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No kidding, it's time to prep for hunting

An annual joke between my wife and I begins round about Sunday on Memorial Day weekend, when I start telling her "summer is just about over." A quick glare or a jab to the shoulder gets me chuckling. From that point on, I say it after any nice weekend on the lake, and particularly after the Independence Day holiday. But the statement begins to take on more than just a half-truth as August approaches.

While summer pulled a good prank on us by never fully materializing this year, the end of the season that should have been is rapidly approaching. It is heralded by mineral lick displays and boxes of sporting clays stacked five high in the sporting goods section of the local Farm and Fleet store. Restlessness sweeps over the souls of hunters hiding in the cocoon of the Lund while trolling for walleyes. Even their faithful bird dogs take on an edginess as a rooster pheasant crows in the evening cornfield or a mourning dove flushes from the power lines in the back alley.

These late-summer hints remind us that the transition from open water to open field is just a few weeks ahead, and there is much preparation required for a successful season, regardless of the game we pursue. Whether it is with the shotgun, bow or rifle, practice on the range is required in order to bag the game we're after. Neglecting to do so until a few moments before opening day will mean the difference between a freezer full of birds and game or tales of that bulletproof monster buck.

Use this time to head to a favorite sporting clay facility and try out the various shots the range has to offer. Shoot skeet to sharpen your aim and shake the rust out of your shotgun skills. Load up your buddies, a box of orange dome targets and the trap thrower and head out to the old gravel pit and make a night of target practice. When bird seasons start to open in September, you'll be ready.

After spending at least four days a week shooting my bow this summer in preparation for my first fall of archery hunting, my foam block target is decimated. It still holds arrows all right, but it probably won't for much longer. If you're tired of shooting the same block and want to mix it up a bit with some county-fair entertainment, tape a few party balloons to a hay bale stack and get popping. It adds an element of fun to target practice, and is a great way to introduce young archers to the sport. Find other creative targets to shoot at a 3-D range for realistic action. If you can spend half an hour shooting each evening at some target or another, there will be fewer worries on opening day.

If you don't already have a regular range appointment for your rifle, now is the time to put it on your calendar. Make it a biweekly or monthly habit of heading out to a local rifle range to check your accuracy. The hardest lesson I have learned in my young hunting career is that the best way to tag the buck you are after this November is by putting the necessary time sighting in your rifle and practicing with it throughout the year. Cycle a few boxes of ammo through your gun as the anticipation builds in the coming months to make sure you're on target for another successful season.

Prepare other hunting-related items for the season now, so you aren't scrambling as opening dates approach. Check your decoy setups for duck, goose and dove hunting to see that they are in good condition. Set up your deer stands early, inspect their condition and clear shooting lanes once they are securely in place. Doing that now will help animals get accustomed to their presence in the wild. Have survival kits packed with the necessary provisions in order to deal with the worst, and inspect safety gear like body harnesses and fall restraints to see that they are in usable condition. For those taking trips this fall in pursuit of big game, double check all licenses and travel arrangements, including passports if you plan to head north of the border.

Prepare your faithful four-legged hunting companion as well. Take walks or runs each night to promote good physical health and build endurance. Practice with bird wings leaving scent trails in the backyard, positioning the wings in cover to hide the source. Toss a dummy and work on retrieving skills with your favorite canine. Make sure he or she has received all necessary shots and you have the accompanying documentation needed for travel into other states for any trips the two of you might take this fall.

With so much to do in the few weeks between now and the various opening dates, we're lucky to have what remains of the summer to get it all put together. You'll be happy you didn't kid around this summer - no matter how much of a joke it was in terms of weather - when a shot at your favorite quarry presents itself this our outdoors.