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How To/Pro-Tips

Practice Makes Perfect

Clay target shooting is great practice for game shooting. All of the clay target games can help hone your skill at "shooting flying." However, Sporting Clays offers more of the steeply rising and dropping targets that duplicate common waterfowl shots than trap or skeet.

If you are a clay target enthusiast, you probably have a special shotgun all tricked-out for your favorite shooting game. That's great; I love good guns and think everyone ought to have five or 50. Specialized target guns help you shoot top scores when there's a trophy on the line.

However to tune up your waterfowl shooting, take your duck gun, with the tight choke in place, to the target range. That "too-tight-for-targets" choke tube will help you get used to the tight patterns produced by steel shot and improve your ability to put them on target. Your target-range score may drop but you'll be rewarded by better shooting where it really counts -- in the duck blind.

Good Sense About Scent

The less of your scent you leave in your hunting area, the better the odds for your success. This goes for both scouting and hunting.

Take pains to keep yourself and the area as scent-free as possible. Regular bathing helps. The new "no-scent" soaps help even more. Wash your hunting clothes in no-scent soap and put them in air-tight bags, away from smokers, household odors, campfire smoke and such. Putting aromatic but natural vegetation such as pine or cedar in the bag doesn't hurt a thing.

Wear rubber or rubber-bottom boots in the woods and try not to walk on the deer trails. Avoid touching or brushing up against brush, particularly along trails. Everything you touch will hold your scent for a while.

Take your climbing stand or seat cushion out of the woods with you. These items absorb a lot of human scent. Leaving them in the woods leaves your scent there too, preventing your hunting area from "resting" even when you are not hunting.

Monsters of the Midday

The first hour of dawn and the last hour of dusk are magical and highly productive deer hunting times. The whitetail deer prefers the low-light periods surrounding sunrise and sunset. However, under some conditions, hunting in the middle of the day or all day long can be very effective.
Deer move or feed several times over a 24-hour period. Under a full moon, deer are active during the middle of the night. This may stimulate a corresponding period of movement during the following day. Essentially the same thing occurs when heavy hunting pressure forces much nocturnal activity. Also, many experienced hunters suspect that wary bucks pattern hunter movement patterns and are well aware that most hunters are loafing around camp by 9 or 10 a.m.

Severely cold weather also seems to get bucks off to a late start with more midday activity. Likewise, cloudy and rainy days, which keep the light turned down all day, promote daytime feeding and movement activity.

Hunt and Fish with Your Kids

When my kids were very young, I asked my dad how to get them to enjoy the outdoors. His answer was simple, "Take them but don't push them and don't bore them."

With young kids, set aside some trips where their fun is more important than your success. Be patient and make the trips fun and interesting. All kids like trucking on muddy roads and riding in boats but they're naturally impatient when things slow down. When hunting or fishing, watch the child for signs of boredom -- it's not hard to spot. Break up the trip by changing locations or doing something else for awhile. When it's cold don't keep them out for too long.

Soon they'll want to stay longer and longer. Enthusiasm and real skill will grow and reinforce their enjoyment of hunting and fishing. At that point make them take The Oath: "When you are grown, and I'm older than dirt, you've got to take me along on your hunting and fishing trips."

Diet and Your Dog

A hunting dog is an athlete, particularly a hard-working duck dog. Like most athletes, working dogs work up large appetites. During the waterfowl season when your retriever is burning up calories swimming in cold water and staying warm the rest of the time, high-energy food is best. However, after the season is over and particularly during the warm months, putting your retriever on a diet is a good idea.
If you feed high-protein, high-performance dog food, you can simply cut back the amount fed. Another approach is to change to a different feed with lower protein and fat content. Switch dog foods gradually by mixing, until the dog gets used to the new food.
The metabolism of individual dogs varies and they may require different amounts of food. For a clue to condition, look at the dog's flanks. A healthy dog at its proper weight should show the last two ribs. If more show, feed more. If you can't see those two ribs, cut back.

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