As the summer fun of lakes, boats, and scant bathing suits comes to a close, I am quickly reminded that with summer’s end, there is only a short number of days before I am in the western mountains of Idaho. The sounds of boat motors and laughter turn to complete silence. Watching baseball games in the hot summer sun turn to watching your breath rise in the brisk air of a fall dawn. Suntanned skin is soon to be covered by a warm base layer of Minus33 and camo outer shell. The sound of screaming crowds will soon transform into eerie, ghostly bugles of bull elk. Oh, the anticipation!
This year has flown by for me and as elk season quickly approaches, I am more at ease going into the fall knowing that I took the time and dedicated myself to training hard and shooting my bow consistently over the entire year in preparation. For me, hunting has become a quest or journey. It has changed my life much like having a family has changed my life.
Training for elk season has created a layer of protection, an armor, around the mental and subconscious. That protective layer is a silver shield of both confidence and second nature. As important as weight training, conditioning, and shooting accuracy is for me, my real focus comes down to being mentally conditioned to be patient in those “make or break” moments of closing the gap between getting a bull to take those extra couple of steps into bow range and then having nerves of steel in sealing the deal with one shot. It takes more than dusting off the diaphragm call the week before the trip and shooting your bow a hand full of times to see if the sight was bumped when you put it back in the closet last fall.
It’s being prepared from the moment you step off the plane to the moment you put your hands on that bull. It’s the whole in between. If you haven’t prepared yourself mentally for the scenarios that are ahead of you in the field, when the heat is on, you don’t want to crack under the pressure. Familiarize yourself with vocalizing with elk. Know your way around those calls. Shoot your bow. Shoot your bow. And shoot your bow some more. When you draw your bow back, your anchor should never move an eighth of an inch within 100 shots. All you should be focusing on is putting that pin on the vitals and the shot execution should be an automatic happening. Every time. The difference between a person that shoots bow and an archer is the exact same difference in a person that golfs and a golfer: technique and metal preparation. Anyone can shoot a bow or swing a golf club. It’s not rocket science. But in order to make consistent, accurate shots, you need the technique. And that technique needs to be consistent. When drawing back on that bull, you don’t to look OCD by touching the string to your cheek 5 times to get the pin to finally be centered in the peep. You draw once and immediately the pin is centered. There are several factors that come down to technique when making a consistent shot with a bow. Bow grip, anchor point, trigger squeeze, etc., is not something you can master consistently by only shooting a few arrows a year before heading to the mountains or the tree stand. It takes getting out in your backyard before or after work every day and blind bale shooting for days and days first, getting the technique down before ever trying to put a pin on a quarter sized dot at 30 yards. Familiarizing the subconscious with how it feels to make a perfect shot is where consistency begins to stick. This needs to become second nature. This is where the silver shield begins to form around the mental and subconscious. Once the technique of the shot sequence is locked in the brain, the confidence layer begins to grow very strong, very fast.
The actual physical training and conditioning, I have been doing for years and years. With the focus turning to getting in “Elk Shape,” I incorporate more “cardio under load” training with my normal weight training routines. Cardio Under Load is basically simulating what it would be like to carry a full pack through the wilderness on an elk hunt. Some days it’s wearing my actual hunting pack with weight in it on the treadmill or stair climber. Other days it could be incorporating sets of weighted lunges on a Bosu ball in between a chest and shoulders workout. In a real life hunting situation, you’re going to need every muscle, big and small. Conditioned or not, they’re all going to work at some point on those hikes through the mountains. So the more acclimated you can be to those conditions, the more efficient your body will be. The body is a tool, a machine. It’s an engine. You can either leave an engine stock or you can modify it. An engine can be modified and strengthened to perform above and beyond its stock potential and still hold together under greater loads. The body is no different. The harder you can train in the off season, the easier it will be to perform under load in prime time hunting season.
For me, it’s a quest. A journey. Memories have already been made this year with many more to come in preparation for the “September Calls” and I am extremely optimistic for the future. I encourage you all to dive in and create your own journey. Make it a package deal that when you look back on your hunt, you see it as a 12-month mental photo album and not just a few days’ memories of sweat and exhaustion.