Offseason Waterfowlers: 5 Tips to Keep You Sane Between Duck Seasons

Imagine it is mid to late winter. You have lost count of the sleepless nights, gear hauling, and overall total time you have spent sitting in the freezing cold listening for whistling wings. It is down to the final day of the season, and just as you are starting to feel the burnout, you think ahead to the eight to ten months you have until you are able to do it all again.

It’s the anticipation that brings me back to water fowling year after year. Waterfowl hunting is such a production compared to other types of hunting that I feel serious fatigue by the end of the season. However, with so much time in between seasons, I know I have to continually push myself to get out on the water.

Over the last few years I have developed several tricks to make sure that I keep both my dog and myself sharp. The slog through spring, summer, and part of fall is a good time to get rusty. Here, I will share what I do to keep myself excited for the ensuing waterfowl season and make sure I grow as a waterfowler from year to year.

  • Research and watch.

It may go without saying, but one of the best ways to improve your skills as a waterfowl hunter is to do some research. During the offseason I spend hours watching videos, reading articles, and most importantly, I try to observe real duck behavior as much as possible.

I have been known to spend several hours at a time pouring through YouTube playlists in search of new calling techniques, new decoy spreads, and learning more about duck life history. Articles on websites such as Duck’s Unlimited and Harvesting Nature are great places to read stories of other hunter’s experiences so that you may take ideas and implement their techniques in your own hunts.

As a former college athlete, I know how much work needs to go into an offseason. While every hunt provides more experiences and contributes to your ability to get better, improvements as a hunter can come in leaps and bounds by spending time in the offseason consuming all the duck content you can.

What is more, while duck behavior varies during different seasons, I like to get eyes on resident ducks and observe their behavior during the offseason. This allows me to observe feeding and roosting behavior to proverbially “get inside the head” of ducks which will serve me better once the season rolls around.

  • Build your decoy arsenal.

Do you ever hit a point where you have too many decoys? Perhaps it is once your housemate, whether it be a roommate or a significant other, says so. Either way, building out a bigger decoy spread is always a fun way to keep the excitement of the next season alive.

Don’t get me wrong, there is always a time and a place for a small spread. In fact, I killed the majority of my ducks in 2023 over a five mallard spread. However, there will always be situations where a rather large spread is almost mandatory. Areas that hold very large groups of ducks require that you have a huge spread that will 1. Get their attention, and 2. Convince them of some semblance of realism. Imagine you always traveled in a large group; would you want to land somewhere that only seemed to have a few familiar faces?

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  • Shoot sporting clays.

This is possibly the most important offseason activity you can do. It is difficult to hit the range when you are busy chasing birds, but I want you to think back to this past season and consider how many more birds you could have harvested.

Becoming a better shot has a two-fold benefit. 1. It allows me to harvest more birds because I will simply miss less birds. 2. You will cripple less birds. The conservationist in me has a hard time leaving crippled birds out in the field. There will inevitably be birds that you connect with throughout a season that survive and continue to fly, but improving as a marksman not only causes you to connect with more birds, but also put more pellets into those that you do hit. In turn, you will more ethically dispatch birds and minimize the number of cripples that you leave in the field. That to me is more than worth several trips to the clays course during the spring and summer.

  • Use your gear.

Practicing your calls, shooting your shotgun, and launching your boat or kayak can go a long way towards staving off the rust that will inevitably develop over the offseason. I am personally an avid fly fisherman, so I spend a lot of time over the spring and summer launching my boat and kayak. The workflow of doing each task can be lost to those who don’t touch that gear for 8-10 months at a time, and it always takes a couple hunting trips to redevelop the workflow that works for you. If you want to make sure you hit the ground running on opening day, it is imperative that you keep up with these activities, and it is always great to work duck gear into other hobbies anyways.

Practicing calling is also the only way that you will be able to sound like the individuals in the tutorial videos that we all watch. Take your call in the car, garage, to the park, etc. and try different sequences. The most important part of calling is being consistent. To be frank you don’t need to be particularly fancy with calling sequences or different calls to kill ducks consistently. However, if you blow consistent notes with the variety of calling sequences you do know, you will have immense success in a duck blind.

  • Train your dog.

This is my favorite part of the offseason and if you have ever hunted over your own dog, then you know what I am talking about. It is easy to expect that a dog from a high-end hunting breeder will show up and automatically know how to hunt, but what no one ever sees are the countless hours of work and prep that go into making a dog ready.

I generally train my dogs on a three year plan, with the key to my training plan being patience:

  • Year one is designed to get them interested in waterfowl hunting and get them as many retrieves (reps) as possible. I always make sure they are well behaved enough to be in the field without acting a fool, however I expect nothing close to perfection from my dogs in year one. I am far more lenient to boredom and whining during this season because they simply don’t know any better. After all, they are no different than taking a young child into the field.
  • Year two is when they take the next step. I spend a large portion of their first offseason steadying my dog and introducing a variety of hand signals that will help me control and direct them at a distance. If they are ready, I will take this offseason to start them on blind retrieves. Two year old dogs are still quite young, and while the improvement can be drastic, they still will not be perfect and some days will be better than others.
  • Year three is generally when I end up with a fully realized dog. I spend the second offseason breaking my dog of any bad habits, ensuring they will be still at my side at virtually all times in the field, and finishing out their ability to mark birds at distance. Three year old dogs are much more mature than two year old dogs. Sure they will still exhibit some puppy tendencies, but at this point they are generally extremely driven and far more focused through the entirety of the hunt as they ever were in year one or two.

This three-year plan is only a guideline. Every dog is unique, and some may develop slower or faster than others. It is up to you to fully determine how ready a dog is for one step or another. And don’t forget, a dog’s learning never truly ends. It is still up to you to keep them in shape, retrieving, and obedient through every offseason until you retire them. Make sure our beloved retrievers get to swim, run, and play to their hearts content before they are able to do what they love come winter.


The offseason can be one of the most fun times for waterfowl hunters. There simply is so much hands on work that can be done that will directly correlate to success in the field. I know I always need something to keep my mind sharp and sane, and these activities have never steered me wrong. Give these a shot and you will find your excitement for the next season will grow immensely.

Quincy Milton

Quincy is an avid fly fisherman and bird hunter who approaches outdoor activities from the perspective of an outdoor scientist. He loves experimenting with wild game recipes, especially when it involves a smoker.

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