Mental Matters – 6 Ways to Keep Your Head in the Hunt

September is here. The time to prepare is over. It is time to hunt.

This time next week I will be miles-deep in the Colorado mountains. There’s no time left to tune my bow any more; I can’t dial-in my shooting skills; I can’t scout new areas; I can’t study more about elk behavior. These things are for the now-expired offseason.

But there is one thing I can do. No, one thing I must do, and that’s keep my head in the hunt.

Silly Stickers On My Bow

What could these silly stickers possibly have to do with keeping my head in the hunt?
Read on and find out!

Preparing your mind for hunting is an often over-looked, and massively under-valued endeavour. If I am going to effectively hunt for a week-straight, and endure all of the wildness that the wilderness has to throw at me, then I must do these five things…

(Oh, and you whitetail guys – much of this applies to those long days and long weeks that are spent waiting in a tree for your chance, too.)

Work Your Plan (When You Can)

Keep your head in the hunt by working your plan, and letting your plan dictate what actions you take. (You do have a plan, right?) Remember the intel you’ve put together, the places you’ve scouted, and the strategies you’ve studied. Don’t lose sight of these things.

But you also must realize that things won’t go as planned! You need to be ready to adapt. When the sign isn’t what you expected to see, don’t lose your focus. When the bulls aren’t as vocal as you wanted, don’t lose hope. When the weather doesn’t cooperate, roll with the thunder.

Remember your plan. Realize that things never go 100% according to plan. And keep your head in the game at all times.

Embrace The Suck

If you’re hunting long enough and hard enough, something’s going to suck. You’ll face challenges that you didn’t see coming, but don’t let it rattle you. I know this sounds incredibly cliche and probably borders on macho, meathead, masochist drivel, but – remember that experiencing pain means you are living.

You’re out there, in the wild, doing something that few others do. And part of it is going to suck. But you’re living. You’re doing. Embrace the suck, stay focused, and keep going.

Remember the Grind

Remember the grind back home? Your 9-5. The bills and demands. The time that you spend caring for and providing for others. Remember all of that, and be grateful for this moment, this time that you have to escape the grind of everyday living.

Whether it’s a weeklong hunt or a 3-hour sit in a treestand, be fully present in the hunt and enjoy your time. Go back home a better man (or woman) because of the chance that you had to escape. The grind will still be there when you return, so don’t worry about it while you’re hunting.

Look Around

Speaking of being fully present, take a look around. You’re in a magical place. Immerse yourself in your surroundings. See the small details, heart the faint noises, smell the mountain air. Not only will this help you appreciate the setting, but you’ll actually be heightening your senses and increasing your ability to be alert to the game that you’re hunting. Allow me to paraphrase Remi Warren,

“I believe in hunting trophy country as much as I do hunting trophy animals.”

Look around. It’s amazing out there.

Fleeting Moment, Forever Memory

It doesn’t matter how much action you’ve experienced on a hunt, and if it is day 1 or day 10, it only takes a split-second moment for your hunt to turn into a memory that lasts forever. Mr. Big can show up anywhere, at any time, and that’s the real reason that you must always keep your head in the hunt.

Always be ready. Never give up. Keep moving forward. The next moment could be your best memory.

Be Grateful

So, those stickers in the photo. I had my daughter (5) and son (2) each pick out a sticker to put on my bow. They’re on the backside of my quiver, positioned where they’ll constantly be in view if I’m carrying or shooting my bow.

I fully expected my daughter to pick out a princess sticker and my son to pick out a ninja, but they both chose silly, happy faces. They’re good reminders to not be too serious, to do what we’ve discussed and enjoy the hunt. But more than anything they are reminders for me to be grateful. They remind me how happy we should be. That in spite of life’s challenges and difficulties, most of us are incredibly blessed.

Keep your head in the hunt by being grateful. This moment, this opportunity, and what you’ll return home to; it isn’t all challenge, difficulties, and “grind”. It’s good.

That should make you want to stay focused, keep moving forward, and hunt hard.

I’m signing off for a couple weeks to go practice what I’ve preached…

The More I Know About Hunting, The Less I Enjoy It

For the past handful of years I have been immersed myself into the world bowhunting and learned as much as I possibly could about every aspect of the pursuit.  This journey has increased my passion for hunting, but it’s also left a bitter taste in my mouth. My attempts to learn as much as I can about bowhunting have been fulfilling and defeating. This pursuit has been part Jekyll, part Hyde.

