Hunter athletes seems to be the new catch phrase, and there is a lot of emphasis on hunter fitness. I myself try to train for the annual hunt out west by running, lifting, and attempting to rid myself of that unnecessary fat I would carry up the mountain, but we should never limit ourselves to working on the body without improving our mental ability as well. Embarking on a hunt requires thought, planning, foresight, practice of the shot, pushing of the body, gathering of gear, scanning maps, all leading to that moment when we focus on the release of the arrow. Focus is an archer’s best friend when it comes to sending a fletched shaft downrange to pierce target or prey. In our world, “Mental Focus” has become more than a phrase, or an excuse, for missing the mark. It has become discussions that have morphed into articles, which bloomed into entire books. Our ability to concentrate on the shot is like a golden fleece that each of us pursue. This intensity is a two sided coin however with the opposite side being the “clear mind” theory. “Don’t think, just shoot!” We’ve read it in books, heard it in movies, and accompany it with the “instinctive” shot.
(It’s all mental.)
Living in the Deep South I realize I must do some work on my body in order to hunt the mountains of the west, but I can’t stop there. When putting in the miles, or counting the flights of stairs on the machine at the gym, I begin to train my mind. Gathering equipment, performing the shot, and studying the map my mental preparation has been sparked. In all honesty, I enjoy the mental preparation much more than the physical portion. Is it easier? Maybe not, but it’s much more enjoyable, at least to me. I place myself at the location I plan to hunt. I see the bedding area on the map, mentally marking where I don’t need to go, or seeing the drainage areas and the trails elk use traveling to and from their nightly feeding areas. Deciding where to hunt always leads to the question of base camp or spike camp, each has its own list of gear, and gear can be like religion, everyone has their own opinion. Selecting gear can pitch us into a research frenzy. We look at each item with scrutiny and listen to the sales pitch of every tent, pack, and bow maker on the net. I will pause here and praise the day and age that we live in because of easy access to the Internet, the most incredible tool for researching every product you could imagine, with reviews of almost anything you would want to buy for a hunt or outing, and videos that give instruction on how to assemble, set up, and use almost anything. On the other hand, it’s like wading through a sea of “which ones” as choices and opinions make it difficult to weigh what works for you. All of this fits right into our mental prep and begins to let us enjoy the hunt weeks before heading out.
(Get your mind right.)
I attend a few shoots over the summer, and though there is a physical aspect to these, I believe they are more of a mental exercise. Shooting in a competition may not be on the same level as drawing on a 1,000 pound moose, but it puts one into a pressure situation that helps train the nerves. This may actually help us reach the “no mind” level of shooting when that mound of flesh is eyeballing you from 20 yards. Competitions are a great place to meet new people and exchange ideas, hunting locations (if anyone will share), and test new gear. Remember that sea of “which ones”? Look around while attending some of these shoots and you might actually get your hands on one of those bows you were considering.
I said it before but I will say it again here, mental preparation extends that seven day hunt to several weeks. It builds in the mind as the hunt draws nearer reflecting how stealthy each step should be taken, or how the elk call you choose will sound to the stubborn bull that won’t come any closer. Everything you do can lend itself to a successful, or failed, hunt. I can’t tell you how to prepare your mind for a hunt, or what importance you put on it, any more than I can say what determines a successful hunt to you. If you don’t bring meat home, or put that set of antlers above the mantel, is it a success? Do you enjoy the forest, or is putting that whitetail in the bed of your truck all that matters? These are things you need to get in your mind before jacking up that tree, lugging in that blind, or climbing that mountain. Determine why you’re there and what you want to get out of it. If you have a desire to have your own hunting show, or expect to see your name in a record book because you have just taken the world record brown bear, you should have Zen-like focus. If you want to take your family to the camp and enjoy an afternoon hunt, but are looking more for the time spent with your children, then maybe you have a good mind set already. Neither of these scenarios is bad, and in my opinion, one doesn’t outweigh the other. They are good solid goals, though one may be more attainable. Wherever you decide to tread, or whatever game you pursue, mental preparation can be the game changer. If you can run a marathon along mountain peaks but can’t control the bouncing arrow on your bow when that bull is broadside at 15 yards, you may need to work on the mental side. If you worry about getting snowed in on the mountain, or the thought of a rising swamp consumes your mind instead of enjoying the hunt, you may need to review your mindset. Imagining your wilderness encounters, your shooting strengths, your ability to perform or deal with nature, is a basic step in training your mind.
(Clear your head.)
Humans don’t have claws or sharp fangs, and we are fairly slow when it comes to the chase or running from animals’ intent on having us for lunch, but our mind is the ultimate survival tool. A few years ago, while hunting out West, the subject of bears came around and the question of what to do if one attacks. The area we hunt has no grizzly bears, but a few black bears, so we don’t carry side arms. When asked by my friend what he should do should an encounter happen I simply replied “You can’t outrun a bear,” so he responded with “So what do I do?” Well the answer was pretty simple, since you can’t exactly leave the scene, and you are a great shot with a bow, nock an arrow and hope you don’t have to shoot. Yep… you guessed it, that’s exactly what happened. A nice black bear and my buddy saw each other at about the same moment. His first instinct, as the bear started running down the hill toward him, was to turn and run, but about two steps in his mind took over and he turned to face the predator, arrow nocked. This brought the running bear to a halt and he ended up walking away, hair raised on his back to show that he really wasn’t afraid. The mind, and its preparation, may have actually turned what could have been a bad situation into a campfire story that always contains the sentence “Well, I just remember being told you can’t outrun a bear.”
Training the mind is the major part of the big picture in preparation to hunt. All that running that you do is really just a result of your mental plan to determine what’s needed to succeed. Putting on that pack with sand bags inside and pushing yourself to walk up the ridge one more time, comes from the mind. Survival skills, critical thinking in bad situations, even camp comfort can be imagined and dealt with weeks before actually venturing from the paved roads. The brain, and I guess spirit in a way, is like the body and can be changed, trained, and molded. Read the books, the journals, the experiences that others have gone through before. There is no substitute for firsthand experience, but learning from others is nothing to ignore. However, don’t end your mental training with the hunt, expand that into survival skills, medical emergencies, and social encounters with like-minded, or opposite minded individuals. Not every story you read or hear will be a success, but you can bank that into your fleshy computer and use that knowledge if you are in a similar situation. Exercise of the body can be rewarding, but exercise of the mind can make every hunt, or adventure, turn into something extraordinary. The mind makes our dreary days turn into something exciting, and can make a meatless hunt turn into an adventure worthy of retelling around the fire.
(You think too much!)
Author’s Bio: Kevin is an occasional author from the Deep South, with an attraction to adventure, remote places, and bowhunting. Preferably all those together!