None of us are immune to fear. Everyone has tasted failure and hated the feeling. It sucks and it doesn't make anyone feel good. However, the fear of failing is what drives me to prepare. Abraham Lincoln once said, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." If you have one week to hunt, you should spend months preparing. My thought is to flip the paradigm on its head and use the fear of failure as a tool to drive you toward being the best predator you can be. Being able to use fear as a catalyst could be the difference in your approach to hunting big game out West (or anywhere for that matter). Physical strength and endurance are key predecessors to your journey, but more of your overall success boils down to mental strength. An indomitable will, or yearning for success can overcome the fear of failure. Use fear to your advantage.
All your preparation will boil down to a few seconds of execution
Bowhunting has always tested me physically and taxed my mental resolve. What other sport can have you feeling the lowest of lows one minute, and in an instant have you tasting the highest of highs — a rollercoaster ride. You have to be strong between the ears and this mental fortitude is born out of adversity. Each day is an opportunity to grow stronger, to accomplish more than you thought possible and to push harder than you wanted to. Start by doing the little things, searching for the high road, making small victories along the way.
A few examples are shooting daily regardless of schedule and convenience; even if it's a few arrows in the basement or a couple of blind bale shots in the living room. How about parking your vehicle further from work and walking a little further each day. Bring you backpack loaded with weight to work, put it on and tackle some miles on your lunch break, heck, do it regardless of the weather. Choosing to sacrifice something daily in the name of better bowhunting adds confidence. Other little steps could be watching less TV and reading more, pray or meditate on the work commute instead of listening to brainless talk radio. During your commute focus on what steps need to take place to avoid failure, what work needs to be done and how much determination it is going to take. Believe in your unwavering desire, your top tier focus, and more than anything, believe in your ability. Our actions follow our thoughts and images. This means to only look where you want to go, block out the negative.
The more little hikes you can sneak in throughout the year will add up to supreme confidence in your ability to cover as much ground necessary to find your quarry
Having a clear list of due diligence is going to aid in your off-season journey. You should fear the idea of not preparing – if you don’t do your homework you will indeed fail the test. Failure is not an option so the following items are assigned homework. If you don’t study and complete the tasks you can count on flunking.
Find ways to wear your hunting pack when working out, this pack is your lifeline and needs to become second nature
- You need to know what it feels like to be on your feet for 12 hours a day with a heavy pack clinging to your hips and back. Hauling yourself and gear through the mountains is something you cannot afford to only do on game day; you have to practice. Keep your boots and hunting pack next to the door, throw it on as often as possible and just move. There’s no such thing as too much walking or hiking with a pack on your back during the off-season months.
I learned how to call from the best (Elk Calling Legend Larry D. Jones), but still keep a bugle and reeds in my truck year round for constant practice
- If you’re an elk hunter then dusting off your elk calls a week before the season isn’t viable, keeping your calls in your vehicle allows you to practice wherever you go, plus we all need to fine tune our calling. Be able to produce realistic mews, chirps, squeals, and bellowing bugles. You need to be able to work single, double, and triple reeds, have a go to grunt tube, and be able to sound like any animal in the herd.
Make time to shoot, even if it’s only a handful of arrows each day. I shoot at my gym right after closing time and can get up to 40 yard shots after everyone’s gone home
- Your bow should be shot daily, weekly, and in a multitude of scenarios. Find undulation or uneven ground, crouch, kneel, and shoot with your pack on. When field points hit where broadheads hit, you have a winning combination. Bug, pester, and persistently pursue perfection from your pro-shop staff, even if it means keeping them past closing hours. It will take lots of tinkering to make your set-up deadly and you must be prepared for any shot presented to you, as it may be the only one you get.
Your attitude can determine your outcome. I fear a “bad attitude,” a negative persona, or even an envious nature. Be highly allergic to negative people and attract positive people that want success as bad as you do. I look to surround myself with people that are competitive - a competitor will find a way to win. This means taking the bad breaks and using them to drive yourself that much harder. Quitters take bad breaks and use them as reasons to give up. Find winners and feed off each other. Choose an attitude of confidence, have a can-do attitude, a belief that you can handle whatever comes your way. This means never succumb to self-defeating thoughts. This takes control.
The hallmark of a mentally tough bowhunter is the ability to maintain poise, concentration, and emotional control under the greatest pressure and the most challenging situations. Positive people stay committed, so stay connected with a cohort of folks that are self directed, highly motivated, and that want it more. Avoid jealousy and all the wasted energy that comes with it. If you’re in a circle that hates on others, find a new circle. Jealousy is always a symptom of fearful insecurity. The more work, preparation, and diligence we produce the less energy we have available to put into jealousy or insecurity. B.C. Forbes says it best, “Jealousy…is a mental cancer.” Watch your attitude, take responsibility for it, and develop a positive one. Know that every step forward is a step toward achieving your goal of success.
My dad is pictured here trying to have a great attitude despite the snow and fog that rolled in. Expect adversity when hunting and choose a positive attitude regardless of the situation
Fear of failure is something we all face. Choosing to use it to aid in your preparation, approach, and attitude will make you better. I firmly believe each of us has a choice to get better or worse; none of us stay the same. Hunting big game out West is not easy and neither is chasing whitetails during the cold month of November for a week straight.
All your dedication and hard work throughout the year makes for one sweet pack out
Use fear of failure to propel your thoughts and actions in a positive light. What comes easy, won’t last…what lasts, won’t come easy. Use fear to make you hustle and stay disciplined through the long off-season. There’s always something to be done in the name of better bowhunting.