Keeping Mental Focus on Hunts

Physical preparation comes before the hunt begins, but mental challenges occur and must be dealt with during the hunt.

Keeping Mental Focus on Hunts

Bowhunting is no doubt fun, but it also comes with quite a set of challenges. These challenges are magnified for the hunter who truly longs to be successful, the one who is willing to go the extra mile and then some.

This type of hunter prepares all year for the Big Show and lives for its prestige. Still, during the Big Show, he will likely face adversity, which may come as a lack of game, bad weather, missed shots and many other problems. These adverse conditions can grind and gnaw at a person, breaking them down mentally. At times, these adversities might be enough to push us, the heartiest of hunters, home early. Yes, it happens; I have witnessed others fall victim to it, and I have been there as well. Imagine that.

Staying focused on challenging hunts is not easy, and it’s a battle that we’ll all face from time to time.


Mentally Fit

There is a whole lot of light shed on the physical aspect of hunting. I’m talking about the train-to-hunt mindset. We see videos and photos in our social media feeds of people getting ready for bow season in the gym. I love this and am a huge advocate of being in shape for hunting season. I don’t think there is a soul out there who wishes they were in worse shape for elk season, or any season for that matter.

On top of being ready for the season, being fit is just plain healthy for everyday life. While being physically fit can for sure aid in your hunt, being mentally fit will push a hunter even farther. Having the ability to stay afield when nothing is working in your favor is a definite boon. I’m not saying that this guarantees you will fill a tag; but if you’re on your way home before you should be and still have that tag in your pocket, that’s a guarantee you won’t fill it.

A hunter who is mentally fit will outlast the most physically fit of them out there. Strong muscles don’t fill tags. Healthy minds do that, and they’ll continue to do that time and time again.

A simple way to exercise your mind is by doing things that we don’t want to do. We can lump the gym right into this mix, killing two birds with one stone. There are many times where I just don’t want to go work out. By giving into my laziness, I’m feeding the part of my mind that will let me quit.

Quitting doesn’t get you anywhere except to a road straight to regret. So, I say, fight those lazy tendencies. By keeping yourself in the game when you don’t want to be there, you’re just strengthening what’s between your ears. It builds both discipline and character. It sounds easy, right?

How to Stay in the Game

It’s not as easy as it sounds. How do we stay in the game? How do we take adversity and stomp it into the ground?

The first step starts at the beginning of the year. If you’re anything like me, you probably eat, sleep and breathe bowhunting. Folks like us dream about archery season all year long and yearn to revel in it. You see, when daydreaming about bowhunting, our minds tend to focus on the best aspects, the fun parts — quite often, the take.

We tend not to focus on the negative aspect, like the time we watched our arrow sail over the buck we chased for days on end, the lack of bugles in the air on a hot September morning, or how expelled of energy we were after five days in the backcountry.

I’ve been faced with the thought of throwing in the towel during a hunt that I’d looked forward to all through the offseason. When adversity presents its ugly head, take a step back and remember why you are there in the first place. You love this stuff — so do I — and I encourage you to find a meaningful way to press on.

For me, sometimes, a little piece of home helps here. In my early years, while spending time on extended hunts, my wife would write me notes for each day I was scheduled to be gone. She’d stuff them in my backpack, often without me knowing, and I’d have one to read each night. This not only would lift my spirits a bit, if the hunt was rough, but it also would take my mind off of it. It would break me out of the tiny bubble of felt adversities.

Of course, being away from friends and family can also be stressful. A friend of mine has his daughter decorate his bow with little stickers. For her, she’s just decorating Dad’s bow. For him, it’s much more: it’s fuel to push forward.


Embrace the Hardship

My first bow harvest didn’t come until after I’d missed eight times. That javelina harvest meant the world to me because of everything that happened before it, and my ability to overcome it.

Amid the mental grinds, we experience from time to time, there is something that we all need to remember: We wanted to be here. We can’t expect that when opening ourselves up to the challenge of a hunt that everything will always be peachy. In fact, expecting a rough go is probably better, to be honest.

By accepting that we’ll be faced with hardship in the field, it better prepares you for times when adversity hits. When adversity does show up, embrace it. This is all part of the adventure that we signed up for, and it’s healthy to embrace the moment.

If everything were given to us on a silver platter, the appreciation of the moment would be lessened. It wouldn’t mean as much when finally placing our hands on the animal we’ve been after. The emotions that pour out at times like this would cease to exist, mostly because we persevered the hardships.


Solo Hunting

Bowhunting is difficult enough as is. Add in the element of going solo, and you’re dealing with a different beast entirely, especially on a backcountry hunt where you are living in the dirt, out of a backpack.

There is no hunt that you will experience that is lonelier than a solo backcountry adventure. On a hunt like this, it’s likely your mind will race with irrational fears, where focus is hard to find.

My first time heading on a backcountry hunt alone is one I’ll always remember. I was excited as ever to get out there to hunt bears with my bow. As the hunt grew closer, though, that excitement turned to anxiety. All sorts of things were going through my head, and I was found trying to talk myself out of going. “I’m not sure if there will be water back there. Well, the weather looks like it might turn bad. Am I ready to sleep alone in bear country?” These are just some of the things that went through my mind at the time. In the end, though, I pushed through those anxieties.

When we have the luxury of a partner(s) on a tough hunt, there is a support system in place for all. You lift them up when they’re down, and they do the same for you. The camaraderie that is shared in a hunting camp provides a positive environment.

Take that away, though, and any hunter will truly be tested. All of a sudden there isn’t anyone to tell you it will be alright. Nobody is there to bounce ideas off of or ride the storm out with. Having morning coffee is pretty darn silent without that friendly conversation to help pump you up for the day.

In these moments that can sometimes feel hectic, because our brains are racing for one reason or another, we need to do one thing: Relax, because you are fine.

Staying focused on the hunt can help with battling the solo jitters. I’m not saying solo hunting is for everyone, because it absolutely is not. However, for those who can buck the challenges, a solo hunt will likely become addicting.

Final Thoughts

Last elk season tested me to the core. Fourteen days of hunting left me more mentally exhausted than I ever knew was possible. In the beginning, it was a lack of bugles. From there, it turned into me sailing an arrow over the back of a nice bull I’d called into 45 yards. On day eight, I hit a bull that I never recovered. I missed five times! At that point, I was heartbroken, beat, and almost quit.

Luckily, my wife provided a pick-me-up. “Elk are tough critters, but so are you,” she reminded me. That struck a chord in me. The added camaraderie of having my dad and brother also calmed my nerves.

As I sit here and write this, my tag is still intact from that hunt. On day 14, I was left with something far more than a bull elk. I was left with mental fortitude that I didn’t know existed beforehand. Yeah, things can get tough on any bowhunt, but looking back on it now, though, life was pretty darn good struggling to fill that elk tag.


Sidebar: Creature Comforts

On top of having “comfort gear,” I think it’s also essential to bring along some creature comforts on your trips. This could be something like a favorite food to lift the mood. I’ve been known to have a middle of the day hot chocolate as such. Mix that with a little coffee, and you’ve suddenly got a mocha!

Another take-along might be a good book. I love reading and being able to do that in my tent at night is much appreciated. It takes my mind away from the hunt and gives it a break. Plus, it’s also a little piece of home to bring along.

Photos by Josh Kirchner

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