Alright, GO! Lack of preparation, lack of skill, misunderstanding the terrain, misunderstanding your quarry, poor woodsmanship, lack of mental toughness, poor physical conditioning, equipment failure, laziness? How about several of those problems, to some degree. I like to consider it a “smattering” of inefficiencies, and it’s basically my list of focus points. Maybe this list of issues could simply fall under the heading of “A Lack of Honest to Oneself”. I have gone into more than one hunting or backcountry situations (or daily life situations, really) feeling totally prepared, at least until I reached the point where I realized I was totally unprepared. It can have real consequences, too. I almost missed out on a great bull on my first backcountry solo hunting trip, simply because I had not given enough consideration to my mental conditioning. Prior to the hunt, a week without human contact or personal interaction was not something that I expected to have any trouble with. As it turned out, the solitude was miserable, and I chose to end the hunt a couple days early. I lucked out by filling my tag the morning I had decided to pull out and head for home. If it weren’t for luck, all those months of preparation for the hunt may not have added up to much more than a very long and drawn out learning experience. Prior to that hunt, I had considered myself a rather socially independent and stoic person, but I had to immediately reevaluate my condition.
Preparing for a hunt should be fun (mostly). But what happens when that sensation of enjoyment gives way to feelings of tedium, or futility, or obligation? There is a lot of talk of “focus” while on the hunt, but I believe most of the focus begins during the summer well before you head out in the fall. I’m going to hit on some more specific elements in the next couple weeks, but here are a couple overarching thoughts to put in the old brain bank for next time you’re prepping for the early season.
Know yourself, and be honest with yourself. Not many people realize this little secret, but the beauty of being honest with yourself… is that it doesn’t require you to be honest with others! You can still talk a big game to your buddies and partake in all the obligatory self-aggrandizing! Believe me, this is something I know very well. But all half-joking aside, it is a lot harder to make improvements if you don’t start with a solid understanding of your own limitations. Sometimes you have to challenge your own beliefs and self-image to improve. Truly acknowledging your limitations and weaknesses can be tougher than it sounds.
Aim for skilled balance. We have a finite amount of time each day, so focus on the weak points that will bring you the most improvement. Don’t fall into a trap of focusing on one thing and honing it down to perfection, while neglecting other areas. An example would be archery skills. I know a lot of guys that want to deck out their equipment to the point where they can stand at the range and shoot a golf ball-sized group at 60 yards, when grouping a paper plate at 60 yards is plenty accurate for hunting deer-sized animals or larger. If you’re trying to reach perfection, you’ve likely reached a point of diminishing returns, and it may be time to look for other areas where you may have more glaring weaknesses. Maybe focus on draw hold time, quick shots, shooting while winded, shooting on cross-slopes, or put the bow down and pick up your pack for a scouting trip to the woods. Focus energy on the weaknesses, and you’ll find more success.
What do you hate to work on? Do that one first. I kind of alluded to this a couple times above. If you find something you enjoy, you’re more likely to strengthen it to the point of unbalance. Everything needs to fall into place for a successful hunt: Know where the animals are, be fit enough to get after them, understand how they behave, be able to go through all the steps of an ethical harvest, and have the ability to get back home with the meat. Lacking ability or knowledge in any of those areas will result in a failure. If there are areas for you to improve, rank them in the order you want to do them, and complete the list from bottom to top. This will help you touch all the bases, and also motivates you to complete your least favorite tasks in order to get to the ones you enjoy.
Daydreaming with purpose. I prefer the term ‘daydreaming with purpose’ over ‘visualizing’. Regardless of what you want to call it, this can really help prepare. Take some time to focus, and walk yourself through a full day of the hunt. Imagine the steps you’ll be taking in the field, the experiences you’ll be taking in with all five senses, and especially the challenges you will likely face. Imaging yourself facing a challenge and calmly addressing it with a confident solution. You’ll find that you’re actually training your brain for success, and will be less prone to frustration and negative thoughts.