Like most sports, hunting has its off-season. For me this runs basically from March until September, with a brief interlude for turkey hunting in April. My off-season follows a predictable pattern of rest, review, planning and preparation for the fall. As I get older I find I enjoy this period almost as much as hunting itself. I’m a Type-A person and all of the planning and preparation appeals to my inner GTD geek. I make lists of actions and tackle them one by one. I’ve discovered that the key to a successful season lies in thorough preparation. This is roughly divided into three categories:
- Logistics / Planning
I’ve been hunting long enough that the first two items take care of themselves. I know what needs to be done and I knock it out. The third item is challenging. This is the part where I agonize over decisions made in past hunts, missed shots or bad tactics. I am brutally honest with myself about my shortcomings and the off-season is when you try to fix them. You also have to get mentally tough by doing the things that will give you confidence in the field. That means perfecting your abilities to the point where you trust them.
This year my biggest goal is to take a deer with my bow. I’ve shot deer with my rifle before but never with the bow. This is partly because I don’t bow hunt enough but also due to lack of preparation. Prep for bow season takes weeks of practice. Shooting a bow isn’t like shooting a rifle. The mechanics are much more complicated. It’s literally more physical as the bow requires strength to pull the string back and physical coordination to align everything correctly. Whereas solid rifle shooting can be taught relatively quickly, good archery skills take months (years) to develop. Once they are mastered, those skills quickly dull if you don’t stay at it.
So this summer I am shooting my bow…a lot. I shoot 50 arrows every evening after work, in the backyard. I am lucky in that I can do this with no danger to our neighbors because of the way our house is situated. I started the summer with sloppy groups of arrows all over the target. Six weeks in my groupings would fit inside a coffee can. But I’m still not there yet. My muscle memory is still not as sharp as I want it to be. I think too much about each shot. That is a liability in the heat of the moment with a deer 20 yards away. Adrenalin will compound any flaws in my mental game and cause a bad shot. So I won’t be ready for the deer stand until my shooting is almost completely instinctual. Another 6 weeks and I believe I will be there.
This kind of dedication is has been good for me. In the last few years I’ve had a lot of trouble with long-term mental focus. I blame it on the internet and the constant bombardment of stimulus. I have far too many hobbies and I jump from one to another, mastering none. Focusing on this one goal for the summer, to be the best archer I can be, has brought some of this focus back. There is all kind of literature out there about getting your mind out of the way when you are pursuing a goal. One of my favorite quotes is from the samurai/philosopher Miyamoto Musashi. “If you know the Way broadly you will see it in all things ” The common interpretation of this is that if you understand a thing completely you see a path towards success and that same path can be applied to other pursuits. My practice this summer has proved that true. My focus is returning and I am applying it elsewhere. I think this year my mental game is going to be better than ever.