7 Ways to Keep Your Head In the Game this Fall
Prepping for the upcoming season always leads me to reflecting on seasons past, refining gear lists, slinging arrows and exercising the legs and back for another year in the mountains. We seem to tweak, tinker, test and train nearly every facet of our bowhunting arsenal, but what about the mind?
I’ve been fortunate to pursue some of the most challenging mountain species with either a bow or a camera and from the Pamirs of Tajikistan to the Northern Rockies of British Columbia, I’ve found that the biggest x-factor on punching a tag is what lies between the hunter’s ears.
Our mindset can be our biggest asset and, simultaneously, our biggest liability.
Getting ready for the season I found myself noticing how many trips where that comes into play either positively or negatively affecting the hunt. With too much time to think in a tent, here’s what I think you can do to keep your head in the game and increase your chances of notching a tag.
1. Prepare like a champ
How confident you are going into a hunt is directly correlated to how much work you’ve put in leading up to it. So shoot your a bow. Get in shape and drop that extra five pounds you’ve been talking about. Pack and repack your gear. Preparing well throughout the season gives you the mental edge to start— and finish— your hunts off right.
2. Make a plan (and know when to deviate from it)
The best mountain hunters I know draw up a plan based on scouting, intuition or intel from a reliable source. They are meticulous about it, mapping out the days of hunting that will occur, how long it will take to hike, where to set up camp and glass from. Of course, everything changes when you get on the ground, but even just having that initial “X” on a map keeps you focused and calm that it’s all part of the plan, even when it undoubtedly changes.
3. Choose your partners wisely
Look for a partner who shares similar values and goals as you but can also push you to get outside your comfort zone. A good hunting partner is one of the most important assets at keeping your head in the game. Raining cats and dogs? A good hunting partner packed the cribbage board or better yet has days worth of stories to tell. Tired and beat down? He or she will carry extra weight until your legs come back. But it works the other way too, where doubt starts to creep in and the group gives up on a hunt because the greasy burger sounds all too tempting. Pick a good partner and be ready to return the favor by keeping their head in the game
4. Stay connected
In today’s age, technology can help or hinder your mental fortitude in the mountains. Formulating a hunt plan using Google Earth and staying in touch with something like a Delorme Inreach for help should an emergency arise or an extra hand be needed for a pack out is a huge advantage. It gives you peace of mind to help focus on the hunt, but it can also creep in to check in with the office or enhance your fear missing out on Sunday football on the couch (c’mon, seriously?!). You can also use it for weather forecasts and to help plan and roll with the volatile weather that the mountains promise a little better.
5. Break it up
Breaking up your hunt into smaller, mini hunts allows you to sharply focus on each morning or day. It also allows you to not waste hours and eventually days by thinking there’s still lots of time. Alternatively, it also helps remind you that there’s still lots of time and it could all come together at the very end. Our brains love to break things into chunks and categorize things and we do this all the time by measuring time— why not do it on a hunt? We typically break things up on a ten day hunt into three, three-day missions, though you could break up weekend hunt up by days and assign the goal for the day (I.e. check basin x one day, or get to position Y and glass until noon, etc.)
6. Stay until the last day
I’ve had some strange things happen on the final days and hours of hunts and seasons. Sometimes I see it as the mountains finally giving me a stroke of luck, but you’ll never get those chances if you duck out early. Stick around and you won’t regret it, even if you’re packing out light.
7. Enjoy the ride
I find I hunt best when I’m enjoying and observing the mountains. Being patient, calm and focused on the thrilling (and sometimes extremely challenging) process of bowhunting. Connecting on an animal is a bonus and you’ll notice with this mindset how more opportunities seem to open up. I’ve been fortunate enough to both hunt with and learn from some incredibly driven bowhunters and guides and, though you might think that they are laser focused and intense, a lot of them are not. These guys have a ton of fun on hunts, are always joking around, have an upbeat positive mindset and possess many of the attributes I mentioned earlier in this article. But when it’s go time, they dial it in and get down to business. Funny how good things always seem to happen to those types of guys, so why not try smiling through the struggle on your tough bowhunt in the mountains?