We're quarantined during the off-season, but don't go stir-crazy. Keep busy with these projects instead
Coronavirus has millions of Americans twiddling thumbs, kicking rocks and grimacing at the stock market. In a fast-paced society that came to a screeching halt, boredom and depression quickly entered households everywhere. Unfortunately, that's life right now. But you can still make the most of it. While some people are using this extra time to get ripped, work around the house, or just binge Netflix, others are leveling up their hunting game. And that's the crowd you want to be in. Here are a few ideas to help you pass the time and get ahead on your to-do list before fall rolls around.
1. Clean Your Guns
I remember getting scolded by my great granddaddy for failing to keep a gun barrel nice and shiny. That beauty hasn't been spiffed in a tad bit, he'd say with a smile and sparkle in his eye. Then, he'd grab a rag with his calloused hand and start spiffing.
If the thought of sooty, grimy, pitted, corrosion-filled guns makes you cringe, you probably do a good job of caring for your guns already, and they might just need a light cleaning. If you always find a way to put off this chore, it might be time to give them all a bath. We're not just talking about one or two guns, or only the easy ones, like your Remington 870. No, it's time to clean all of the boomsticks. Everything from the shoulder-separating buffalo guns down to the pea-shooting rimfires. Don't make excuses - we all know you have plenty of time to get the job done - and you'll thank yourself later.
2. Make a Coonskin Cap
Have a tanned coon hide lying around? If not, maybe nab one off the wall of granddaddy's shack? Either way, get your Davy Crockett on and make some backwoods headgear. Who knows, your spouse might even like one.
While this is more of a call to action than Coonskin Cap Making 101, you'll need a needle, thread, marking tool, tape measure, knife and a dead raccoon that's been tanned. Channel your inner seamstress, maybe browse for some extra instruction on YouTube, and voila: the perfect hat.
3. Clean and Repair Trail Cams
Now is a great time to whip those deer cams into shape. I run 30 to 40 each year, and several are caked with dirt, dirt daubers, dead ants, pollen and even a bit of corrosion. I like to clean them up with plenty of moist Q-tips and damp paper towels. Remember, clean the entire thing, but give the lenses, IR covers and battery compartments a little extra TLC.
Once that's complete, make any necessary fixes, including updating the firmware. Before storing - or deploying in the woods again - place a silica gel packet inside each camera to combat moisture buildup inside the unit.
For any old models that are beyond repair, check the warranty. If that doesn't take care of it, keep in mind that stores sometimes advertise old trail camera trade-ins for big discounts on new cameras (even if the old model doesn't work properly). Hold on to your dead cams until one of these events pops up.
4. Organize Trail Cam Photos
Are you that person who dumps trail cam photos in a folder and can't tell last season's pics from 2010's images? If so, it might be time to do some housekeeping.
I have almost a million trail camera photos stashed away on hard drives, and I use a system to catalog them. The first folder is for the year (i.e. 2019 Season). In that folder is one for each state where I run cameras. Click on the state, and you'll find more folders by property name. Dive into any one of these and you'll find a bunch of folders with dates of card pulls. Go a level deeper and you'll find a folder for each card pulled on that day, which also has an identifier that lets me know exactly where that camera is located on the property. Finally, the actual trail camera images are located one level lower. It may sound complicated, but I promise it's a simple, useful filing system.
I follow a similar approach for keeping tabs on unique bucks that I capture on camera. Folder levels start with the year, then the state, followed by the property, concluding with my best photo of each unique buck. Of course, because I'm OCD as heck, they're in chronological order with top target bucks at the top and yearling saps at the bottom.
I also keep intel folders for target bucks with every trail camera encounter I have for each. While having all of these trail camera photos is fun, it's actually an effort to collect as many data points as possible for target bucks. Combined with glassing from afar, in-the-field scouting, past encounters and historical data, it often helps me create a dynamite plan of attack.
5. Replace Treestand Hardware
Spring and summer are the perfect time to pull, inspect and repair or replace treestands. These should be checked for safety annually and re-hung every two years or less.
Always wear a safety harness and lineman's belt when working from elevated positions. Check stands for excessive rust, broken bolts or nuts, damaged cables, compromised straps, busted ratchets, weakened platforms, uncomfortable seats, faulty ladders, inadequate safety lines and more. Most minor issues can be repaired, but some problems can't. So don't try to fix something that's too far gone - it isn't worth an injury, and a weak link in any part of the system can bring everything crashing to the ground. That's an experience you want no part of.
6. Play With PVC
There are many projects that involve PVC pipes and big-time fun for archers, deer hunters and land managers. One of my personal favorites is the PVC-pipe deer feeder. While not as efficient as commercial options, it's cheap to construct and extremely durable.
Not the baiting type? Create a food plot watering system out of PVC. This is especially good for drought-prone areas or plots planted in late summer and early fall. Keep those ¼-acre kill plots lush and flourishing with $150 of PVC, a few sprinkler heads, and a water pump.
Another option is a bow stand for the archery range. Craft a few pieces of PVC into a base (with a wide enough stance so it doesn't tip over), a vertical stand for support and dual bow hangers on top. It's a simple task that shouldn't take much bandwidth or money to make, but you'll appreciate it every time you shoot your bow.
7. Make Your Own Euro Mount
Frozen deer heads still taking up freezer space? Garden season is coming, and venison season follows soon after. So make room for all that bounty by firing up the boiling pots.
At a minimum, you'll need a big pot of water, a heat source, baking soda, knives and other meat-removing utensils like a wire brush. Boiling water encourages separation between flesh and bone, so you'll need to scrape it off as it loosens. Of course, a pressure washer makes the entire process much easier and faster.
8. Take the QDMA Deer Steward 1 Course
For those who've been searching for a way to increase deer hunting, land management and whitetail biology knowledge bases, the Quality Deer Management Association offers a solution. Take its Deer Steward Level 1 course online and learn more about whitetails than you ever thought possible. It's worth the time and money. Once that's complete, you'll have the option to complete additional, in-person Level II and III Deer Steward courses.
9. Find New Places to Hunt
Get off the couch and start knocking on doors (virtually, that is). Now's a good time to develop relationships with landowners. Call up people and talk to them, and find out how they're doing, and how their families are doing. Be genuine. Just because you're looking for hunting ground doesn't mean you're there to use them. Invest in their lives, and they might return the favor.
After talking awhile, slowly ease into asking permission to hunt on their ground. But don't do this without offering something in exchange. If you don't want to throw down some of your stimulus money, maybe offer to help with chores to offset costs instead. Be sure the landowner gets something out of the deal.
10. Hunt for Killer Deals
Many companies are seeing decreased sales due to the recent pandemic, and most areas of the hunting industry haven't been immune to that. Prices are dropping as people hold their money, resulting in decreased demand. But those who are willing and able can take this opportunity to find great deals on hunting and fishing gear. Online sales are increasingly common, and prices continue to drop as big box stores take hits due to stay-at-home orders.
Deer season might be five or six months away, but we have plenty of time to fill between now and then. Might as well do something constructive with our newfound hours. After all, we're too stubborn to let COVID-19 keep us down.