New Year’s resolutions are in the air. Maybe you have one, perhaps you’ve started one, or maybe you’re still trying to think of one. I’m sure you’re privy to most resolutions burning out by March. But you’re a bowhunter, and you’re in it for the long haul. The year is 2022, and there’s never been a better time to look back and dissect your 2021 hunting season.
Begin by breaking your analysis into two categories. One should be a list of strategies that require a lot of improvement. The other should be for tactics that produced good results but need minor tweaking.
Also, something easier said than done, you should make a conscious effort to move past any in-season mistakes. A phrase that floats around the public land hunting community is “embrace the suck”. “The suck” is part of what builds you up and makes you an unbreakable bowhunter. If you’ve bow hunted for even one season, you’ve probably had a memorable experience or two. But more often than not, you’ve likely encountered much more “suck.” Even known killers like Dan Infalt ride the struggle bus. You can listen to a podcast with Dan talking about handling failure and persevering through the suck.
Be Aware of Shooting Ability
The average bowhunter is unlikely to become the next Levi Morgan or John Dudley. Without a doubt, a vast majority of us are weekend warriors who love to be in the woods. Finding time even to reach novice-level shooting ability can be challenge in itself. But proficiency with your weapon of choice is no light matter, especially when it comes to bringing down an animal.
Clean and ethical shots for a quick kill are ideal. But your shot execution doesn’t rely solely on conditions in your control. Many outside dynamics have a significant probability of causing unexpected, unwanted results. Complete knowledge of your capability will save you from excessive heartaches due to external influences.
Impatience is almost always the root cause of a squandered shot. Misses are likely to occur because you didn’t wait for a deer to clear an obstruction. Or maybe that deer wasn’t in range and ducked your arrow. Missed shots, or poor shot placement also occur because of overwhelming buck fever. One of my personal struggles is buck fever. There are times I even lose it on a doe. Those moments aren’t my finest and have caused plenty of misses. Some have even caused spine shots because of not taking a second to get a proper range. Maybe you’ve been a victim of one of these negative examples. I know I’ve been there.
Extending your practice to the limit of your ability is a good idea. Shooting 100 yards makes 30-yard shots feel like a breeze. You could be deadly at 50 yards, but it’s doesn’t necessarily mean shooting a deer that far is a good idea. Take your decisions for ethical hunting range seriously. It will be good for you and for the animal your hunting. Even some expert bowhunters limit themselves to a 30-yard kill shot.
Tough shots can and will happen. I’m not telling you to avoid all risks; if you did that, you’d never get a shot opportunity. But weigh the risks carefully and try to imagine things in advance. When the moment of truth arrives, you’ll be ready.
Celebrate Small Victories
Hunters have unique blood running in their veins. There’s something about failure that drives us to hunt harder. Small successes keep us jonesing for more even though failures happen often. Celebrating your victories, no matter how small, is just as crucial as analyzing unfavorable outcomes.
Maybe your challenge is learning to interpret the flow of wind and thermals. If you want to squash that challenge, go to the field with a pocket full of milkweed. Comprehension of air currents will lead to other small victories, such as picking the right stand for an evening sit. Recognize and record things as you go. At the same time, take care to avoid regression to old habits by reviewing newly acquired skills.
Incorporating a Gamut of Skill
Shooting skills aren’t the only ingredient that goes into a recipe for a good shot. Often, the chaotic feeling during those moments can be overwhelming. That is when instincts tend to take over, which usually translates to buck fever black-out. Your skills that have become second nature are of utmost importance at that moment. However, frequent success comes from self-control. There will be time for an adrenaline rush after the shot, trust me.
If you’re the DIY type of hunter, you know that difficult situations present themselves all the time. Competence with other abilities, like navigating your pack, climbing a tree, or stalking animals, all play a role in success. All acquired skills give you a leg up during a hunt. Knowing them well makes the moment of truth easier, deadlier, and more enjoyable.
Missed shots can be devastating, wounding animals even more so. As far as burnout is concerned, these two negatives personally impact me the most. It took me from the age of 12 until I was 29 to kill a buck with my bow. During all those years, I missed more bucks than I can recall and also wounded a few.
Moving on from those events is nothing short of complicated, but learning from them is invaluable. It’s also part of building a strong passion. It’s vital to reflect on adverse events. Although it’s normal to want to beat yourself up, keep the self-loathing phase short. Hunting seasons don’t last forever. If you’re going to eliminate the likelihood of making the same mistakes, more experience is your best friend.
Don’t Dwell On The Negative Outcome:
- You did all things in your control to reach the best possible outcome.
- If you miss a step along the way, you’ll learn to avoid the same mistake with the next opportunity.
- Don’t “should” on yourself. The decisions you make will improve with your level of experience. Eventually, you’ll get more of your decisions right because you started out getting a few wrong.
Failure or a season on the struggle bus are hard pills to swallow. If that was you, well, hey, it’s a new year! What doesn’t break you will truly make you a better hunter. I’ve witnessed it happen to friends and have gotten to experience it myself. I fail all the time, and I can attest that picking up the pieces is worth the effort.
Focusing on the fact that you’re failing will probably bring more failure into the picture. Take a minute to recognize your failure and then move on. Be confident that you now have a plan for your next hunt, and the one after that. The best hunters in the world still learn something new every time they enter the woods. Otherwise, the cliché “that’s why they call it hunting” wouldn’t exist.