You’ve done everything possible to prepare for hunting season. You practiced with your bow, scouted multiple locations, dialed in your gear, and tested out your treestand. Now that the season has started you are making educated plans to find game and acting on them. The only problem is, no matter what you try you are not finding the animals you are looking for. There is sign in the woods, you see deer in the area every night when driving home, but the only thing you’ve seen from your treestand is squirrels. The harsh reality is that this happens a lot—even to great hunters. There are only so many factors we can control and at the end of the day animals can be unpredictable. This element of chance is one of the things that makes hunting so rewarding when everything comes together. However, it can be tough to keep going out when you haven’t had much success.
Staying Mentally Tough
As hunting is an endeavor with very low success rates, it is crucial to stay in the game mentally. Not only is success fleeting, but the work required to get there is physically demanding and time-consuming. As humans become physically exhausted, our minds tend to become exhausted as well. This can make it more challenging to remain optimistic. If our attitude becomes negative it can be difficult to convince ourselves to endure physically demanding or even boring conditions.
A typical scenario may go something like this: The night before a hunt you are up late getting your gear together and are excited for the hunt. After several days of not seeing any deer, you are going to hunt a new spot and are feeling good about your chances. As you drive to your hunting property, you notice the weather has become cold and a light rain is starting to fall. You get out and start to hike to the new spot. You haven’t hunted this location before and are surprised to find the access route you chose a lot thicker than it looked on the map. Thick and tall grass makes it difficult to walk. Every 30 yards or so your jacket catches on thorns as you try to push through. By the time you get to your tree, you are dripping sweat and your new hunting jacket is covered in burrs and has a small tear from the bush you got caught on. Nevertheless, you are here to hunt and you made it to the spot. Setting up your treestand, you climb into the tree and start scanning with your binoculars. Nothing is moving yet, but it’s only 4:30 and you are hoping for that evening movement. As the day turns into evening, the temperature has dropped another 15 degrees. The sweat you built up while hiking in is now making you shiver. Looking at the time, you notice it’s 6:00 which means there is one more hour of shooting light. You are now uncomfortably cold, but know that mature deer are most active right around the end of the light so you decide to stick it out. As 7:00 rolls around, no deer appear. You are miserable, but happy to pack up and get home to a warm shower and some dinner. As you leave the woods, you begin to hike back out through the thick tall grass. By the time you reach your truck you are exhausted, dejected, and feel like you are not the hunter you’d like to be.
We’ve all been here before. The disproportionate number of these experiences to the few where we are successful in killing a deer is what makes it so exciting when it works out. To become good at hunting (or anything), you need to possess the mental fortitude to keep trying and push through when the going gets tough. How do we do this? Is it possible to strengthen our minds? We practice shooting, spend time researching gear, and read about hunting strategies for hours. Little thought is given to the mental side of things.
Take care of yourself during hunting season. Get plenty of sleep. Stay organized. Take care of business and family obligations before hitting the woods. Staying on top of your life will ensure that stress doesn’t follow you to the treestand. When in the field, dress properly with a layering system. Use merino or wicking fabrics to ensure that if you get hot on your walk-in you can shed layers or dry. Plan for rain gear if it will be wet. Bring a heavy coat to throw on in the stand if it will be cold. Taking care of your physical needs while hunting will ensure you remain comfortable and give you a better chance of staying mentally positive.
Keep making new plans. Try new spots. Hunt different properties. If you can’t find a buck, fill a doe tag or hunt a different species for a couple of days. Chasing small game or going out for waterfowl can be a great way to boost your confidence in the middle of a slow start to deer season. Overall, stay optimistic. The more you can take care of your mental state, the better you will hunt.