Many articles have been written about hunting tactics, equipment, clothing, areas, regions, the various animals, guides, preparation, and so on. And while all these things are important, I find that there is something else that comes into play, less talked about, but equal or more in importance that, in my experience, unleashes greater success and richer hunting experiences. In fact, I find that there is something else that can even trump where you are on the learning curve, or on the equipment curve, or on the experience curve, or whether or not you have a guide or experienced partner. It's how we think. What goes on in our minds may well determine whether or not we 'beat the odds' and come back with an enjoyable experience.
1. Dare to Dream
My richest hunting experiences are birthed in dreams. Some of the dreams are childhood dreams (of getting a bighorn sheep). The greatest hunt I have been on to date has its origin in a dream birthed by watching Eastman's High, Wild, and Free (1968) decades ago as a child. Some of the dreams are dreamed up as I go along (maybe taking an animal by a particular method). The first stage of any 'dream hunt' is the dream. Bring to consciousness dreams of old - and also dream anew. Allow yourself to long for that big buck, or to be on that safari. Exercise the dreaming process. See yourself there, doing it. Enjoying it.
2. Follow Dreams with Action
Put in for that controlled hunt. You won't get drawn if you don't put in. Let the right people know your dreams. Don't put off for tomorrow what you can do today. Every day you are getting older. Buy the licenses, make the connections, and get the equipment necessary. Time and financial resources ebb and flow - but I can always exercise and get in better physical condition. The hunts I dream of require good physical condition. Recognize that some things fall into place as we are in motion. Start down your dream path. Do what you can do now.
Do you love to hunt? Do you love the outdoors? Do you love the wildlife? Admit it if you do. Learn to love if you don't. Don't ever be too old to love. I love to hunt. I love the outdoors. I love deer, geese, trout, alpine lakes. I love steep, rugged terrain. Love reaches deep inside of us unleashing hidden abilities. Love enriches our experience.
I admit it: I LOVE ELK. And guess what? - I see elk often. I see elk where they 'aren't supposed to be'. I see elk others don't. I see elk running errands. And I see their sign, and beds. And I see elk hunting. Love has an 'attraction' quality to it. And my day is made richer when the thing I love has come to me.
Few of us hunt because we hate the outdoors, or want to destroy wildlife. We hunt because we enjoy it. Early in my hunting 'career' I told my wife I hunted for the meat. A good wife has a way of seeing through that, especially when you don't bring home much. Now we both know that I hunt because I love to. And now I bring home more.
My daughter Candace. She is far less experienced than I yet enjoys
phenomenal success. Why? I thinks it's because of how she thinks.
She loves life. Life (including hunting success) comes her way.
4. Listen to Your Other You
For the purpose of this writing I will say that there are two parts to our thinking. There is the conscious part, and the subconscious part. One 'channel' we are aware of, and a lot of other stuff going on behind that, that we are much less aware of. Most of us spend most of our waking hours tuned in (perhaps by definition) entirely to the conscious. And we ignore the other part. When we step into the field we start 'looking' deliberately, consciously for that animal we are after. We look out across the meadows and hillsides, then under trees, through ravines. We pick the terrain apart and analyze it piece by piece. But our subconscious is also taking it in. I propose that our subconscious can process what we see far faster and more accurately than our conscious.
As you go into the field and 'look', also give your subconscious permission to look, sort, process, and report back! And listen! My subconscious knows I love elk, deer, ducks, and geese, and I have shown my subconscious what they look like. I have shown my subconscious thousands and thousands of images (magazine pictures, etc.) of what they look like. All I need to do is allow my subconscious, my greater awareness, to tell me when it sees something. Try it; it works. The next time you go into the field - look (with your conscious) - and also allow your subconscious to look.
Once while at a stop in Washington State I gazed out across some barren land waiting for my wife to return from a convenience store with some snacks. As she came to the car and as I turned away from the empty land in front of me - my subconscious started screaming, "Filler, LOOK!" (Filler is my last name.) I turned back around, and there right before me near the side of the road, bedded the whole time, was a magnificent mature bull elk. My conscious missed it. But my subconscious didn't - and my subconscious mind knows that I so love elk. So my subconscious mind wouldn't let it go without telling me.
Give your subconscious mind permission to work on your behalf. "Okay, subconscious mind, today we are looking for Mule Deer - let me know when you see one."
5. Learn to See
Let your subconscious look while your conscious looks also. Try it. When we look at hunting magazines we often see pictures of the whole animal... with a meadow for background, or, gasp, the horizon. But we will wait a long time to see an animal presented like that in the wild. We know we will in reality often be looking for just parts of animals. We might be looking for the white trim of a whitetail deer tail (tail down), or for the white ring around an eye. This is difficult indeed - especially amidst a deer-colored forest.
