Hunting season may be over, but now's the time to get your gear in shape for next year
When it comes to the year-end maintenance of hunting gear, I'm as much of a procrastinator as anyone. You know the chores I'm talking about—all those niggling things you promise yourself you'll take care of right after the season ended, but seldom do. Well, I've learned the hard way that poorly maintained equipment can cost you, both in your wallet and in missed opportunities afield. Here's how to save yourself the grief.
Most important are your rifles and shotguns. Before storing them for the winter, give them a thorough cleaning—and not just the bore. This is the time to take out the action and remove any dirt or debris. If you don't know how to disassemble your firearms, your local gunsmith likely offers a gun-cleaning service. For a modest fee, this will help ensure the reliability and increase the lifespan of your shootin' irons.
Once your guns have been cleaned, give them a light oiling to help prevent rust during storage. Use oils sparingly, however, as too much can gum up your action. I prefer to store my guns barrel down so that any excess oil or cleaning agents drain out the barrel rather than accumulate in the action.
Riflescopes, binoculars, rangefinders and cameras also benefit from an end-of-season cleaning. Remember, though, that the valuable lens coatings on quality optical glass are easily scratched. Rubbing a dirty lens with an apparently clean cloth or shirtsleeve risks grinding dirt particles into the glass. The best tools for this job are found at your local camera store. Begin your cleaning by blowing away dirt particles; your breath can work, but canned or compressed air is best. Next, use a brush designed for lenses to wipe away any remaining dust or debris, then finish up with optical cleaning fluid and lens tissue.
If you're like me, by season's end your hunting clothes are, shall we say, well used. I've found that for my waterfowling and upland gear, nothing beats the local dry cleaner. Parkas, pants, bibs, hats—the works—I take them all in, and start the next year with clean outerwear.
Because of the need for scent management, big-game clothes should be treated a little differently. First, I take care of any needed repairs, such as replacing broken zippers or buttons. Then I head to a coin-operated industrial laundromat and run everything through a complete wash-and-rinse cycle, twice, using non-scented soap (such specialty soaps can be found at any hunting shop).
I prefer to air-dry my clothes, but if you have to use a commercial dryer, don't use fabric softeners—they tend to add odours that downright offend deer. Some hunters then store their big-game clothes, both outerwear and undergarments, in sealed bags to further manage unwanted scent.
And don't forget your hunting boots. At season's end, I wash off the mud and dirt with warm water, then treat all the leather components. There are many products available, but I've tended to stick with Sno-Seal beeswax treatment, as it both softens and waterproofs the leather.
For waterfowlers, the winter months are ideal for repairing decoy lines and weights, and for repainting faded or chipped blocks. Use only matte paints; marine stores are an excellent place to find paint that can withstand the rigours of repeated dunkings. You should also repair or replace torn camo blinds. And if boats and motors are a part of your hunt—and they need work-now's the time to take them in for service.
It's a small thing, but I remove the batteries from all my electronic devices at season's end. This avoids the risk of the batteries leaking and destroying the equipment. It also forces me to replace the old batteries with fresh ones at the beginning of the next season.
I also take the time to top up my first-aid and survival kits, replacing anything I may have used, such as bandages. Again, this is not one of those little chores you want to put off until it's too late.
Finally, I compile a wish list of new hunting gear that I want or need. This helps family members in their annual struggle with what to get me for Christmas. And anything Santa doesn't bring, well, let's just say that nothing helps me through the winter doldrums more than a little shopping—and dreaming—in preparation for next season.