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Matt McCormick | 7.11.2022

Waterfowl Off Season Power List

Let’s be honest, waterfowl hunters beat the hell out of their gear. It’s not out of negligence or apathy, it’s a byproduct of our relentless pursuit. Find the birds, gain access, make a plan, build a hide, set a spread, hunt it out, clean it up, process birds, find the birds, find the birds, find the birds…and so the season goes. This unforgiving, unapologetic 100+ day marathon is commonly known amongst waterfowlers as ‘The Grind’. The daily details of the grind vary from region to region but one thing holds true, the persistent nature of a wild duck or goose chase takes its toll on your body and your gear. This Off-Season Power List will ensure you get the most out of your gear and yourself this upcoming season.

Get Organized

It was two buddies and I picking up after a slow day in the snow. We had just bought our new trailer so no thought had gone into how to load and unload the gear efficiently. ‘Just throw it in there’ was my answer at the time and by the end of our clean up session, the trailer had 3 layouts, 8 dozen decoys and no room to move. Broken flags, missing bags, wet layouts and a pile of stands just thrown in. It was early October and our new trailer was already trashed. There had to be a better way.

If you’re anything like us, the grind is a whirlwind of new people, new gear, new experiences and new opportunities. This daily revolving door effect results in the need for OCD type organization. First up on the power list is to get organized. Take the time to inventory everything, get rid of the stuff you don’t need and make a repeatable organization process that even your buddy’s brother-in-law can understand. This will help keep your gear and your sanity intact throughout the season.

As goose hunters in the North country, our weather is as unpredictable as tomorrow’s fuel prices. Because of this, we carry a full setup for all scenarios in one trailer. The best way we found to keep it all straight is by using E-Track. This allowed us to customize and install a secure storage system, giving everything a home and maximizing the trailer’s wall space. Another huge benefit to E-Track is the ability to remove everything and use the trailer for a rafting trip, moving party, or whatever else may cross your path.

Do Your Laundry

I remember I was sitting at a trade show, talking to a fellow hunter and SITKA fanatic about timber hunting in Arkansas. He was raving about his 3 year old Delta Wading Jacket when he made a comment about it leaking earlier that season, which then lead to a warranty question.

‘Will SITKA replace my jacket if it leaks?’ He asked me.

The short answer is yes, if there’s a manufacturing defect causing it to leak, SITKA will absolutely take care of you and the off-season is a great time to get that taken care of. You can start that process here.

But I found it odd that a 3 year old jacket would just start leaking due to a manufacturing defect, so I started asking questions.

‘Have you ever washed your jacket’ I asked.
‘Oh no, I would never wash my SITKA Gear.’ Was his reply.

We all know it’s important to keep our gear clean but all too often I hear hunters say they haven’t washed their SITKA Gear…like ever. This is a huge mistake and will cause problems down the road especially with zippers and Gore-Tex. Rinse the mud, blood and salt off your gear like you would with your boots or gun. Then, periodically throughout the season, put them in the washer and dryer. It won’t hurt them. In fact, it only helps. So your second power list item is to grab your gear and wash it. Learn more about GORE-TEX and GORE-TEX care from John Barklow here.

Touch Up Your Decoys

As a kid, I used to watch my dad repaint mallard decoys in the garage every summer. One specific instance I remember he wasn’t happy with drakes so he painted 5 heads, 5 different shades of green and 3 different shades of yellow. He laid them on the pavement and grabbed some old photos of live and dead mallards to cross reference. That’s a duck hunter for ya. Dead of summer in the Wisconsin humidity, looking for any advantage he can buy or create to help him next season.

Let’s take a step back and think about the controllables. There are only three things we as hunters can control once we’re in the field: hide, calling and decoys. We must be able to disappear, read birds, speak accordingly and look alive. Calling practice is a great off-season job and one I’d highly recommend but for our third power list item this off-season, focus on looking like a flock of birds. Assess and replace, repair or retouch any old, beat up decoys. If you’re a duck hunter, that may mean repainting backs or heads. For a goose hunter, that may mean re-flocking your uprights. Regardless, take some time to inventory your decoys and make a conscious effort to spruce them up, extending the life of your existing setup.

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed our crew goose hunting more in brown dirt fields. These could be winter wheat fields that haven’t germinated, harvested beets or even chisel plowed silage. What I’ve learned while scouting is you see the black necks before you see the bird itself. Then when you’re hunting, the dirt naturally gets on the flocking, making the necks dull. So I decided to take on a home flocking project, which I’ve never done before. I decided to pick a handful of bird out of my cart flock, order a Black Armour Flocking kit and go to work. What I’ll tell you, is the process is time consuming but super simple and well worth it. The new flocking is black as night with the perfect amount of shine and shimmer. Here’s how simple the process was.

  1. Wash the decoys.
  2. Let them fully dry.
  3. Brush on the glue.
  4. Sprinkle and pat flocking dust onto the glue.
  5. Let cure for 1 hour.
  6. Recycle unused flocking.

Public Relations

It was the summer of 2004 and my goose hunting mentor Randy and I had just wrapped up a calling session in prep for the Wisconsin State Goose Calling Championship. We grabbed a 6 pack of Honey Weiss and headed out of town toward one of our hunting areas. He mentioned Jack had planted milo this year and we were going to swing by, show our faces, shoot the shit and drop off a sixer of his favorite beer. As a 17-year-old high schooler, this seemed strange to bother a farmer during the summer but as Randy explained, it wasn’t about hunting and it was about building a relationship. We sat at Jack’s for 2 hours that afternoon and left the porch side chat with a smile on our faces. We hunted Jack’s 6 times that season and the phone calls were like talking to an old friend. For the next few years, we had exclusive access on Jack’s and when someone asked permission, he said no and called us.

It’s easy to get caught up in the grind of finding new birds and gaining new access during the season then moving on with our lives in the off-season. If you’re anything like me, you think about the landowners far more than they think about you, so the fourth power list item is to touch base and give back to the landowners. Give them a call or swing by and offer a helping hand. This will go a long way when the crop is cut and the birds show up.

Quality Time

Last March, Camille and I welcomed our first born, Deke, into the world. It has been the most challenging yet rewarding experience in our lives. To watch that little guy grow, learn and look up to his dad has adjusted my perspective. We will alway be a hunting family but make no mistake, we’ve had our share of hard times when it comes to the toll hunting takes from our friends and family. Last hunting season was the first of many with little Deke and it was hard on both my wife and I. For Camille, it was the fact that I was out, enjoying the simple pleasures that brought us together while she was home caring for Deke. For me, it was the guilt of being away, missing out on the successes and failures of being a new parent. Which brings me to the final power list item: make the most of your time with friends and family. Go out of your way to get your crew together. Give mom the freedom to enjoy some time away. Cook dinner or host a BBQ. Whatever it is, be present and live by the standards you demand. The positive energy you bring to your crew in the off-season will carry through to the fall and winter months ahead and believe me, you’ll need all the support you can get when those North winds start to blow and you need to hit the road.