Don't wait until the season starts.
It’s hard to think about frosty mornings at hunting camp this time of the year. The outside temperature for many of us is still hovering around the triple-digit mark, and the air is so thick you could probably squeeze water out of it if you made a fist. But now is exactly when you need to be putting in the work for the upcoming season.
Think back to last season. Did a fogged scope cost you a big buck? Did your treestand squeak when you tried to get into position for a shot? Did you leave a hunt early or skip going out altogether because of inclement weather?
Now is the time to remedy all those problems. Available stock on sporting goods always seems to be in short supply just before season. Don’t wait until the gear you need is sold out before you start shopping. Purchasing early also allows you to get familiar with your new equipment, particularly firearms and optics. Not having to stop to think about where the safety is on a new rifle can mean the difference in getting off a shot and watching your quarry disappear into the cover.
Summer is also a great time to score deals on merchandise that will be full price as fall and early winter hunting seasons draw near. Many retail and online suppliers drastically mark down leftover merchandise from last season before new stock comes in, and you might be able to upgrade gear that needs replacing without spending as much as you will later on.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have the space to safely practice with their favorite hunting firearms on private land. That means regular trips to a public shooting range or an investment in a gun club membership will be the solution. As hunting seasons draw near, these ranges get crowded, though, and long waits, lots of distractions and short time limits don’t make for quality practice time. Go to those same ranges in the month or so before the official start of autumn and you often have them to yourself. That means more time to work with multiple firearms, less downtime for target changes and easy access to multiple lanes for various firing distances.
If a fogged or malfunctioning scope messed up last year’s deer season, now is the time to upgrade. You’ll need a few tools to mount a new scope to your rifle, starting with a set of gunsmithing screwdrivers with bits that fit tightly into your scope mount choice. The right bits lessen the chance of one slipping out and scratching your rifle or scope. A quality torque screwdriver, preferred by many gunsmiths, can also prevent overtightening a screw and either snapping it off or stripping the threads. Most scope manufacturers recommend 20 to 25 pounds of torque to adequately tighten screws without causing damage.
To keep your screws from backing out from repeated recoil, a drop of thread-locking compound like Loctite applied to the screw threads before tightening is a good idea. Clean the screws with alcohol or a commercially produced gun scrubber to remove any oil from the threads before applying the thread locker.
When it comes time to mount the scope, place your rifle (unloaded, of course) in a vise and, while sitting in a normal shooting position, adjust the scope back and forth until you can see the full scope diameter while looking through it. A dark ring around the view means your scope is too far away. Slide it back a bit until you get a full view through the scope. Take care not to move the scope too far to the rear—no one likes to get cracked in the eye by their scope when their gun recoils. For most scopes, three to four inches between the scope’s eyepiece and your eye—the eye relief—is about right. The scope’s manufacturer also states the eye relief for whatever model you have.
Once you have your scope positioned correctly for eye relief, use a scope level to ensure your crosshairs are vertical. (Tip! A scope level also helps you keep your rifle aimed in a level way and can help you correct cant, or tilt, in your gun before you pull the trigger.) When everything is to your liking, apply the thread locker and install the screws to the recommended torque. Tighten them in rotation—left, right, front, back, repeat—until tight. Give the thread locker 15 to 30 minutes to dry before firing your rifle.
Walk through the ammo section of your favorite store these days (the summer of 2020, with coronavirus pandemic news still in focus) and the empty shelves might shock you. You may have to do some internet digging, place an order with your favorite retailer or start hitting the road to find a dealer further out that stocks what you need now, because if you wait until just before season to stock up, and you might be plumb out of luck.
Not every firearm shoots well with every brand of ammo or even every load within a brand. Luckily, hunters have a dizzying number of choices across just about any caliber imagined, and summer, with its less-crowded ranges, is a good time to get together with your hunting buddies and compare loads. If you happen to shoot the same caliber, share a few loads with each other and test them in your rifle. You might find a new favorite.
Don’t know anyone who shoots the same caliber you do? Pick three to four factory loads with different velocities, bullet weights and styles applicable to the game you hunt and test each one. Chances are good that one will outperform the rest. Once you’ve found your load, stock up all that you can (especially in this unusual year) to get you through the season so you don’t find yourself scrambling to find more when inventories are at their traditional lowest.
The one caveat about summer rifle shooting is that once temperatures do drop, you’ll want to hit the range again and confirm your zero. This is especially true for really cold mornings. The first shot out of a cold rifle is going to be the same cold shot you take on a deer, so you want to know where it’s going to go, and it’s likely going to be different than that first shot out of a barrel on a 90-degree day. Shoot often and reconfirm as conditions dictate. It’s all about knowing your gun.
Summer—not the weekend before season opens—is the time to get out treestands, ladders, climbing sticks, harnesses, and safety ropes for a safety inspection. (Stand placement and placement timing are a column all their own; we’re concerned with safety here.)
Check stands for worn straps or chains, rusted bolts and cables and any missing nuts or hardware. Most companies offer replacement parts for stands, allowing you to do any needed maintenance to keep you safe.
Go over your safety harness and safety ropes, inspecting for worn, nicked or frayed areas. Check clips and carabiners, too, to make sure they open and close correctly and aren’t bent or dented. Lubricate any moving joints on stands and other equipment so they will operate quietly while hunting and to give any lingering odors time to dissipate before season. If a squeak got you busted last year, the value of this will not escape you.
Besides eliminating the worry and stress of rushing to get everything together at crunch time, knowing your gear is ready to go frees up your fall for important things like scouting, hanging stands and running trail cameras. As your hunting buddies rush frantically from store to store trying to locate everything they need for the upcoming season, you’ll be kicking back, making a game plan for getting in close to a big buck.