UPDATED ON: May 1st, 2015
If only all wild targets were as still as the ones we practice on in our own backyards! Any one of us bow hunters’ can make a great shot while in a calm state within an environment we are used to and comfortable with. But how often will you be presented with the same opportunity in the reality of your hunts? In the heightened moment of truth, with your adrenaline racing through your veins as you draw your bow on a trophy game animal, will your shot hit the vitals you are aiming for? Or will your body lack the fundamentals you practiced over and over again due to fatigue?
Every athlete, regardless of the sport, understands that both form and technique deteriorate as fatigue increases. Your mind can only push your body so far (mental toughness). And without proper conditioning, the skills of an athlete become less effective. A pitcher begins to lose control and misses his spots, a boxer starts to throw inaccurate punches and loses velocity, an archer begins to shake and is unable to hold steady upon the target, and so on and so on. In the sport of hunting, it’s about eliminating obstacles and expecting the unexpected. It’s Murphy’s Law: if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.
Being properly prepared for the hunting experience often results in the outcome that we all desire. However, it is up to the individual to train themselves for the many obstacles that bowhunting presents.
If we had full control of the situation on every hunt, there would be no more wall space in our houses and freezers would be filled to the max with wild game. Although we do our best to shoot in real environment situations with 3D targets and obstacles, there is still a margin for error. In baseball, a pitcher focuses in on the catcher’s mitt and makes sure he can hit his spots regardless if it’s a fastball or off-speed pitch. He’s just trying to disrupt the batters timing and strike him out. In the sport of hunting, however, we have no control over the strike zone. Rather, the object of this game is a moving target with a mind of its own. In order to be successful, we must train to conquer success while under duress and sometimes, extreme duress. In other words, the better shape you are in, the percentage rate of success increases exponentially. It’s you versus a wild animal that is already fit for the conditions at hand and knows the lay of the land by heart.
Change Your Outlook
Look at hunting as a competition, two hunters going head to head to try and harvest the same animal in a spot-and-stalk style of hunting with a time limit of dawn to dusk. Is this a real situation? Absolutely! What if you draw a tag on public land the same as someone else? Now it’s your skills versus theirs. Training for the hunt with this mentality is what every hunter should consider. This concept should start a fire beneath you to better yourself.
While bowhunting isn’t necessarily a “competition”, the reality is that you are competing for the same goal against other bowhunters in the area. The bowhunter that is better prepared will have a definite advantage over someone lacks mental and physical stamina.
Implement Specialized Training
Muscular strength and endurance are extremely important regardless of the sport you are training for. It can turn a good athlete into a great athlete. Hunters engaging in a weight-resistant exercise program will advance their success by strengthening their muscles, allowing them to be more in tune with their bodies and learning how to better control their movements; you never know what position you may have to get into in order to be successful. You can’t just hit a pause button during a hunt and get into position for the shot. It has to be done undetected with slow controlled movements. Hunting is not just about shooting, it’s about being fit.
I cannot express how important it is to Hunt Strong. You will be tested physically and mentally, I can promise you that. And you are probably thinking of an experience where you have been tested at this very moment. Training your body to exhaustion while in the gym will test your form just as shooting 100 arrows a day can test your accuracy. The longer you shoot, the longer you train, or the use of a heavier weight during lifting, the more you must pay attention to your form and technique. Your goal is for your last rep to be just as perfect as your first rep. And the same goes for practicing your bow shots.
If you are comfortable, it’s not challenging enough. Never be complacent because that’s the moment you stop improving. This is how you avoid plateaus. Shooting outside of your typical position creates stress and adapting to the stress is what makes you a better athlete. Stay focused on the task at hand. A race horse wears blinders for this very reason. Tiger Wood’s father took this to a new level. During practice, Tiger’s dad would drop his golf bag in the middle of his swing to disrupt his mechanics. Tiger learned to stay focused and tune out all distractions. Get outside! You won’t take a shot from inside during the hunt, so get out in the elements. Learn how to shoot in all weather conditions. You can apply this concept to your training also if you vary the exercises throughout the same muscle groupings. As a result, your body will adapt and become stronger.
Going through the “normal” routine of shooting your bow won’t best prepare you for the hunt. Only when you step outside of your comfort zone will you be better prepared for the real hunting experience.
