Off Season Bowhunting
Do you want to become a better bowhunter and produce consistent trophies with stick and string? If this describes you, this offseason is your chance to become more efficient and really improve your skills. Pick a sport – the guys that choose to work on their jump shot, work on conditioning or watch extra film are the guys that come back better the next season. So if you are one of the hardcore guys that think constantly about making bowhunting dreams a reality, the offseason is time to get to work.
“Destiny is not a matter of chance; but a matter of choice. It’s not a thing to be waited for, it’s a thing to be worked toward and achieved.” ~ William Jennings Bryan
I believe the biggest key to producing consistent results is mental strength. The first step to harvesting a trophy is setting your mind to it. You have to decide what you want out of your hunting and then decide what you need to do to achieve it. Once you set your mind to achieving, stop at nothing until you get there. Mental strength is not something that comes easy, it is a process learned through overcoming challenges. It is a badge of honor earned through perseverance, trials and tribulations.
Over the years, on tough hunts I have leaned on my mental toughness to come out on top. Early in my hunting career, when the going got tough I would get beaten down and eventually throw in the towel. Some examples would be not seeing game, seeing a grizzly in the area, having gnarly weather or maybe blowing a stalk or air-balling a shot.
Nowadays, I have strengthened my mental toughness and have way too much invested to call it quits during one of those times. I have been thinking and working toward my goal of harvesting a trophy all year. I have planned my time; I have everything I need to survive for the days I have planned, and if the hunting isn’t good I move areas, but the last thing I will do is give up.
We have established that you need mental toughness to be successful, but how do you develop or improve your mental strength in the offseason? I have developed my toughness by holding myself accountable for the goals I have set. If I decide I am going to work out five days a week, I make sure I get my workout in all five days. It takes huge mental strength to get out day after day even if you are not feeling it.
I also gain a lot of mental strength by pushing my limits. I learn a lot about myself on long runs. I force myself to continue on, push myself to get elevation and miles. I continue to put one leg in front of the other even after fatigue sets in. I practice being miserable and pushing through the pain. So, when season comes around and legs are aching, shoulders are burning and I’m losing hope, there’s no chance I will quit, because I have been here before.
In the end your whole hunt and entire season will come down to making the shot. This is the one part of your game you should always be working on. A lot of guys hone their shooting skill all summer, then after the season the bow gets put away. If you want to produce consistent trophies, continue to improve your shooting by doing it year-round. Due to weather and the short days, it gets tougher to shoot daily sessions, but make sure you are at least getting in a couple sessions a week. You worked hard all summer becoming better, don’t lose that edge. Instead, continue to improve your skill.
We all know shooting at a target in the backyard is way different than shooting at a monster buck. When shooting at a trophy, you get a huge rush of adrenalin, which reduces the effectiveness of fine motor skills that are required to make a shot. I have found the best practice for shooting at critters is shooting under intense pressure. Shooting around people or with buddies definitely adds pressure. For more pressure yet, try shooting leagues or tournaments. I shoot leagues all winter long with a bunch of great archers. It has really helped my shooting.
I do not get really caught up in the tournament scene though. I like to save my money and time for hunting, but I do manage to get a couple in every year. These tournaments put a lot of pressure on you to make the shot. It’s almost comparable to shooting at a trophy. I have also found that hanging around these skilled archers improves your game. No matter how much you know about archery, there is always someone better. You do not need to spend a bunch of money on a tournament bow, just get out and challenge yourself with the high-pressure shots.
The offseason is the perfect time to study up on existing spots or any new spots for next season. Even with the new GPS’s, map programs or Google Earth.
Just because there is a road that leads to public land, it does not mean it’s an access road. In addition to topo maps, it is always a good idea to get the broad national forest maps. They will clearly show all public, access roads, campsites and trailheads. Also, a state gazetteer is a good investment to be able to see the bigger picture. Getting all the right maps is an important step to learning new spots, improving old spots and getting a good overview of the entire unit.
