We are all alike in one way; we love the thrill of the hunt.
We prepare, strategize and scout all in the name of getting a crack at a mature whitetail come fall. We sit in the office, lie awake at night, text, talk and daydream about our first October sit when the leaves start to turn and crisp morning air replaces humid summer days. Pre-season is not only the time to work on marksmanship, it is also the time to prepare your mental game.
All of the work that goes into our pursuit of big game animals can come down to a very small window when a shot opportunity presents itself, and you will have to make it count. So how do you keep your composure when your shot opportunity presents itself? Much of the time, you must compose yourself for a shot in under 30 seconds, often less during the chaos of the rut. You feel your heart skip a beat and start a heavy upbeat THUMP-THUMP-THUMP, a summer’s worth of practice unfolds in front of you in a matter of seconds.
One thing I can tell you from experience is that you seldom will get more than one opportunity at a mature whitetail. If you slip up and make a mistake, the likelihood of getting another chance is slim, and he will be a bit wiser from the encounter. You may only get one really good opportunity to take a target animal throughout the entire season, so that small window is critical. Here are a few tips to calm your nerves when that opportunity arises.
Shoot…a lot:The best way to beat your nerves is to shoot as often as you can. If you feel comfortable with your bow, you will likely feel more comfortable in the stand. Also, challenge yourself at the range by shooting outside your comfort zone. If you are only comfortable at 40, step back to 50 and 60 yards assuming you have the pins to do so. By doing this, the short distances will feel like chip shots.Shoot as much as you can during the summer months to prepare for the fall season
Shoot with friends:Shooting with other people adds pressure. It forces you to focus and put outside factors aside. If you have a few buddies that hunt, go to the range together and compete. Summer bow leagues are also gaining popularity and are a great way to conquer your nerves.
Breathe:When you see that big old bruiser for the first time it can be damn near impossible to stay calm. I read a book a few years back titled “The Way of The Seal” by Navy Seal Commander Mark Devine (Retired) that details how Navy Seals are trained to mentally react during high-pressure situations and how to apply those same lessons to daily civilian life. While there was a lot of great info in his book, one quote stuck, “Slow is smooth, Smooth is fast.” The basis of his book is how to train yourself to think and react by harnessing emotion and feeling. When your nerves have control of your actions, you speed and in turn mistakes are made. Stay calm and methodically move through preparing and taking the shot, you will be more efficient.
Practice draws: If you have the opportunity and feel comfortable, draw back on non-target game animals while hunting. Proving to yourself that you can stay calm and are able to focus on the shot will help a lot. Just be sure to keep your finger far from the trigger and don’t draw unless you are 100% comfortable.
The mental game is every bit as important as the physical. By building confidence and mental toughness, you will increase your odds of success in the field.