It’s no secret we waterfowlers have lots of stuff — clothing, waders, blinds, bags, and the like — and we’ve come to depend upon it as much as we do our shotguns, pickups, and canine hunting companions. It only makes sense we take care of the gear that takes care of us, and then some, throughout the season and beyond. Here, then, are five essential pieces of waterfowling equipment, and a 101 Course on the post-season care and maintenance of each.
Here’s the single most important word about preparing waders, or ‘fowling footwear of any sort for that matter, for the off-season — dry. I can’t guarantee much, but I can guarantee that if you store your chest waders for nine months wet, the next time you put them on, it will be akin to slipping into a biological petri dish experiment gone wrong. Way wrong. There’s nothing quite like wrapping yourself from belly to heel in penicillin, even if it is a camouflaged antibiotic.
Come the close of the season, it doesn’t take much to hang your waders up and let them air dry completely. If they’re damp on the inside, turn them inside out as far as possible, and again, let them dry completely. Should one be necessary, beg, borrow, or go so far as to purchase a hot-air boot dryer (www.peetdryer.com). Overnight should be plenty of time for the inside; a couple days at best downstairs near the dehumidifier for the exterior. Take a stiff bristle brush to the boots, belt and quick-release clips, and it’s off to the next project.
If your waders are particularly filthy, a quick trip to the car wash might be in order. Hose ’em down, top to bottom, and then take them home to dry. You can accomplish the same results in the downstairs shower; however, and speaking from experience, there might be some major housekeeping repercussions with that one.
Like waders and all other gear, ammunition that has been taken afield and has gotten wet and/or dirty should be dried and cleaned before being stored for the long off-season. I used to unload my blind bag and shell belt and simply toss all the ammunition — 2 3/4- or 3-inch, No. 2s or No. 4s or No. 5s, it didn’t matter — into a small clear plastic tote, cover it up, and there they would stay, silently rusting, until I opened the lid in September of the following year. Who was to blame for that fiasco? Well, me, of course.
Today I follow my own advice, clean and dry each individual shotshell (if necessary), and put each back into its own cardboard box. If the ammunition and box don’t match, which mine often don’t, a small strip of masking tape and a permanent marker makes clear as to what shotshell is in which box. Trust me — grabbing BBBs when you think you’re shoving No. 4 duck loads in the gun usually ends tragically, especially if you’re on target.
At the end of the season I take everything out of my blind bag and hang the bag, now empty, some place to dry. Regarding the individual items themselves, I’ll restock what needs restocking (toilet paper in a Ziplock bag, lip balm, aspirin), ensure that all these items are dry, and then store everything except for ammunition and calls in the bag for the duration of the off-season.
In the case of battery-operated items such as small flashlights, headlamps, GPS units, and so on, I’ll make a point of removing the batteries, thereby eliminating the risk of leakage and corrosion while the devices aren’t in regular use. Duck and goose calls are removed, maintained separately, and stored in an out-of-the-way place; somewhere high so, say, a puppy can’t get to them. How did I come to that conclusion? Don’t ask.
Layout blinds are notorious for being collectors of all things used and discarded throughout the course of the season. Look inside any of my personal blinds, and you’ll find an interesting collection of shotshell hulls, live rounds, corn stubble, sunflower seed bags, Coke cans, gloves, hats, granola bar wrappers and more.
It only takes a few minutes to clean and prepare a layout blind for storage. First, remove the stubble. I know it seems like a good idea to leave it for the following season; however, if it’s wet, which it usually is, it’s an open invitation for mold, mildew, and Lord only knows what else. In addition, stubble attracts mice, and take it from me, a mouse isn’t going to chew only the stubble; they love cordura nylon, quick-release clips and padding. Pull the stubble, let the blind air-dry, if wet, and then give it a good rubdown with a stiff bristle brush.
Second, dump out the contents, shake it clean, break it down if it’s a model that collapses, and store it in a place where mice aren’t going to use it for a condominium. Along with breaking the blind down, I’d suggest releasing the tension on any straps or supports that work into the blind’s construction; there’s no need for those components to be under stress/tension for nine months when they need not be.
It should go without saying that your dog’s training and health care needs, both daily and as necessary, certainly don’t end with the close of the season. Our black Labs are exercised year-round, whether they’re hunting or not. Nails are trimmed and regular feeding regimes are modified a bit as pup’s caloric intake will change during the non-working season. Prior to the spring mosquito season, the hounds make a visit to our local veterinarian for heartworm snap tests and an in-depth checkup, and any scheduled inoculations they might need. Oh, and playtime. Lots and lots of playtime.