The Mental Challenge of Predator Hunting

When the going gets tough, tough predator hunters dig deep and get going.

The Mental Challenge of Predator Hunting

Calling in cold conditions requires dressing in layers to maintain comfort.

Most instruction on predator hunting dwells long on hard on the strategies, calling techniques and gear associated with the sport. And while it’s true that these things are important if a hunter wants to be consistently successful, there’s an element of hunting the hunters that’s too often overlooked: the mental aspect of predator calling. I’m not talking about a canine’s or feline’s inherent predatory intelligence — that’s fodder for another article. Rather, it’s the preparedness and mental toughness predator hunters must exhibit if they want to stay in the game when the going gets tough. 

First and foremost, it’s about attitude. It’s vital to approach each and every stand with a genuine sense of optimism that comes from the confidence of knowing that the methods employed work — and much of that confidence comes from experiencing success in the past. As they say, experience is the best teacher. Only when armed with the assurance that their techniques and tactics are sound, and their equipment and methods exemplary, will predator hunters have the fortitude to sit as still as a mountain and hopeful throughout each setup — whether they’re experiencing success or not. 

And then there’s the physical component of mental toughness. Only when properly fueled and hydrated, comfortable and dry, will the hunter maintain the psychological sharpness and physical capacity to wring the most out of each and every stand — and maximize time spent in the field. Brutal weather conditions — hot or cold, windy or rainy — can cause physical discomfort and mental breakdown. That’s why it’s important to prepare for anything Mother Nature dishes out — and that means consuming proper nourishment and dressing to kill.


Mental Toughness

Like a lot of predator hunters, I draw confidence from past experiences. I’ve been in this game long enough to know it’s important to adhere to the mantra: Never say never. I’ve called and killed critters in gale force winds, blinding snow, pouring rain, bitter cold and searing heat. And it’s a collection of these memories that keeps me going when hunting conditions go south — which is extremely important when hunting away from home, where there are few options but to play the weather cards dealt. So if I’m hunting in 30 mph winds — knowing full well the effectiveness of my calls are greatly diminished — I draw fortitude from memories of a critter or critters responding under similar circumstances. Sure, chances are pretty good I’ll draw a blank — the odds might even be one in a million — but as Jim Carey’s character in “Dumber and Dumber” so optimistically put it, “So you’re saying there’s a chance?” 

Believe me, I understand that success is greatly compromised by extreme weather conditions — or when hunting heavily pressured areas where every coyote on the landscape knows the lyrics to every rendition of the old classic, “Dying Rabbit Blues.” It’s just that when the chips are down it’s more important than ever for hunters to dig deep into their reserves and keep on hunting. I try to maintain the attitude that every time I sit my butt down and pull out a predator call, something good is going to happen — it just might not happen as often. It’s so important to learn to take the bad with the good. 

No one knows more about the mental aspect of predator hunting than competitive callers — such as those who compete in the World Championship Coyote Calling Contest and other such competitions each year. To borrow the PGA slogan: These guys are good! Big Al Morris is one of those guys. I’ve had the pleasure of hunting with him and I’ll tell you this: He hunts coyotes like he’s mad at them. A pro staffer for Foxpro Digital Game Calls, Morris and his hunting partner, Garvin Young, are four-time winners of the World Championship Coyote Calling Contest. 

In my opinion, complacency is the No. 1 killer when it comes to mental toughness. Only those hunters who approach each and every stand with a positive attitude will come away winners, whether they’re competitive callers or weekend warriors just trying to put a little fur in the back of the pickup. Hunters who truly believe that each and every stand has the potential of producing fur, and remain vigilant from the first setup of the day to the very last, will realize the full potential of their efforts. When the chips are down, it’s time to hunt harder, not give up. That’s mental toughness.

Morris agrees. He says it can be difficult to stay focused when things go wrong, or coyotes won’t respond — or there are gale force winds and its blowing rain. But there’s always hope. “The thing that kept us going is that we never knew if the next stand might be the one that turns it around,” he said. “It’s like fishing. Some days it’s a morning bite, some days it’s the afternoon. If you’re not 100 percent committed and focused you might miss that opportunity where the switch flips and a quad shows up.” 


Eat, Drink and be Merry

And then there’s the physical aspect of mental toughness — preparing for the hardships encountered during the hunt. This means keeping hydrated and nourished throughout the day, and dressing for the conditions. Only with proper nourishment and the comfort derived from being dressed for the conditions will the hunter be able to stayed focused and on task all day. 

I practically live on granola bars and apples when hunting — this source of carbohydrates and sugar helps keep energy levels high and fights off cold and depressed attitudes. I also try to stay hydrated throughout the day by drinking lots of water. 

