Shape-up. Some of the most successful hunters around are those who can cover the most ground in a day, whether that ground be flat or on a steep slope. If you’re in good enough physical condition to stay with it from daylight to dark, your odds of hunting success increase. Shaping up before you hunt is especially important for folks whose everyday lives don’t include much physical activity. Start walking, jogging, climbing stairs, visiting the gym or whatever you need to do long before opening day and this hunting season will be a happier, healthier—and more productive—one. If hiking or climbing is included in your workout plans, wear your hunting boots during your exercise session, especially if they’re new boots that need breaking-in. And, if you hunt with family members or friends, try to get them involved in your workout regime, too, so they can keep up with you.
Work with your dog. If you’re a bird hunter and your regular hunting companion is four-legged, spend the weeks before hunting season getting him or her into top form. Like the rest of us, hunting dogs lose some of their edge (and in some cases all their memory) during the off-season, so put them through their paces before the opener, reinforcing commands, reminding them how much fun it is to find and retrieve birds, and giving them a chance to burn off those pounds they’ve gained if they haven’t been worked since last fall.
Get home on the (shooting) range. Whether you hunt with a modern firearm, muzzleloader, shotgun, bow or all of the above, the more you shoot, the better you’ll shoot when it really counts. Many hunters spend dozens of days at the shooting range each summer in preparing for the season, and all hunters should spend at least a day or two there. Even a few hours of busting clay pigeons with the old semiautomatic or firing a couple dozen rounds from the bench with your favorite deer rifle will help, but more is better. Take the time to learn the basics of trajectories of your bullets or arrows, and the performance of your cartridge at different distances. If you hunt an area where you might take a 200 yard rifle shot for deer, practice at 200 yards. While walking and jogging, identify landmarks along your route and guess the distance and then pace it to see how you do. Getting calibrated at judging distances is key to successful shot placement.
Get organized. One of the best ways to blow a perfectly good day of hunting is to leave an important piece of equipment at home or find it in poor- or non-working order when it’s needed. Make a checklist, lay out every piece of equipment on it, look it all over and make sure it works, then put it all together in one place, ready to be packed for the trip. Anyone who has ever reached into a backpack for a sharpening stone that wasn’t there, stared into the shattered face of a broken compass or discovered an active deer mouse nest in a tattered (and smelly) sleeping bag understands the importance of careful equipment organization and maintenance.
Start scheduling. Read through the appropriate (and current) hunting regulation pamphlets to confirm season dates and get them on a calendar. If you haven’t already, start pinning down the dates you plan to hunt, especially for trips that are longer than a weekend outing. If you need to schedule leave or vacation time from work, do it sooner, not later.\