By Nick Simonson
With the opening day of pheasant season just a week or two away, there is plenty to be done to get ready for the big event. From stepping up physical and shotgun preparations, to packing the things that all hunters and their four-legged friends will need in the field and after the hunt, getting everything in order not only ensures a successful start to the season, but it also helps pass the last few days leading up to the first flush, thundering wingbeats and boisterous cackle of autumn.
Walk It Off
Few other outdoor pursuits require as much walking as upland game hunting, and as a result many hunters enter the field a tad out of shape, even for those who normally walk their local sidewalks or have a consistent exercise regimen during the off-season. Even the flattest stretches of grassland can present all sorts of challenges, with uneven ground and various varmint holes being just a couple; add in some cattail sloughs, inclines and other obstacles and stiff legs and sore hips are all but guaranteed. Hunters can prepare for the terrain by taking their dogs off-trail in the days leading up to the opener by hiking state park trails or areas specially designed for trail running. Don hunting boots for these off-road adventures to get feet set for the challenges to come, and make sure to break in a new pair before opening day. A few quick stretches before and after each walk will help ease the after-effects.
Under the Gun
Most hunters also make it a point in the off-season to keep their aim sharp, but if you haven’t been to the trap range since the company fun night in May, there’s still time to warm up the barrel before the season starts. A few rounds of trap, skeet or sporting clays – or all three – will prepare shooters for a variety of near-future scenarios in the field. Before, during and after these events check to ensure proper shotgun condition along with fit and comfort, and in the final round or two, don a field vest to simulate hunting conditions. Once tuned up, inspect shotguns for wear and clean them prior to opening day to ensure everything is in order.
When arriving at a hunting site, or unpacking after traveling to a destination for pheasant opener, there’s nothing worse than realizing that a vital piece of equipment, clothing or gear was forgotten. Make a list not only for those things you need, but also the food, medicine and equipment your dog might need, along with those just-in-case items to deal with emergencies. Blaze orange clothes to match the weather, a shotgun (and a backup if traveling away from home) cleaning tools and equipment and electronics and their respective chargers are all must-haves for opener. It’s a good idea to buy ammo and any out-of-state licenses you might need now, to avoid the last-second rush and supplies that get skinnier as the season approaches.
Make sure to pack plenty of food and water for dogs and all medicines that might be necessary. It’s a good idea to find a nearby veterinarian’s office if you’re traveling away from home for opener and enter the number in your phone prior to your arrival. First aid kits for both people and animals should also be packed and at the ready. In the coming days, make a list of these items and everything else you might need to be set for the season.
Map It Out
Finally, reach out to landowners of the areas you will be hunting, or those farmers who reside near public lands to find out habitat conditions and what they’ve been seeing throughout the summer and how recent weather may have affected the lay of the land – particularly with recent rains across much of the region raising lowland water levels. Check out topographic and satellite maps and draft a game plan for any wind or weather conditions which might change the way you walk a certain parcel.
Luck is the residue of preparation, and getting ready can be part of the fun and ensure a safe and successful first day in the field. Take the time that remains between today and your respective pheasant opener to get ready for whatever might come in those initial exciting moments of the season…in our outdoors.
Simonson is a syndicated outdoors journalist from Marshall, MN who also serves as President of Lyon County Pheasants Forever. He shares a copy of his column, Our Outdoors with the chapter on a regular basis. You can read all of his works at www.nicksimonson.com