mental games

the story

As soon as the bolt left my crossbow I had a pit in my stomach, the wind had started to shift and it was now or never; I had just decided now. It was only one season earlier when I had wounded an eight point buck with a compound bow, never recovering the deer, despite the efforts of an enthusiastic lab on the blood trail. That thought rang heavy in my mind as the buck I had been scouting for three months raised his head. The southern breeze I had been enjoying kept me hidden, secure. A northern breeze meant discovery and surely a spooked deer, the invisible air began to shift. I had a decision to make at this moment, a ten point, 130 inch buck, twenty yards below me. This symmetrical whitetail was facing directly at my garage sale tree stand and by attachment, me. I was not quite prepared for this interaction to happen as quickly as it did. I wasn’t in the stand for thirty minutes when I heard the buck approaching. I quickly pulled my Ten point crossbow to my oaken nest, was I ready to conquer this moment? My knees began to shake as I counted every tine.

Internally, I was as solid as a granite ledge, the year before had left me scarred but it did not leave me unprepared. This year I had changed my equipment to match my skill set and changed my strategy to boost my confidence in efforts to inch myself closer to success. I pulled the crossbow to my shoulder and settled the scoped pin on the chest of my target.  All one hundred and thirty inches of antler raised into the air as the buck’s nose began to scan for scent. I slowly slid the safety to fire as I simultaneously stood up in the stand. I made a slight turn to the right, did this buck see me? He lowered his ten tines and I began to make the final move, his head lifted once again to scan for any indication of sensory change. I gripped the trigger, smooth pull, deep breath, relax, Grant you have to relax. This mantra played over in my head, we had practiced this moment, thought about this moment, it was time. I took a deep breath as I steadied the cross hairs and squeezed the trigger. A fling and a smack and the majestic buck took off.

I wanted to jump out of the stand and run to the site I had last seen the buck. I had to breathe and bring myself back down to earth, I realized that I had just taken a risky shot on a large deer. My heart was in my stomach. The action that I had felt so confident in just a moment before was now clouded with doubt. I waited thirty minutes and climbed down out of my stand. I quickly clamored over branches and covered the twenty yards to the last known position. Once I arrived I looked around in a panic, no blood! oh no! I had messed this up and there is no blood. I gained my focus, took a deep breath and once again repeated that phrase “relax Grant, you need to relax”. I swung to the left and beheld glory. A spray of crimson marking a solid hit, my Rage broadheads had done their job.

I quickly left the woods and walked to my house. I could have swore that I heard a deer crash after the shot but I also heard a noise across the road at my neighbors. Could it be this buck ran across my property and on to my neighbors? Thoughts began to race through my head but my fiance quieted my mind. Amanda made coffee and told me to sit down, we talked about the shot and she wished me luck on the track as she left for work. After a few cups of coffee and an hour wait, I was standing back at the site of last blood and began to track. I was overcome with joy when I discovered the evidence of a properly deployed Rage broadhead. It was not hard to track the buck from there, he had only gone thirty yards and piled up in the weeds, I had walked right past him on my way to the house. This buck was mine, forevermore.

The Lesson: Stay positive with the proper equipment for the skill level

A trail of crimson red lead me to my Trophy

The 2018 hunting season taught me a lot about controlling my emotions in the field and more importantly, controlling them during a shot opportunity. In 2019 I was presented with a tough shot early in the season. What helped me complete this tough shot and come home with one heck of a buck? The first change I made was with my equipment. I switched from my old Fred Bear TRX 32 to a Ten Point crossbow. The major lesson here is to use what you are comfortable and efficient with. I bought a farm, proposed to Amanda and remodeled a 200 year old tobacco barn in 2019. This did not leave a lot of time for archery practice, this lack of practice pushed me to use a crossbow which conversely boosted my confidence and increased my field time. The main reason I make this point, you have to assure you have the proper equipment especially when hunting archery, this will automatically set you on the path to remaining calm and confident. Confidence in your equipment, whatever; brand, style or weight you shoot, can mean the difference between going home with an animal and going home with tags. 

The second change I made and arguably the most important was my attitude. I was constantly finding ways to be negative during the 2018 season, complaining about weather, other hunters and lack of whitetail activity. These are all complaints that will hinder you when trying to harvest a deer. As the season drags on, it can be increasingly hard to remain positive. I like to fuel my positivity by keeping up with trail cam photos, exercising when I’m not hunting and actively convincing myself to stay positive. Whatever works for you is what you should employ. The main goal is to avoid the negative mental territory. It is far too easy to fall into a quagmire of negative thoughts and end up leaving the woods early. When I feel negative I tend to hunt less and this correlates to less success in the field. I also tend to use social media less during the season, unless I’m posting articles or asking for help, I try to avoid it all together as the negativity can be deafening.

How did these lessons help me?

First of all, switching equipment was an easy decision. I had wounded a deer a season earlier and never found it. Although that happens, I was going to take every step possible to mitigate that risk. Until I am smoking ten rings, I probably won’t switch back to a compound bow for hunting. Early in 2020 I bought a Mathews Monster Wake, heavier bow that really zaps arrows into a target. Although I may not be ready to conquer the mountain of hunting with my bow, we will be there someday soon. Once I build that confidence, the calm and focus will follow easily, practice makes perfect. 

Secondly, I had jumped a deer right in my hotspot the day before I had the successful hunt described above. I thought I had blown out the entire area and ruined my chances of getting a shot on this ten point. I had decided to hunt a small ground blind directly behind the house instead of the hot spot. I had gotten into my own head, I had started to let the negativity affect how I was hunting this property. That fateful morning when I slipped out of bed and dawned my kryptik camouflage confidence came over me. I pulled my Ten Point crossbow over my shoulder and had a swell of positivity. I was going to hunt that hot spot one more time, I was going to stay positive about it after all. This last second decision led to the greatest kill of my hunting career. I can quite literally attribute this kill to remaining focused, calm and positive during all stages of the hunt. Well, except for the recovery, all bets were off when I laid my hands on this beast.

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