Hunting season is upon us! Some hunting seasons have been open for weeks, some seasons are starting today, and many more are right around the corner. If you are like most hunters, you have been planning, practicing, and dreaming about this season. Like myself, you have no doubt spent hours upon hours putting gear together, scouting lands, and ensuring you can make the best shot possible when the moment comes. So much of this planning and preparation has been focused on physical things – gear, shooting form, and the land being hunted. One thing that most hunters overlook, and in fact, I think the number one thing that most hunters overlook is mental strength.
Mental strength is a critical asset when it comes to hunting. Mental strength can help you stay out longer, hunt smarter, and execute the shot more successfully. I have noticed that when I am practicing with my bow, the difference between a poor practice session and a great one is almost always my mindset. I would agree with a must-read article that I read just yesterday which stated,
“I’m convinced that once shooting basics are mastered, bowhunting becomes 90 to 95% mental.”
It is true that executing a successful shot is largely mental, which is why I think using a shot sequence is so important, but mental strength and focus apply to much more than just executing a shot. Mental strength is required to out-work, out-smart, and out-hunt the game you are after, as well as other hunters. Trevon Stoltzfus has a great series of articles in which he looks at the most successful bowhunters he knows and attempts to see what makes them so successful. I found it very interested that the majority of the aspects that make these hunters successful aren’t gear, practice, or even experience (though these are critical factors). Many of the reasons that these hunters are so successful has to do with mindset. They visualize the hunt and the shot. They stay mentally strong and persistent, even when the hunt isn’t going well. They think on their feet and adapt their plans to how the hunt is unfolding.
So, whether you want to tag a big buck, a big bull, or just fill the freezer – you have to remember to be strong mentally.
1. Find comfort in the uncomfortable
Comfort dominates our society. Everyone is selling something to make our lives more comfortable, and most of us are buying it. Comfort, like most things, isn’t bad; but being dependent upon comfort is. There is no arguing that to be a successful hunter you have to find comfort in the uncomfortable. If you only hunt when it is comfortable, or how it is comfortable, then you will greatly reduce your risk of being successful.
2. Visualize success
Hunting, especially bowhunting, is tough. The moments of joy that come from a successful harvest are often few and far between. You have to keep success at the front of your mind all the time. If you don’t think that success can happen at any point during a hunt, then you will be tempted to pack up and go home. To work in the off-season the way that you should, you have to constantly be envisioning the success of a fall harvest. To put up with all the trying moments that will come your way, you have to visualize how sweet success will be.
3. Embrace the unknown
The old adage is true…the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know. Embrace that you don’t know it all and keep going. In addition to knowledge, another way that a hunter must embrace the unknown is a general curiosity about the hunting experience. Don’t know what is over that ridge?… Go find out. Don’t know how the animals will react to x, y, or z?… Why don’t you go see? Don’t know if you can pull off this shot?… Setup a realistic practice scenario and figure out what you can and can’t do. Embrace the unknown…hunt with curiosity…and find out what you don’t know.
4. Less is more
I tackled this a bit recently but it is worth repeating. Less is more. Don’t buy into the idea that a gizmo or gadget will make you a better hunter. What will make you better is passion, knowledge, and experience; those are the things you should be after. Don’t weigh your hunt down, both literally and figuratively, with junk. Carry less, hunt more.
5. Keep going…and then some
Quitting starts before the hunt begins. If you let yourself have an option of quitting, then chances are you will take it. There is no other way to put it – don’t let quitting be an option. The weather may suck, the game activity may be at all-time lows, and there are probably other things you could be doing at home. So what? If you set aside time to hunt, then hunt! You never know what may happen out there, and if you quit you will never find out.
6. Sleep is a luxury
Sleep is vitally important to our mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing, but sleep can easily get in the way of success. If you want something bad, and I mean really bad, then don’t let sleep stop you from getting after it. If the only time you have to practice shooting is at the end of a long day, then so be it. If you have to drive through the night to scout an area, then get going. While skipping sleep isn’t sustainable for the long-term, it is a viable option to make the most of some opportunities.
7. There is no boogeyman
Something that very few hunters are willing to admit is that they are uncomfortable in, if not actually afraid of, the dark.
There is no boogeyman! It is dark. You are freaking yourself out. That is all.
Why does this matter? Operating comfortably in the dark is vital for many hunters to reach spots that they should be hunting. An early morning hike in the dark will allow you to get to places that very few hunters are willing to go. This is especially key for guys, like myself, that hunt public land. Get in there early, and stay out there late!
What this all boils down to is mindset. This can be one of those cute little “7 ways to…” posts, or it can be something that will challenge you to look at the way you approach hunting success.
I have found that pursuing these seven things is a year-round commitment that takes a lot of intentionality. You build a strong mindset in the same way that you build a strong body – by working it out. You have to practice these intangibles. If you want to excel in the traits during hunting season, then you have to engage with them in the off-season. One of the main reasons that I trained for and then participated in my trail race was because it allowed me to grow in these seven areas.
I am not trying to pump you up, or push some elitist ‘more passionate than thou’ crap. I am just sharing what I have learned by studying some of the most successful hunters out there.