My father-in-law is fond of saying, “Just give me my coffee and nobody gets hurt.” I’m the same way. I need that morning shot of caffeine to get my motor running and an occasional sugar-charged energy drink for an afternoon boost.  Be warned, though, that these drinks can cause dehydration. And even mild dehydration can lead to a loss in concentration and negatively affect cognitive performance — causing physical and mental exhaustion. Studies have shown that dehydration can affect motor skills, awareness and even mood. 

The remedy, of course, is to drink lots of water. And, fortunately, unlike sitting on stand all day when hunting deer, predator hunters make frequent trips to the truck between setups. This allows them to hydrate and to relieve themselves of excess fluids. My rule of thumb is to drink water even if I’m not thirsty. 

Morris says it’s important to eat a hardy breakfast, but that he and his partner would rarely eat much during the day of a contest. “The way I look at it is if we take time to stop and eat a lunch, that’s 10 or 15 minutes when we could’ve called a coyote in,” he said. “We hustle all day long and it’s usually a chocolate milk and a banana early and water or Gatorade the rest of the day.” 

There's only one winner in the mental showdown between the hunter and the hunted. The key is to stay positive when weather conditions and calling response take a turn for the worse. Success might just be right around the corner.
There's only one winner in the mental showdown between the hunter and the hunted. The key is to stay positive when weather conditions and calling response take a turn for the worse. Success might just be right around the corner.

Dressed to Kill

In many cases, predator hunters need to apply their skills in less than ideal weather conditions — whether they’re contest callers or weekend warriors hunting away from home. Morris says that for both there literally is no tomorrow — that no matter what conditions they face they have to hunt. “Wind, rain, sleet, snow — it takes you out of your comfort zone and you need to try to do whatever you can to make it happen.” 

Whether hunting in hot or cold conditions — or anything in-between — the key to greater comfort, and remaining in the field longer, is to effectively use the body’s built-in thermostat to regulate heat and humidity. The most efficient way is to dress in layers, and with today’s high-tech clothing options, finding the right solution has never been easier. Companies such as Under Armour, Nomad, Sitka and others, offer “clothing systems” that allow for the addition or removal of garment layers as weather conditions dictate, while always maintaining full camouflage. 

When most hunters consider dressing in layers to control body temperature and perspiration, they’re usually thinking cold thoughts. But many of the same clothing principles that keep hunters warm and dry in frigid weather apply when dressing for balmy conditions. Regulating core body temperature and dryness begins with high-quality undergarments and ends with mid- and outer-layers that can be added or shed as conditions change. The key to comfort is finding a blend of materials and weights that match ambient temperatures and activity levels. Simply carry a daypack to store the extra layers for quick retrieval. 

For cold conditions, the same layering principles apply, only taken to a more extreme level. Comfort begins with protecting the extremities, and that begins with warm, dry feet. Nothing will shut down a hunt quicker than cold feet. Good socks provide the foundation — a thermal blend of wool and polypropylene for superior wicking, cushioning and warmth — and a good pair of insulated boots is imperative. The amount of insulation required depends on the type of hunting. If I’m making frequent trips back to the truck, I keep my footgear on the lighter side for more mobility during those hikes to and from setups. If I’m going cross-country and plan to sit an hour or more at a time, I’ll go with a heavier insulated boot. 

Body core temperature is quickly lost if your head and hands are exposed to the elements.  Pack two or three pairs of gloves of various weights and designs to match the conditions. I might even wear a heavy pair when hiking in and out and a lighter pair for on stand. To protect my head and face I’ll wear a wool hat, facemask, gator and hoody. 

Again, dress in layers, beginning with undergarments that match the level of activity. Add an intermediate layer — fleece or wool being favorites — and an outer shell designed to stop rain, snow and wind. In extremely cold temperatures, I might wear insulated coveralls to help hold body heat in and bring a padded cushion to sit on. Note: All layers should be made from materials that are whisper quiet. Nothing will spook a coyote quicker than the sound of noisy garments. 

Hunters with a retro bent often turn to wool for its ability to absorb moisture and provide superior comfort in both warm and cold conditions. Wool absorbs moisture, leaving a dry layer of air next to the skin, which helps hold in body heat. The body’s absorption/evaporation process also works in hot weather to help keep the body cooler. Its thirsty cells absorb body vapors and help reduce skin temperature. Also, much of the outdoor heat is blocked out because of wool’s insulating barrier of air pockets. This means the body maintains an even temperature. And wool is quiet. 

Calling predators can be relatively easy when weather conditions are optimal and critters are responsive. It’s when the going gets tough that predator hunters must dig deep for the mental gumption to keep them in the game.


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.