There's plenty to do to prepare for future adventures while we mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by staying home
Last week I shared considerations to maintain effective social distancing while using our public lands during the COVID-19 pandemic, but in many parts of the country our public lands and waters may be closed or may be too crowded to safely maintain social distance.
Even in my home state of Michigan, where public lands were kept open and outdoor recreation was listed as an exception to our stay at home order, the Department of Natural Resources has started closing some popular fishing areas and may soon close some state parks because people haven’t been maintaining social distance. Popular national parks and trails are being crowded. Washington closed down fishing and some hunting seasons. Illinois closed public lands. And the virus continues to spread.
Staying home may be the best option to save lives from COVID-19 even where public lands, hunting and fishing are still open. As much as we want to be out there, though, there are plenty of ways for us to be productive in preparation for future hunting and fishing adventures while staying home and staying safe.
Here are five suggestions to get you started:
It’s time for spring cleaning anyway, so use the extra time at home to organize your gear. I store most of my outdoor equipment in heavy duty HDX boxes separated by activity and season, but by this time of year much of the equipment is mixed with others, hanging on a garage storage shelf, or just plain lost. A good full weekend day of organizing while listening to an outdoor podcast will get things in order.
Additionally, there’s almost no piece of hunting or fishing gear that doesn’t need the occasional cleaning and repair. Waders, tents, and landing nets might need repair. Guns and fly lines might need cleaning. Knives and broadheads need sharpening. And if you’re anything like me, the scent of Hoppes No. 9 might drop your stress level a notch or two, which we could all probably use about now.
While you may not be able to go to a public archery range, practicing at home is an option for many. Check on your local ordinances if you live in town (for instance, I would be prohibited from shooting in my backyard in Ann Arbor), but you may be able to where you live. Even if you can only shoot a dozen or fewer yards in your basement or garage (with a proper backstop), you can still dial in your short-range game.
If you live in the country, target shooting with your firearm may be possible if you have an adequate backstop, distance from neighbors, and zoning. If not, dry firing may be a way to practice your shot so long as you maintain all the tenants of firearm safety, especially making sure your firearm is unloaded, treating it as if it is loaded, and never aiming at anything you don’t intend to destroy.
If you have a lawn, you can practice your cast whether with a fly line or pitching jigs. I like to cut the hook off an old fly, put my son in a chest or backpack carrier, and practice fly-casting in the front lawn at different targets and angles. My backyard is about the width of my favorite river, complete with tree branches to snag on my backcast.
The Orvis Fly Fishing Learning Center has a series of video tutorials from Pete Kutzer demonstrating casting techniques to practice.
Use this time to learn a new outdoor-related skill, or hone an old skill you’ve let lapse. Learn to shoot a traditional bow, build your own arrows, reload your own ammunition (with nonlead, of course), practice tying knots, improve your calling (best if you’re quarantining alone), learn different ways to build a fire, or learn to tie flies.
If you already tie flies, you’ve probably already filled up a fly box or two by now. If fly-tying has been on your “someday,” list, though, that someday is now. In a normal situation you may be best served by going into a fly shop and having their staff help you select the materials you need, but many fly shops are closed to walk-in traffic now and buying a comprehensive starter kit online may be the best option. I started tying over the Christmas holiday with the Orvis Premium Fly-Tying Kit, and it included everything I need to tie multiples of 16 different patterns with an instructional DVD, although all the patterns are available online, too.
Some fly shops, like my local fly shop Schultz Outfitters in Ypsilanti, Michigan, are hosting online fly-tying lessons through platforms like Zoom. Tom Rosenbauer of Orvis is doing the same on Facebook Live a few days each week. And YouTube is full of tutorials, like Niklaus Bauer's pike streamers out of Sweden. Once you start, you might just disregard all the other suggestions on this list. It's addicting.
Yes, the gyms are closed. No, that’s not an excuse. While you don’t need to be in shape to pull the trigger, release an arrow, or cast a line, being fitter and healthier will make all the other stuff you do outdoors easier, from packing an elk out of or hiking into a trout stream in the western backcountry to dragging a deer out of or casting a 10-inch articulated muskellunge fly 10,000 times in the Northwoods.
If you have a garage, you can turn it into a garage gym with minimal equipment but there are numerous workouts that can be performed with odd objects around the house and bodyweight. Train To Hunt has a free four-week training plan and CrossFit posts at-home workouts almost daily that can be done from your living room.
I invested in some basic garage gym equipment from Rogue Fitness for less than $1,000 last fall and I’m using this time working from home to get my full use out of it by doing a three-week, five-day-a-week CrossFit strength program. When the quarantine is over and I can drive up to northern Michigan lakes, rivers, and public lands again, I’ll be in shape to hike, wade, paddle, cast, and hopefully catch all day.
There’s no shortage of outdoors media accessible online these days, and my list of podcasts to listen to, books to read, and films to watch is ever-expanding. I’ve been trying to catch up on it while doing dishes, rocking my son to sleep, and while tying flies after he goes to bed (garage gym sessions are reserved for AC/DC). Personally, I’ve been trying to catch up on Artemis Podcast episodes, find time to watch the full-length version of The Forest, a film by our friends at the Deer Hunter Podcast about their northern Michigan deer camp, and read That Wild Country by Mark Kenyon.
Additionally, we’ll be releasing the National Wildlife Federation Outdoors / Artemis film “Northwoods Unleaded” online for free in the next couple of weeks, so follow our Facebook page to be notified when it drops. If you need content for your little ones, Ranger Rick has made all of its educational materials free online through mid-summer.
You could also use this time to plan lottery hunt submissions and scout digitally using apps like OnX. Any of these options will be more productive than watching “Tiger King.”
We all want to be outdoors. We all want to hunt and fish. During this COVID-19 lockdown, though, the priority is flattening the curve of the outbreak and keeping our family, friends, and neighbors safe by not spreading the disease, which we could have without even knowing it. People are making sacrifices everywhere, and it’s not too much to ask that we hunters and anglers do the same by simply staying home and getting caught up on some of the preparations we always wished we had the time to do anyway.
The Great American Outdoors Act will fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund while investing in a backlog of public land maintenance, providing current and future generations the outdoor recreation opportunities like boat launches to access fishable waters, shooting ranges, and public lands to hunt as well as the economic stimulus we need right now.