Winter is a dark season...not just literally (though that’s obviously true in most of the country). For the passionate hunter, this season we’re in right now can be brutal. Your next bowhunting adventure feels like it’s an eternity away, you may live in an area where even getting outdoors can be nearly impossible, and it feels like all the passion and progress you gathered over the Fall is waning as you hug the radiator for warmth. How can we keep our skills sharp and still scratch a tiny bit of that hunting itch through these offseason winter months?
HUNT IF YOU CAN
While we tend to think of winter as a hunting wasteland between deer and turkey seasons, in many states there are still hunting opportunities available. Rabbits, squirrels, coyotes, hogs...in some places these are open all year long, and in even more they’re still open in January and February. Yes, it’s cold. Yes, snow can be a pain. But you’ll probably have the woods to yourself. Plus nothing makes a buck look bigger through your peep like chasing after some rabbits or squirrels in the snow with a quiver full of (SMALL GAME THUMPERS).
GEAR PREP AND RESEARCH
Okay, it’s not always as fun as sending arrows at the range or sitting in your favorite stand on opening morning, but now is the perfect time to start getting your gear ready for next season. If it’s time for a re-string, drop it off at the bow shop ASAP. If you’ve been eye-balling a new bow altogether, head down and pick that bad boy up so you can start getting the string broken in and the tune fully dialed in. Personally, I don’t want that new-bow-smell still hanging around on opening day...I want to be incredibly comfortable with and have hundreds of arrows already sent through my hunting bow. That becomes pretty tricky if you wait too long to get your bow setup.
Winter is also a great time to bury yourself in research for your next hunt. Whether that’s draw-odds and tag strategies, or pouring over satellite imagery to find that new potential honey-hole you want to check out this year. Or, if you’re a gear-junky (which let’s be honest, is a lot of us), now’s the time to be reading an obscene amount of reviews and planning your budgetary life around which pieces you plan to upgrade this year. That way you can make a well-informed purchasing decision long before hunting season so you have time to get familiar with your new gear, break in your boots, or whatever else might be needed.
Now that you have some time before you’ll be able to draw on a live animal, this is the perfect season to experiment with your archery setup if you’re so inclined. Been meaning to see what all the fuss is about with a thumb release instead of a wrist-rocket? Pick one up and start playing around with it (even if the weather has you limited to short-range shots in the garage). Has it been a few years since you’ve tried a different arrow/broadhead setup? You have more than enough time now to try a few different options and see if you can find something you’re even more confident shooting. (Might I suggest the new SINGLE BEVEL HEADS from VPA?)
If you’re not a huge bow-tinkerer, (I know it sounds intimidating to start messing around and turning allen-heads on your bow...especially if you have it tuned to your liking right now) the best little life-hack I’ve picked up is to take a chalk-pen (or something you can erase later) and mark where everything is right now (rest, sight, even your quiver if it’s adjustable). Then as you start tinkering with things, if something gets out of whack or you just decide you’d rather go back to your original setup, you can put everything right back where it was and act like the whole thing never happened. Personally, every time I’ve tried a new setup or started playing around with adjustments, I’ve either found something I love and shot better or at the very least learned something valuable that has made me a better all-around archer. It’s worth the risk!
FIND WAYS TO GET OUTSIDE
Okay, this isn’t a mental health blog, but it’s common sense that if you stay locked in your house or office for an entire season, it’s not going to be a good time, emotionally speaking. I believe those effects are compounded if you’re a person who spends a bunch of time in the outdoors anyway. Even if you live in a location with some pretty nasty winter weather, there are still ways to get outside and enjoy the wilderness we love so much. Maybe give snow-shoeing a try as a new way to see some country and physically train for the rigors of hunting season. In much of the country, shed hunting season is upon us...as that snow line slowly recedes, you can be out there kicking up the evidence of what sort of monster bucks and bulls made it through the winter and will be waiting for you in the Fall.
Weather and terrain is so diverse across the country that it’s hard to recommend things that will work for everybody, but maybe trapping is a big thing where you live...even if you’ve never done it, you could potentially find someone who does and offer to haul gear or be a helping hand just for the chance to learn something new and get a little time doing a hunting-adjacent activity. Maybe you rent a snowmobile and check out some potential hunting areas you’ve never been to. Maybe you go harvest some firewood from some deadfall just to feel like an old-timey winter lumberjack (and, I guess, to have enough firewood). The point is that even if you can’t be specifically hunting and it’s more difficult to be outside, I believe every outdoorsman will have a much better winter if they find some creative way to get into the wilderness even in the winter. You might have to wait and watch for that one clear, slightly warmer day, but a little fresh air and sunshine will probably be exactly what your winter-worn self needs.
TIME MOVES FAST
No matter how long I’m in this hunting game, opening day always seems to arrive sooner than I expect. I always seem to have at least a couple things still on my to-do list, or something I wished I had taken care of a month earlier so I didn’t have to cram it in right before the hunt. Much of what I mentioned up here has been on that list for me in years past, and maybe it serves as a reminder to you so you can head into your next season with nothing but anticipation...rather than the typical scramble to hope you’re ready when the sun finally peeks out on opening morning.