June 09, 2015
When it comes to do-it-yourself whitetail hunts, much has been written on finding the right place and figuring out how to hunt it. But just as important is the preparation of your body and mind, in order to have a positive experience. As the old adage goes, "Most people don't plan to fail — they just fail to plan."
For example, take my friend Jason. He finally drew an Iowa archery tag after four years of applying. He was excited about the upcoming hunt and actually made two trips from his home in Ohio to explore and scout the public hunting area he'd picked out.
Jason was in great physical condition, and he started hunting hard as soon as he arrived in Iowa that November. But things went south quickly.
On the second day, he missed a big buck; he just whiffed the shot for no known reason. The following day, other hunters arrived and set up nearby, messing up the deer movement Jason had worked hard to figure out. Seeds of discouragement were growing in my friend's psyche.
The next day was even worse, as the other hunters really screwed up all of Jason's hard work. The pain he was feeling from missing a buck, plus the presence of the other hunters, was compounded by thoughts of his wife and kids making do without him.
Discouragement and homesickness are a dangerous mix, and they overwhelmed Jason to the point he packed up and drove home four days early. Four years of planning, hard work and anticipation culminated in a hunt aborted less than halfway through.
I can relate. I've done the same thing, and I've been close to doing it at other times. The urge to return to your own bed and daily routine can trump your desire to tough out a difficult situation.
As much fun as it is to hunt away from home, it's also hard work and mentally taxing. The best way to prepare for the urge to abandon the hunt is to plan for a major challenge to occur. That way, if it does, you'll be ready for it. If you expect those feelings to come, you'll recognize them for what they are and have a response in place to combat them.
When you feel discouraged on a hunt, there are two ways to push through it. First, a change of scenery really can boost your enthusiasm. So always have a backup plan in place in case things don't go as planned at your No. 1 location. A second farm or public hunting area should be researched ahead of the hunt so you can make a needed move without missing a beat.
Secondly, have a support group in place. My wife would never ask me to come home early from a hunt, and that's important. I can call her while on the road and she'll just talk with me. I think she avoids talking about things that might make me feel I should get home to put out fires.
I also have a couple buddies I can call when I feel the need to talk things through. They know by my tone of voice when I need a few words of encouragement. And I do the same for them.
Last November I was seeing good movement on a public area in Kansas, so I was enthusiastic. I was driving from one area to another at midday when my phone rang. It was a friend, Darron, who wasn't so upbeat. He was under 100 miles away in Oklahoma, but he wasn't seeing much on his own bowhunt.
I pulled off the road and chatted with Darron for over a half-hour. He finally mentioned he'd found a good creek crossing near a standing corn field. But it was a lot farther from where he was staying, so he hadn't set up on it. I encouraged him to make the move if the wind would allow it. I felt the change would bring renewed enthusiasm.
The next morning, just 15 minutes after I'd texted Darron a photo of the buck I'd just recovered, he texted me one of his — and it was significantly bigger than mine! Pep talks can help.
Being in good shape also can have a huge effect on your enthusiasm level. DIY hunting often involves hauling gear a long way, getting up earlier than usual, walking miles while scouting and going up and down trees many times in a week.
If you haven't prepared for that much physical exertion, you could find yourself with regrets at the end of your hunt. Regrets for not going the extra mile when you knew it was necessary for success but you just didn't have it in you.
I play basketball 2-3 times a week, and that keeps me in shape. I also walk on the treadmill and do light weightlifting and pushups. Because I spend most of my days in the off-season sitting in front of a computer, I must make an effort to get into shape for deer season.
Nor can the need for shooting confidence be overstated. Spend time with your bow or gun until making the shot on a big buck becomes second nature. If you don't practice enough and don't have all of your gear in tip-top shape, you might think about missing instead of doing everything on automatic, expecting to make a perfect shot.
Planning for a DIY hunt shouldn't just involve the background work for the hunt itself; you also need to prepare your mind and body. You'll hunt harder, longer and better if you make the effort to attend to every aspect of the experience.