Listen To Your Inner Voice
The voice in my head is sometimes what keeps me going. I find myself talking myself through the movements or the shot, keying in on the proper fundamentals and constantly focusing on the task at hand. Make sure your inner voice is positive and optimistic to keep you motivated to get better. When the challenges become more difficult, my inner voice gets louder. Use motivation as much as you can and eliminate negativity. After all, the body responds to what the mind tells it to do. Have faith in yourself. Faith is having a positive outlook about what you can do and not worrying about what you can’t do.
This exercise mentally prepares you for the upcoming confrontation. Try this: Every night before you go to bed, picture yourself shooting. Put yourself in a hunt and watch how you close the distance and make the shot. Just as a golfer visualizes himself/herself playing a round of golf, he/she focuses on each shot, along with the obstacles in the course he/she must overcome in order to minimize the amount of swings to win. Visualize yourself and watch the animal walk nearby trails and in your shooting lanes. Take in consideration the elements, obstacles, shot placement, your mechanics, etc. Be as detailed as possible to the point that you can almost smell the fall leaves and feel your heart rate increase. This will enhance mental clarity and prepare you for the moment of truth.
It is important to train your mind to see yourself making the perfect bow shot. This way, when the shot actually occurs in real-life, your mind will be better prepared to handle the situation simply because it has seen the scenario played out over and over beforehand.
Control Your Breathing
“Breathing is everything”, especially when the climax of a hunt is at an all time high. The more oxygen you get to the brain and to the muscles, the better your performance. When training clients I find the more intense the exercise, the more they tend to hold their breath; resulting in poor exercise form and muscle fatigue. When shooting, I pay attention to my breathing. This is what works for me; I breathe normal by taking in a breath of air with my trigger finger resting on the trigger, and as I exhale air out, I slightly hold my breath and begin to squeeze the trigger. I find that this is when there is little to no movement, which allows me to steady my bow and shoot accurately.
Use A Mirror
Mirrors are in the gym to make sure you are performing the exercise correctly, not for flexing. When the going gets tough, watch yourself in the mirror and make corrections if needed. You should be able to pinpoint muscles and maintain proper alignment with your ears, shoulders, and hips in a neutral position throughout the entire exercise.
In order to strive to be your best, you must learn to “push yourself” during practice, especially while under exhaustion. But at some point, that may not be enough. Becoming a successful hunter often requires you to push yourself in the face of exhaustion while simultaneously maintaining perfect form and technique. Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher, Greg Maddux, was just as effective in the first inning as he was in the ninth inning. He was never known for throwing high speed pitches by batters, but his execution was one of the best. He had the same arm speed regardless of the pitch and he knew how to hit his spots and compete. Jerry rice ran perfect routs from the first quarter through the fourth quarter. The “best” among their sports were not just great compared to others, but what made them who they were as athletes was their ability to be great while fatigued.
Take It To The Next Level
Combine both shooting and training! The next time you are shooting, try performing as many lunges as you can, immediately grab your bow and shoot. Do this throughout your entire workout. Mix it up with push-ups, pull ups, squats, and so on. Don’t forget to also challenge yourself by shooting from various positions. Without a doubt, exhaustion causes sloppy form and technique; therefore, it’s crucial to monitor your form to prevent bad habits. And as we all know, bad habits can be hard to break. If you notice you are not on cue, immediately stop and rest before trying again.
By combining training and shooting, your will be leaps and bounds ahead of most bowhunters in your area. Remember, the most physically and mentally tough wolf often gets its prey.
If you are committed to avoid this pitfall, you will gain an advantage over an opponent (or in our case), confidence within yourself to be successful in the backwoods. The more confidence you have prior to a hunt, the more you believe in your skills and that’s more than half the battle. Being in Hunt Strong shape is not just how well you can sustain fatigue, but how well you can perform under duress as fatigue is weighing down upon your body. Commit to the preparation, endure the journey of the hunt, and as always, HUNT STRONG!
Editor’s note: In the coming weeks Davie will share with us his specialized “Hunt Strong” workout routine. Be sure to check back for this informative piece that will better prepare you for your next bowhunting adventure.