Pre-Season Prep

For many of us, summer means one thing: hunting season is near. But months of lazy fishing, floating, and summer barbeques do little to keep one’s skills sharp come opening day. Like anything, preparation and forethought are invaluable companions on the journey to success. Here are some tips to help get you ready for the hunt.

Friendly Firing
Benches at designated shooting ranges are great for sighting in your rifle, but they do a piss-poor job of teaching you how to shoot in the field. Once your scope is properly sighted, try some different positions that simulate what you’ll actually encounter: standing, kneeling, prone, etc. Even better, head to the woods for some real-world shooting. Rest your rifle on a tree branch, rock, or downed log, and practice shooting sitting, squatting, and bending your body at odd angles. If you can work in environmental factors like wind, elevation, and uneven terrain, you’ll have an even better chance this fall.

My favorite trick is shooting at dollar-store balloons—and it’s trickier than it sounds. Tie a half-dozen of them at various distances and heights. The balloons will flop in the breeze, creating a lifelike target that shifts around like an actual creature would. Pop all the balloons and win a prize: a freezer-full of expertly harvested meat once fall rolls around.

View to a Kill
Thorough and precise scouting is one of the most overlooked and underutilized skills in big-game hunting. While many hunters have begun to rely heavily on GPS and Google Earth, these modern tools are no substitute for boots on the ground.

When scouting, begin early in the summer, pay close attention to likely watering holes, areas of thick forage, and potential wallows or often-used scrapes. Look for topographic features that will naturally funnel game into good areas for a shot. Scout adjacent areas and always keep an eye out for the very animals you will be hunting in the fall.

A high concentration of predators, an excess of human activity, or lack of fresh sign are all clues to search for more productive spots. Proper scouting not only makes for an easier, more efficient hunt, but it is also an ideal way to get in shape for the upcoming season.

Better, Faster, Stronger
All too often, people think hunting involves strolling through the woods and throwing your easily-killed quarry in the back of a pickup. But it’s rarely that simple: there are often miles of hiking through steep terrain, army crawling, and even sprinting—all while hauling a hefty pack and high-powered rifle. If you do manage to bag an animal, you still have to haul the carcass back to civilization—so you need to be in shape if you want to be worth a damn in the field.

Starting training way before opening day. Running, hiking, and backpacking are great exercises. Once you have a solid base of fitness, create real-world hunting scenarios to test your abilities: deck yourself out in gear, throw on your pack, and take a strenuous hike in a remote area. Along the way, take a few practice shots to find out if, when the moment of truth arrives, you’ll really be able to drop the animal in your sights. If your heavy breathing and sweat-filled eyes mean Bambi would walk away from the episode unscathed, it’s time to reexamine your current diet and exercise regimen.

Kurt Dehmer owns Durty Kurty’s Guide Service in Bozeman.