Once your maps show up, it’s time to get out some markers and start studying up. I mark all public borders and public roads clearly and then label the roads and their names off the edge of my map. I mark wilderness areas, trailheads and trails.
I then begin to correlate the country I am looking at on the map to Google Earth. I start circling places of interest and putting a big V over possible vantage points. I mark good ridgelines and try to figure how I will access areas and where I will walk to locate game. I look for big drainages, as they are usually moving corridors for animals.
Look at state agencies’ websites, as a lot of times they will give populations and drainages that are good. Be sure to circle these. Even if you do not hunt these areas, it will show what type of country and terrain holds game. For each spot I hunt, I have hours of map time in the unit before I ever set foot there.
Before long, winter will be waning and spring will be following shortly after. Spring is a great time of year to get afield and enjoy some activities that will help you improve as a hunter. Shed hunting is great exercise and you are looking at game and trying to figure out where they feed and where they bed. Hunting sheds gives you more time afield learning about the animals you hunt. You are not limited to mornings and evenings, you can look for sheds all day long.
Spring is also good for black bears, as a lot of western states offer long seasons. This is one of my favorite hunts every year and a great animal for archers. You sharpen up your skills and you are back in the woods hiking, glassing and hopefully stalking or shooting. I am excited to say EBJ will have a spring black bear section this year and I am working on a big how-to piece for it. So with the offseason ahead of us, plan activities in the spring to look forward to.
Hunting in the mountains is tough work and the more prepared you are for the challenge, the better you will do and the more you will enjoy it. Some guys have a tough time relating running and working out until hunting season. Over the years, being in top shape has been one of my biggest keys to success. I learned way back in high school wrestling the harder you work at something the better you get. I had guys that were better technical wrestlers than me, but I was always in top shape and once the late rounds started and fatigue began to set in, I knew I always had the advantage. It’s the same with bowhunting. When the going gets tough or it gets late in the hunt, I know I have the edge because I have trained for this moment.
Being in top shape you are able to access tough country with ease and push harder than the average guy. You do not make any excuses and are always willing to go the extra mile to make things happen.
I harvested a big Wyoming mule deer last season after 15 days of high alpine hunting. I spotted this big buck miles away, through rugged country with a couple hours of light left. I was not even sure if I could make it in time before it was dark, but I took off on a 10k pace to try to make something happen. I ran the 10,000-foot peaks as quickly as my body would let me. I arrived on the backside of the ridge, opposite the buck with 20 minutes of light left. I slowed my pace and was in complete predator mode as I crept over the top. I found the huge typical right where I left him. I closed in and sent a perfect double-lung shot. The buck was heavy and ended up scoring in the high 180s.
With that many days invested, it was the highlight of my hunting season. I lost over 10 pounds on the hunt and was absolutely exhausted, but being in top shape I was able to come out on top. It’s not if physical fitness will play a role in your hunt, but when. That’s one thing that’s guaranteed.
Getting your body into mountain shape is no easy task. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and dedication. Your first challenge is getting started. Try not to do too much too quick, just get started and into a routine. A good starting point is cardio three to four times a week.
Set the days out that work with your schedule and keep to it. The beginning of any workout program is tough, but eventually it becomes a way of life and more enjoyable. I love to run, but also hiking up hills, different cardio machines, biking or one of the many video programs out there are great preparation for the mountains. I also like weight training but I feel like the most important part of hunting shape is teaching the body and your muscles endurance. I like calf raises, lunges, squats or any of the leg lifting machines. Remember, your hunt starts and ends with your legs.
Put in the work now to come into next season the best you have ever been. Have your map work done so you have endless game plans. Plan some springtime activities that will help gain you more experience and improve your skills. Commit to putting in the hard work to get in top shape.
Last, make sure your shooting is dialed and you have more high pressure shooting under your belt. If you put in the work, I guarantee you will reap the rewards in the “on- season.”
HERE IS A GREAT OFF SEASON BOWHUNT FROM BEYOND THE GRID!!!