Embarking upon a hunting trip can be full of challenges and pitfalls. There has been much written on doing your homework to find the right place to hunt and how to evaluate the property before you leave and after you arrive. But just as important as the preparation to figure out how and where to hunt is the preparation of your body and mind, in order to have the most positive experience possible. Like the old adage goes, “Most people don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan.”
My friend Jason drew an Iowa archery tag after four years of applying. He was excited about the hunt and made two trips from his home in Ohio to explore and scout the hunting area he had picked out. He’s in great physical condition and he started hunting hard right away when he arrived in Iowa the first of November. On the second day of his hunt, he missed a really nice buck; he just whiffed the shot for no explainable reason.
The following day, some other hunters arrived and set up nearby. This messed up the deer movement Jason had worked hard to figure out. The next day was even worse, as the other hunters further screwed up all his hard work. The fact that he had missed a nice buck, the impact of the other hunters, and thoughts of his kids and wife at home making do without him compounded in his head. Discouragement and homesickness are a dangerous combination and they overwhelmed Jason to the point that he just packed up and drove home four days early. Four years of planning, hard work, and anticipation culminated with an aborted hunt less than halfway through.
I mean no disrespect to Jason, because I can relate to what happened to him. I have done the same thing, and I have been close to doing it at other times. Sometimes the urge to return to your own bed and daily routine can trump your desire to tough it out in difficult situations.
Hunting away from home is hard work and mentally taxing at times. The best way to prepare for the urge to abandon the hunt for the comforts of home is to plan for it to happen so that when it does, you are ready for it. If you expect those feelings to come, you recognize them for what they are and you can have a response in place to combat it.
When you feel discouraged, there are two things that can really help you push through it. First, a change of scenery can boost your enthusiasm level. Have a backup plan in place in case things do not go as planned at your number-one location. A second farm or public hunting area should be researched ahead of the hunt so you can make a move quickly without missing a beat.
Secondly, have a support group in place. My wife would never ask me to come home, and that’s very important. I can call her and she will just talk with me, I think she avoids talking about things that might make me think I should get home and put out fires in the business or the family. I have a few buddies I can call when I feel the need to talk things through and raise my spirits. They know by my tone of voice when I need a few words of encouragement. I do the same for them.
The first week of this past November, I was seeing good movement where I was hunting on a public area in Kansas, so I was enthusiastic about my chances. I was driving from one area to another at midday when my phone rang. It was a friend, Darron, who was feeling really down. He was less than 100 miles away in Oklahoma, but he wasn’t seeing much. I stopped my truck on top of a hill and sat alongside the gravel road chatting with Darron for more than half an hour. He was down about the lack of deer activity. He mentioned that he had found a good-looking creek crossing near a standing corn field. But it was a lot farther from where he was staying, so he hadn’t set up on it.
I encouraged him to make the move if the wind would allow it. I felt a change of location would bring a renewed enthusiasm. The next morning only 15 minutes after I texted him a photo of the buck I had just recovered, he texted me one of a buck he had just shot and his was significantly bigger than mine! Needless to say he didn’t need any more encouragement.
Being in good shape can have a huge effect on your enthusiasm level. DIY hunting can be hard labor involving hauling gear for long distances, getting up early, walking a lot of miles while scouting, and going up and down trees dozens of times. If you haven’t prepared for that much physical exertion, you are going to find yourself with many regrets when you come to the end of your hunt.
I play basketball two to three times a week, which helps keep me in shape. I also walk on the treadmill and do some light weightlifting or push-ups. Because I spend the majority of my days in the off-season sitting in front of a computer punching keys, I need to be very deliberate about maintaining my physical fitness for hunting season.
Confidence in your shooting ability cannot be understated. Spend the time with your bow or gun until you feel that making the shot is second nature. If you are a bowhunter, your muscles should be toned from shooting the bow so much that you can pull it back with a minimum of effort and movement.
Planning for a hunt should not just involve the background work for the hunt itself; it should also involve preparing your mind and body. You will hunt harder and longer if you make the effort to attend to every aspect of the experience.
Follow Bernie’s bowhunting adventures on his blog, bowhuntingroad.com.