As I stood motionless waiting for the sun to paint its beautiful morning picture in the sky, I listened carefully to the deep, throaty bugles off in the distance. The New Mexico mountains had captivated me and my drive to kill a good bull elk in these mountains was indescribable. My mind was made up. I was not driving all the way back to Ohio empty-handed, my arrow was going to get bloody and my tag would be punched.
About two hours later I found myself in a great position with two bulls bugling on both ends of a big draw that I had positioned myself in the middle of. My goal here was to sound like an intruder, in hopes that one of these mature bulls would come to run him off, but instead catch my arrow in his vitals. I had a great feeling deep inside my gut that today would be the day I got my opportunity and I needed to seal the deal!
As a bowhunter, my life is consumed with thinking about the moment of truth. That moment when the world slows down and I start to come to full draw, get all of my anchor points locked in and then I start my shot sequence. The entire hunt hinges on what happens in those seconds. It’s a “make it or break it” kind of moment and for myself, the moment that keeps me up at night and the one that gets me through a tough run, after a long day of work. So have you done all that you can to be mentally and physically prepared for this moment? Will you seal the deal?
The Mental Game
I’ve read it, heard it and said it — archery is 99.9% a mental game. Seeing is believing and if you do not visualize putting your arrow through the pump station of the big buck or bull that you’re after, then half the battle is already lost. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I visualize shooting a big buck, or putting a perfect arrow into the target long before these shots are ever present. Why do I do this? Well for me, visually seeing and practicing these shots over and over again in my head prepare me for the real deal. Since I’ve replayed this moment a million times in my head I feel like I’ve already made this shot thousands of times and that definitely boosts my confidence when the moment of truth presents itself.
I also feel this visual technique helps me stay calm and collected when my dream bull walks out in front of me at 48 yards. Buck fever doesn’t hit me as hard because I’ve already played this scenario inside my head thousands and thousands of times. Sealing the deal all comes down to making a lethal shot and in my opinion, that all begins and ends with the mental side of archery and bowhunting.
If we’re not mentally prepared for the moment, then we are practically wasting our time, in my opinion. A great shot starts with a great mind visualizing the shot being made and therefore we must see the shot take place before we ever even draw the bow back. Knowing that we can and will make the shot because we’ve practiced hundreds of times, gives us the confidence that we need to mentally let ourselves perform during the moment of truth.
Preparing for “The Moment”
Numerous times thus far in my bowhunting career I’ve found myself sitting in the very moment that I dream about and think about all year long. Maybe I’m face to face with a double bearded tom that I’ve worked for over an hour, or maybe I’m about to go to full draw on a huge whitetail that’s making a scrape 30 yards away. Regardless, when these opportunities arise we need to be ready to seal the deal and that happens by practicing. “Perfect practice makes perfect performances” is a statement I’ve heard my whole life while growing up playing sports and that couldn’t be truer in the game of archery and bowhunting. So how do we prepare and practice perfectly for these moments that keep us awake at night? We recreate the scenarios and prepare for them so there are no surprises.
What I like to do is mimic every scenario in my head that could happen on a bowhunt and then go practice them. Shooting in a kneeling position, from a stand or elevated platform, steep downhill or uphill shots, shooting with my pack on, with my pack off, etc. All of these can happen on a hunt and I want to prepare for them. I also like to mimic a racing heart rate because that’s what happens when the moment of truth arrives and I want to prepare my body and mind to deal with that anxiety and stress. For this, before I shoot I’ll do 20-30 push-ups in a row and then sprint 20-30 yards before shooting. This gets my heart racing and my body into a mode like the real deal when an animal is standing in front of me. This forces me to concentrate more on my shot and to learn to focus even when my heart is at full speed. This trick has really improved my shooting during tough, high-pressure situations.
Repeating these situations and shooting good shots each and every day or two will make for perfect practice and allow me to perform at the highest level when my opportunity presents itself. Realistically I don’t believe that someone can be “too” prepared, so don’t view any of this as overkill. View it as taking the necessary steps to become the most proficient hunter you can be. Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. You’ll punch more tags this upcoming season, I’ll bet my bow on it.
Controlling What You Can
In the moment of truth we, as bowhunters, can only control the variables that are presented to us. For example, we cannot control what the animal does before the shot or even after, but we can control what we do. For me, I like to try to control every variable leading up to the shot that I possibly can. Checking my sight tape and re-ranging my target, are two options that can cost even the most skilled bowhunter, a terrible ending. Checking the wind is also a huge factor, especially for bowhunters, and needs to be checked constantly. Don’t get lazy on the minor details because they are what can cost you big time!
Control those variables and double check these things when necessary. Another thing that we can control is our mental state during the final stalk or last few moments before the shot. It’s our responsibility to mentally have ourselves ready and willing to make this moment count when the opportunity presents itself. Get yourself calmed down and ready to make a the shot. We owe that to ourselves and the prey we’re hunting.
Something else that we need to think about is our game plan once we’re within range of our intended animal. Methodical steps and a well thought out plan will always yield better results than to just bum rush into a situation, hoping for the best. Trust me from experience, this will likely not yield the outcome that we’re all hoping for.
With that being said I believe the K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid) method is what works the best for me when it comes to controlling the variables that are in my control. Keep things simple and talk yourself through these fragile moments leading up to the shot or final approach. Take your time and don’t break that branch with your feet, don’t forget to range your target one last time, double check that sight tape, make sure your binoculars aren’t in your way when you draw your bow back, etc. In short, take your time and focus on what YOU can control and let the rest of the pieces fall how they fall. We can only control what is controllable, so don’t sweat the things you cannot control. Instead, focus on the task at hand and make it happen!
Making It Happen
At this point, we’re mentally in the game. Physically, we’re capable enough, and thus far we have controlled, to the best of our ability, all that we can control. Now it’s the final show, the 4th quarter, the last inning, etc. It all comes down to being inside the RED ZONE and making it happen. Here’s how to get it done.
For me, I live for these moments. I dream about them all year long and mentally am always preparing and thinking about how I’ll perform in these situations. Confidence is key and we must fall back on all of our preparation during this moment.
At this time we’ve got within range of the buck or bull that we’ve sought out, so now it’s up to us to get him killed. Every move now impacts the outcome, so we must once again have a very slow, methodical approach to what we’re doing. For me, getting my bow drawn is always the part of this plan that I think about most. I’ve always had the thought that if an animal lets me get to full draw, he’s dead! So, my main focus here in the red zone is to get the bow drawn back, undetected.
A carefully thought out plan that includes waiting for my prey to make the final moves and his last mistake is what I almost always look for. I do not like making the final move in these situations. What I mean by that is that I’d much rather get into bow range and then wait for the bull to stand on his own to stretch, than to throw a rock or stick and put him on high alert. Let them make the move that puts your arrow inside their vitals!
Rushing the shot seems to be a huge topic when guys get into this part of the game. Like I said, at this point we’re within range, so we’ve done everything right and haven’t rushed anything so please, don’t rush anything now — especially the shot. Instead, let’s take our time and focus on the task at hand. Rushing a shot will more often than not lead to a poor shot and a wounded animal. Take your time. I always tell myself, “ You’ve worked so hard to get to this moment, don’t rush it. Embrace it and make this shot count.” I honestly think talking to myself in these situations helps calm me down and keeps me from rushing the final few steps, or my shot. Instead, I keep a focused mind and a calm, cool mentality that allows me to make a killing shot.
When it comes down to the wire, sealing the deal ultimately is up to you. It all comes down to how mentally and physically prepared you are. Embrace this moment, stay confident and make it happen.