Waiting on the Unknown

You see, hunting isn’t meant to be mastered. And we, as hunters, aren’t meant to embark upon the pursuit as something that can be completely planned for, strategized, and understood. Our movements in the wilderness should be driven by instinct, and not primarily the byproduct of what we’ve read, researched and rehearsed as the latest and greatest what-you-should-do tactic that was shared in the most recent article we read; or, God forbid, from the (most likely horrible) hunting show we watched.

Too many hunters have confused passion with seriousness. If you truly want to treat hunting as a serious endeavor, then I certainly don’t want to derail your efforts. But I think most of us have been subtly convinced that if we want to love and enjoy hunting, then we must spend all year obsessing about it and preparing for it. (I’ve been guilty of preaching that message at times, too.)  But most of us will find that increasing the seriousness of hunting will decrease our enjoyment of it.

After all, the industry (affirmed by our egos) has convinced us that joy is found in hunting when – and only when – we wrap our hands around massive headgear. But what the industry fails to disclose is how many of these success stories are paid for.  (I am not saying that these aren’t fair chase hunts, but the fact remains that even most of the “earned trophies” are the byproduct of opportunities that are paid for. That’s another topic for another day…)

Two weeks from today I will awake in the dark, climb a steep mountain ridge, and bugle out over the trees - hoping that a bull elk’s response rises into a heated fervor, as the sun does the same. You see, I am still really passionate about hunting, but I don’t want to master it anymore. I am perfectly content with whatever adventure unfolds as I enter into the untamed wildness of hunting, instead of trying to use my knowledge to control it or guarantee a result that was never meant to be under my dominion.

I don’t know what’s going to happen, and its better that way.

Look, Mom, I’m on TV! (You can watch it here, now, for free…)

You can now watch some footage from my first elk hunt, thanks to Huntography.  I had the great honor of having Rudy from Huntography join me for that hunt as part of his #ELKTOUR project.  The whole film is now available for free online.  There’s over an hour of footage, all of which features “regular” hunters chasing elk on public ground in Colorado.

The whole film is worth watching (really, it is!), but for that have a particular interest in seeing some footage from my hunt, you’ll want to skip to the hour-and-eleven-minute mark.

First Look Review – The Exo Mountain Gear 3500 Hunting Backpack

In this video I walk through my new elk hunting pack, The Exo Mountain Gear 3500, and talk about the overall layout, features, and design of the pack.  To show you how much the gear the 3500 can handle (and why that number is somewhat deceiving), I have the pack loaded with almost everything that I take on a weeklong backcountry hunt.  This is an informal, rambling review, so feel free to skip around…

250lb load, be sure to check out Exo Mountain Gear’s Vimeo channel.

Quick Specs of the Exo Mountain Gear 3500

  • Weight: 76 ounces (Skeleton Frame and 3500 Bag)
  • Capacity: 3500ci for main bag and lid; total capacity 4500-5000ci
  • Materials: 500d Codura with X-Pac waterproof lining
  • Organization: 7 pockets total; reverse-open lid, external stretch pocket/panel, full-length side pockets, 18″ side-zip access to main bag, daisy chain webbing
  • Frame: 25″ height, Titanium
  • Harness: Micro-adjust torso length 16-21″; size-specific waist belt (S, M, L); adjustable lumbar pad; numerous compression and load stabilization straps
Exo Mountain Gear Pack Modes Exo Mountain Gear Frame Design

Here are links to some of the other resources that I mention in the video:

New for Field & Stream: “Pitch Tents, Punch Tags”

I have been published in Field & Stream.  I still can’t believe it, but it showed up in my mailbox, so it must be true!

The article, “Pitch Tents, Punch Tags”, is about camping strategies for hunting elk during archery season and features some great advice from Steve Speck.  Be sure to check it out in the September 2014 issue.

Article Preview

I have to say thank you to the editorial crew at F&S for giving me this opportunity and teaching me so much along the way.  And this would have never happened without the supporters of this blog that inspire me to keep writing - so THANK YOU!