Mental Preparation

Mental preparation is CRITICAL to SUCCESS! Hunting is as much a mental sport as it is a physical endeavor. We all have the ability to make good, well thought out plans before our hunt of the year or hunt of a lifetime. Unfortunately many people do not plan very well and some do not plan at all. The risks of no planning after all the anticipation of a hunt normally end in results the hunter is not happy with. With some forethought and good execution of simple planning skills, every hunter can greatly increase their chances of a successful hunt. Each of us has a different definition of success on any hunting trip. Some are just happy to get out into nature while others have to push themselves to extreme physical limits culminating the event with the animal pursued being harvested. The beauty of hunting is that each hunter can define his or her success however they feel. Let’s talk about what many people define as success on a hunt as actually harvesting cleanly and ethically the game pursued. I have said to many people over the last several years that harvesting the game is much more mental than physical and most of the harvest is done with mental focus and great preparation before the hunt. The planning process starts sometime in the summer when you are gearing up for the fall hunting season. Do you have the correct equipment? Everything from the rifle and optics to the shooting sticks as well as good clothing that keeps you safe and comfortable during the hunt. Obviously uninsulated boots will not work on a muskox hunt in the arctic circle just like a down coat is not normally necessary on an August whitetail deer hunt in Louisiana. During the summer, siting rifles correctly, making sure lists of equipment are made and gear is gathered and put in a certain place. Packing the bag you intend to take on a trip is a month or two before takes lots of pressure off of you when the trip is close. These things are all very important. Shooting sticks, Shooting sticks, Shooting sticks! The afore mentioned product is CRITICAL to success in the field. Get them, practice with them, and NEVER leave home or the truck without them. Stop telling yourself there is going to be a tree in the exact correct spot that you can lean against to take that shot when a 350 class bull elk steps out at 325 yards in Wyoming. Sometimes that special tree is there but most of the time it doesn’t work that way. Bring your shooting sticks and have them readily available, not in the bottom of the backpack. So many times I cross hunters that tell me their story and at the very end the animal pursued escaped because of poor mental preparation and planning. “I forgot to load the rifle at the truck, and when I tried to load my 7mm Remington Magnum the 300 Winchester Magnum ammo I grabbed last night at 10:30pm before driving all night to the hunt site just would not fit in the gun.” We have all heard this stuff and there is no excuse. The inspiration for me to write this article was a story I was told recently by a good friend of mine about his nephew who had finally drawn a Limited Entry Bull Elk tag in Utah. I believe it took the young man approximately 10 years of applications to draw the tag. A month prior to the hunt my friend called and asked my advice on ammo and some other things and I gave him the best advice I could. I emphasized the point several times to make sure the nephew SHOOTS THE RIFLE and is COMFORTABLE with it BEFORE the hunt. Also, make sure he has SHOOTING STICKS and can use them efficiently. Most rifles a hunter would take on an elk hunt will kill game very effectively, most optics will work also, most ammo in a modern world offered at a sporting goods store when it hits game in the correct spot will kill game. Anyway, here we go with the rest of the story. Opening morning the nephew has the first opportunity on a 350 inch bull elk standing broadside at 350 yards. His rifle is a 7mm Remington Magnum, the optic has a ballistic drop reticle sighted at 250 yards on the crosshair. The first dot down the ballistic reticle is sighted for 350 yards, and the second dot on the reticle is 420 yards from what my friend explained. The nephew had left the SHOOTING STICKS in the truck, he felt they “were not important”. The nephew shoots at the elk at 330 yards standing broadside and misses, he shoots a second time at 410 yards and misses (probably should not have shot). At 505 yards he takes the “Hail Mary” and misses clean again (really should never have shot based upon his lack of ability). On day another bull presents itself at 80 yards and the hunter misses again (still no shooting sticks and shooting sticks “still not important”). Day three dawns and a third bull elk presents itself at 300 yards, the nephew misses this elk as well with his rifle resting on a log. By the end of the third day my friend arrives at camp, he takes some time with the mid 20’s nephew and settles him down with a bit of a practice session in shooting as well as a good discussion in the importance of trying to keep calm. On the fourth day a fourth elk presents itself at 140 yards and the nephew makes a clean shot and harvests his elk, incidentally with a really cool, inexpensive, and highly effective product called SHOOTING STICKS! The moral of this story is that the fourth elk was a smaller branched antler animal and was taken cleanly. I am not suggesting that elk size or antler mass is the end all to any of this, but this young man had expressed a desire to harvest as large of a bull as possible. He had an opportunity at just that but because he chose to not mentally prepare and refused to practice before the hunt, that opportunity ended in a missed opportunity. We all have the ability to avoid many of the issues discussed above by simple mental preparation and organization. At the time of the shot, having the ability to calm oneself down so you can remember to go through the appropriate and safe steps of making a good shot on the game is only being fair to yourself as well as the game pursued. Any one can make a list and pack all the items on that list a week a month or even a year before a hunt. This ensures that nothing is forgot and nothing is missed such as 300 Winchester Magnum ammo for a 7mm Remington Magnum on opening morning. We are all busy but if you watch one less half of Monday Night Football you will have more than enough time to have your gear in order. If you make the conscious decision to dedicate one day in the field practicing with your weapon of choice before your hunt, the results you are trying to achieve will be easier to come by. By being familiar with your weapon, you will not be as prone to forget to click off the safety in the moment of truth. Finally, I must finish with one of the most important things anyone can do. DON’T FORGET YOUR SHOOTING STICKS, I love the things! Steve Boekholder