Developing into a hunter has been an evolution of personal thought and countless hours of research. As I delved into the subject with such tenacity I further found more and more questions than answers. Not knowing what to expect the first time — I stepped into the field open minded with my bow in hand and an intent to kill.
During my first hunt I learned quickly how different hunting versus hiking was and specifically how bow hunting has its own set of nuances. I realized there are 6 basic foundational elements to a hunt all critical before you even can come to full draw.
1) Be in the now: even though my first hunt was unsuccessful, what this rookie learned is that keeping the mind sharp and present is of utmost importance. When the mind wanders, so does focus and when focus slips you end up sloppy. An animal could be just around the next bend and they could see or smell you before you realized you could even put a stalk on that animal.
2) Take each step with purpose: not to be a Capt. Obvious here, but walking in the woods is performed very differently than when hiking on a backpacking trip. With each step I really was looking for a place to put my foot without a crunching sound. Carefully I adjusted my gait and my stride to find the perfect foothold in the earth that would yield the least noise disturbance.
3) Open up to all senses: with each step you must also listen to beyond the sound of your footsteps, but to the woods. Listen for other sounds of walking that may not be human. Maybe the birds chirping has changed and is an indicator of another animal being present. Allow for a heightened sense of smell as well. Can you break down the woods odor like a fine wine and separate it into all it’s various individual parts and if so gather intelligence from that information. Use your eye site to assess the details around you while looking for animal tracks, scat and rubs, but also look up and beyond for signs of life that may be in place as expected or for things that seem out of place and may also be an indicator of an animal close by. If you bow hunt use your wind indicator to check for wind direction and your position in the wind you need to stay aware of as well.
4) Each day is different: in my extremely limited experience my observations were that while mule deer are pretty regular in their activities and like clock work you can plan around their ‘almost’ set behavior patterns — variables exist. Treating each day different and planning accordingly could help yield success in the field.
5) It can all change at a moment’s notice: every day is different and the many nuances that will affect a hunt. Plan an ambush one day for the next and some variable may have changed and it will blow your plans. Knowing this and accepting it will keep you nimble in the mind and help you in changing your plan as needed on the spot or the stalk.
6) The greatest challenge is your own self doubts: while in the woods my greatest challenge was me. A constant fear of getting lost because I was so hyper focused on spotting and stalking an animal that I would loose my bearings in the woods. I had a map and compass with me, but I’m not the best navigator with those two items. I wasn’t carrying a gps either. Luckily, the woods we were in were fairly wide open so getting out wasn’t too much of a challenge, but it brought to mind how I need to better prepare with navigation. Other self doubts creeped in and each time this thoughts drew my focus away from being present and in the now that it was a distraction which could have costed me an element of surprise at some point. Staying mentally strong is critical and further believing in yourself and what you are doing will go so much farther than anything else you could have prepared for.
These six steps are from my personal observations and are what I found to be important to any hunt. It seems to me, from my limited exposure with bow hunting, that for any hunt to be successful one would need to follow these six steps. If you are not able to get close to your quarry then how will you be able to make an ethical shot on the animal.