Preparing for Hunting Season
It’s time to get in shape for hunting season. We eat better, start walking, running, CrossFitting, hiking, and shooting more. There are lots of things we do to get our body ready for the challenges it will face in elk country. One area we frequently neglect in our hunt preparations, however, is our minds. Unfortunately, this is the most important tool we have. We can’t out run or out smell our prey. We don’t live where they live and we need four duffel bags of gear to possess what the animals were born with.
An obvious way we get mentally prepared is by doing research homework on the game and area we are hunting. Map software is so advanced you can pinpoint the piece of sagebrush you want to sit behind at a waterhole. Publications like Eastman’s Journals dedicate entire sections to helping their subscribers choose an area in the western United States to hunt big game species. Good areas, great areas, hard or easy hunts, lots of preference points needed or over the counter…it’s all there. All the different magazines we subscribe to offer great information on knives, packs (we love using Nimrod Outdoors packs ourselves), bows, binos, etc… Reading these articles AND ads can be very beneficial to you. They can help you decide where you can have the best hunt and what gear you should take with you. These things are the easiest and most fun part of the brain game.
Dealing with your emotions, especially when hunting by yourself, can be a much bigger battle. Loneliness, boredom, fear, day after day of failure, and lack of sleep, all play a big roll in what defeats hunters long before their bodies quit. So how do we deal with these mental obstacles that stand between us and our DIY trophy?
We start off the same way as we start conditioning our bodies. Just as we don’t decide to start out bench-pressing 300 pounds, we don’t bivy 20 miles in the backcountry for 10 days on our first DIY big game hunt. Take baby steps. Stay close to your rig or main camp, and, as you get mentally stronger and more familiar with your equipment and hunting area, start expanding from there. At first you may have returned to camp each day for lunch, try staying for the whole day. While you are out filter some water, make a fire (if appropriate, legal and safe), and take a nap. If you’re not used to it, start walking out in the dark and learn to use all your equipment after the sun sets. If you can plan your hunt or first practice hikes as the moon is becoming full, you’ll have some extra light that can help reduce your fears. You are now developing the skills you’ll need for an extended stay on your own.
When you’re comfortable with that, think about taking a one man set up into the woods for an over-nighter. If you can find a buddy to do it with for extra comfort and support, so much the better. Develop your eating style, whether that’s freeze-dried food, MRE’s, or something of your own preparation. Decide how you want to filter your water, or maybe you want to use iodine tablets. Ask yourself questions as you go along to determine what you like, and what needs improving. How comfortable are you in your sleeping bag and pad? Did your tent set up as you remember? How heavy and cumbersome is your pack? What do you leave behind at your little camp, and what do you take with you for the hunt? Answer all these questions on an overnighter one-half to three miles from your truck, on a nice day, and you’ll soon feel more comfortable with your abilities and your equipment.
After that it’s just a matter of perfecting your set up, and moving deeper and deeper into the backcountry. Just as we all have our own physical limitations and comfort level, so it is with our mental abilities. Some people with six weeks of working out are doing phenomenal things; others are still struggling with the basics. Some people may get very lonely and bored. There’s no one to talk to, and you have hours or days to be lost in your own mind. This, too takes mental strength and preparation. Some of you will very quickly, find yourselves miles from the trail head for a multiple day trip, and others will never want to be more than a couple hour walk from their truck. That’s ok! You’re out there to enjoy yourself, not impress someone or endanger your life.
The Objective is to start small and work your way up to your full potential and hopefully improve your odds in the field. There you have a few basics and ideas to get you started. Get comfortable with your gear country and physical abilities. Enjoy your whole day outdoors. Always be amazed by God’s creation, but respect it, and strengthen your mind. Switch on your headlamp and enjoy a walk under the stars…your tent awaits you!