce hunter among us who couldn’t use a bit more conditioning (says this black kettle of an author) of both.
For starters, spending the time to research and/or scout for next season, too, can go miles in sharpening you for next hunt. And no, this doesn’t mean break out the drone. It means good ol’ fashioned leg & bookwork.
“This could mean knocking on doors to get permission on new ground, or doing some manual labor to gain favor with a landowner,” Freel pinpoints. “It could be a dedicated plan to get in shape for a mountain hunt, or winter and spring camping trips to fine-tune your backpacking gear and develop your system,” he continues.
Challenge Yourself to Be the Better Hunter
For his part, Freel wagers that “every single hunter could come up with some meaningful way to improve their skillsets to have a positive impact on the next hunting season”.
It sounds a bit pushy at first glance, but it’s true. We all want to be masters of this age-old survival-tactic-turned-sport, as has every man since the dawn of our time. And there’s only one way to get there. Hint: it’s not through the next shiny upgrade that we want, too.
“It may take time and dedication, it might even get boring, and it probably won’t give you instant gratification,” Freel concludes, “but real skills and knowledge take hard work, dedication, and experience. That’s something you can’t buy.”
We couldn’t agree more.
For all the latest in hunting headlines, tips and tricks to help keep you sharp, stick with your fellow hunters at Outsider.com. Up next, more ways to keep busy during the offseason:
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