With deer season behind us, it can be easy to hang up all our gear and neglect to prepare until the fall approaches. I’ve been there, and scrambling at the last minute is never fun. It can often start your hunting season off on the wrong foot. But just because the season is over doesn’t mean you can’t take simple actions to increase the odds of your success for the next season.
While hunting season is the greatest few months of the year, I happen to love the off-season. This is the time of the year that I can really reflect on the past season, and smooth out any of the edges that I couldn’t capitalize on during the fall. Some of these projects might sound like annoying chores, but what you do in the off-season is a direct reflection of how successful you are when it’s time to jump into a treestand.
I have created a list of off-season projects that I make myself tackle once the season ends. They are super easy to accomplish, and leave me feeling more confident for the upcoming season. While these aren’t necessarily all of the hunting projects I will be working on this year, it should serve as a good baseline to go off of to ensure you have the important tasks taken care of.
I decided to start this list off with an extremely crucial project that I think oftentimes gets overlooked. I can’t tell you how many hunters I know that leave their treestands and climbing sticks up, year after year. Not only is this just a good safety practice, but taking care of your hunting gear is something that every successful hunter lives by. You’re only as good as the equipment you use, and yearly maintenance will only help your success.
As soon as the spring green-up begins, I like to visit my hunting properties and take down all of my treestands and climbing sticks. Once I get them home, I like to spread them out along my work bench and do a quick glance and passthrough, ensuring there are no obvious signs of wear and tear. After that is when I tend to get more meticulous with my inspection.
Pay close attention to your straps and ensure there is no fraying or rips. Straps are relatively inexpensive to replace, so I always lean on the extra safe side. After I check my straps, I like to inspect the cables on the stand and make sure the integrity is still strong. Cables can last several seasons before showing signs of weakness, but I still like to check yearly to be safe. Lastly, I like to look at my treestand seat and make sure there is no damage that would lead to my hunt being uncomfortable. Seats are a magnet for squirrels and mice, so don’t be surprised if you need a replacement.
This is also a great time to trim shooting lanes and those shot-blocking branches that gave you trouble throughout the season.
If you find it’s time to replace some of your gear for the fall season, be sure to check out the video below for the top new treestands and climbing sticks for 2023.
Silence Your Gear
Remaining stealthy in the whitetail woods is crucial, especially for bowhunters. Whitetail deer have a keen sense of hearing and can pick up on subtle sounds that you may not even notice.
One of the loudest pieces of gear that we use are our treestands and sticks. During the off-season, I will look over my treestands and make sure there is no metal on metal contact that could become noisy when my target buck shows himself. If I do find a noise maker, Stealth Strips or hockey tape are my go-to fix.
Safety harnesses are another common cause of rattling and clanking in the stand. Whether it be your buckles, attachment chains, or carabiners, these can all become a nuisance if you don’t take the proper precautions.
Silencing your gear is a great off-season chore. Watch as Justin Zarr applies Stealth Strips to a treestand and sticks in the video below.
Door Knocking For New Spots
I’m always looking for new, potential hunting spots. But this process really starts to pick up during the off-season. You don’t have to worry about putting pressure on the deer herd while scouting, the spring weather typically has land owners in a good mood, and you have time to play the long game, so as to not seem overly eager to hunt their properties. That last part is important.
Giving someone the right to bring a weapon onto their property and harvest animals takes a decent amount of trust, so having some patience with the property owner you are trying to gain permission from is important. It’s likely that the landowner won’t say yes on the first ask. But you can always circle back around a couple of months later and, in a very respectful way, ask again. It once took me two years of picking up garbage on a farmers property until he gave me exclusive hunting rights. It was worth it!
Throughout the season, even while putting long hours in the stand on my own properties, I always have my ear to the ground in hopes of finding a new spot that might hold giant whitetails. Oftentimes, these spots are a lot closer to you than you might think. One of the best ways to find these hidden gems is by looking at a scouting app. With apps like HuntStand, we have the ability to look at topographical features, locate pinch points and funnels, and even spot popular food sources.
With these apps, you can see the property boundaries, and typically even the homeowners name. This is super helpful for me because not everybody is home all hours of the day. So if I knock and nobody answers, I have a prewritten letter addressed to them that I’ll drop in their mailbox.
Just remember, this is somebody else’s land, and getting permission to hunt it is a huge privilege and one that should not be taken for granted. Always remember to respect the land, and offer to help the landowner out with anything they might need. That reciprocation goes a long way. I remember a few years ago when I got access to hunt a 100 acre crop field, I offered to pick up groceries weekly for the widow who owned the farm. She declined the offer, but was so appreciative of the thought.
Shoot Your Bow
Seems obvious, right? But how often do you push it off until the autumn leaves start falling? I know it has happened to me. I have been guilty of waiting until the day before the opener to wipe the dust off my bow. This is never a good idea, and can prove detrimental to your season’s success. Instead, set some easily achievable, weekly goals that over the off-season will compound into some serious sharpening of your skills.
There are multiple ways you can keep yourself from getting rusty during the off-season. While it may not be possible for everyone, setting up a short, indoor archery spot can truly be incredible. Even at 5 yards, this will allow you to pay attention to all aspects of your form, without worrying too much about where your arrow hits, all while staying free from any harsh elements.
Blank bale shooting is another extremely effective way to focus on your form and determine if anything is compromised, specifically trigger punching. Punching the trigger on your release is one of the most common causes of inaccuracies, and can be tough to fix. Luckily, blank bale shooting can completely correct it with some practice. If this is something you struggle with, get that hay bale out this off-season, and go to work!
Switch It Up
It’s natural that we as hunters are always looking for new innovations and gadgets that will help our strategies and improve our hunting success. While all of that is great, during the hunting season isn’t exactly the best time to experiment with new things. There is no guarantee that this new method or piece of gear will work, and do you really want to test that when your target buck steps out at 20 yards? And even if it does work, these things often take weeks to really get comfortable with.
The off-season is the perfect time to experiment with new gear and new strategies, without the risk of ruining your entire season. This is one of my favorite things about the offseason, in fact. I get to try new releases, new food plot strategies, make heavy changes to my shooting form, all while knowing that I’ll have at least a few months of working on it before the season rolls around.
If you’re eyeing that new release, or techy bow sight, now is the time to give it a whirl. If it’s great, you just made your next hunting season that much more interesting. If it’s horrible, who cares? At least you didn’t find out that it was horrible by missing that trophy buck.
Food plot season is here! This is an activity that we all enjoy, and one activity that can alter our hunting odds so significantly that we are willing to drop thousands of dollars on the right equipment and materials to make everything perfect. Outsiders would call it crazy, I prefer to call it a passion.
However, just because I am willing to drop some shekels in order to improve my hunting success, doesn’t mean that I won’t look for a cheaper alternative first. The alternative that I am referring to is frost seeding. Frost seeding refers to seeding your bare food plots in late winter (usually overseeding, with a ratio of at least 1.5x what you would normally plant in the spring).
The constant thawing and unthawing of the ground in the late winter, allows for your seeds to work their way into the ground and creates incredible soil contact, allowing for a higher germination rate when the spring weather rolls around. Frost seeding is extremely effective, and when done right can create a whitetail buffet that will provide your deer herd with the nutrients they need, at a time when they most need them.
The spring time can prove extremely busy for all of us, and it can be easy to get distracted and forget about some of the hunting projects that may need attention. This is a guide that I go off of every spring, that helps me stay on top of my tasks, and allows me to be better prepared for the upcoming season.
Slowly scratch these projects off your list, and you’ll be ready to go after that target buck this fall. Good luck!