So, as you go into the wild - look deliberately for whole animals, and especially parts, and give your subconscious mind permission to do likewise. Your subconscious mind in an instant can process huge amounts of input - and report in - in real time.
Consider the photographs to the left, zoomed many times on a large patch of brush. In the brush there is the head and velvet rack of a nice whitetail deer buck. The velvet antlers are the same color and width of the surrounding branches, and nearly indistinguishable. I love the stately form of a buck's antlers. As I walked up to the immense brush patch immediately my subconscious mind distinguished antlers from branches and showed me the buck. Our subconscious mind really can find that 'needle in a haystack'. Nearly instantly!
6. Learn to Hear
My loved ones will say that my hearing has deteriorated with age. And they are right. But I still hear what I want to. I still hear what I love to. So, be consciously aware of the sounds around you - and subconsciously as well. I may not be able to hear the phone ring in the other room - but I can still hear geese flying overhead outside the house.
7. Prepare - for Good Outcomes
Some people believe Murphy (Murphy's Laws). I resist 'Murphy' at all times possible. Some people bring 'Murphy's Laws' in to their hunting experience. And it seems to work for them. Things go wrong for them. I am not immune to bad things happening - but I don't 'believe' for them. I prepare for reasonable negative possibilities - in that I might carry a first aid kit, a satellite phone, or an extra layer of clothes, but I also prepare for good outcomes. So, when you go into the field for that elk - make sure you have your knife, sharpener, game bags, bone saw, etc. Make sure you do have a way to get the animal out without spoiling. Make sure you do have the proper tags, and licenses, and permits, and permissions.
In fact, I am learning to prepare for the best possible outcome.
Where I hunt ducks the best possible outcome is that, on a short hunt, I get into both ducks and geese. All things equal I load my gun with # 5s, my right pocket is handy with more # 5s, and my left pocket is handy with BBs for geese. The best possible outcome is that while I am getting into ducks, I also get into geese, and I can quickly change over to the heavier shot. And guess what? - when the dream situation unfolds - I have thought it through - and I am ready for it. Oh how sweet when it happens!
SHAME ON YOU if your dream experience unfolds in front of you and you aren't ready for it.
8. Listen to What You Say
Listen to what you and others say. What comes out of our mouths often betrays what is going on inside our heads. Some people start a hunt saying they 'probably won't get anything'. Yuck! Why bother!? Cast off negative thinking, bad expectations; resist Murphy's Law!
As I get out of the car with my friend Doug... "Doug, today's your day!"
I remember it like yesterday. I was in a situation without a camera where I would have wanted to take a picture, and found myself saying to myself, "I sure wish I had a camera." And then I heard what I just said - and something rose up inside of me and scolded me...
"Look, you need to stop saying that. Either make sure you have a camera next time, or shut up."
Since then I have carried a camera - and it has amazed me what photographic opportunities have unfolded before me. And the few times when I haven't had my camera or fresh batteries, I accept the rebuke and smile for the next time. Try it. Have the camera ready. Have the gun ready (legally, of course). Have the right tags, permission, size bullet, and so on - and watch what unfolds!!!
9. Do You Think You'll Miss, or Hit?
As you pull the trigger, do you...
...know you'll miss
...think you'll miss
...hope you hit/hope you do not miss
...think you'll hit
...know you'll hit.
Some people think they'll miss, pull the trigger, and miss. They got what they thought. What a waste. What noise. What a downer. A negative experience. Regardless of your skill level - don't take a shot you think you'll miss. You probably will miss, or worse, you might wound an animal. I pass up a lot of shots archery hunting because I'm not good (confident) at longer ranges. I don't want the negative experience of a miss or wounded game. Bird hunting I generally only take close shots. The ammo is expensive - why waste it on misses and crippling shots!?
Practice, practice, practice... so you get truly good. Practice, practice, practice... so you'll get confident that you'll hit. Get good, take shots you are confident of, and enjoy hitting your target. If you think you would miss, then DON'T take the shot. Enjoy not pulling the trigger. Try and get closer the next time.
I have made incredibly long and difficult shots that I thought I would make. And I have missed short and easy shots that I thought I would miss. I got what I thought. I propose that our mind has as much or more control over the bullet than our barrel does.
10. Never Give Up
Quitting is something you do in the mind. Don't do it. Keep going. That buck, that tom, that ram, might be just over the next ridge. It probably IS. As smart as that big gobbler is - he will eventually make a mistake - and you can get him. I just saw a piece of an elk hunting video where a guide was bugling in a bull for an archer and just as the bull was coming in to the kill zone it somehow spooked and bolted. But the guide immediately bleated out a cow call and froze the bull in his tracks, just long enough to get arrowed. Yeah, that's what I'm talking about!!! If your gun jams, quick! - clear the jam. Try calling louder. If you missed, reload! Change tactics, change location, go farther. Adapt, adjust. Climb higher; go deeper into that canyon. If someone else has beaten you to your spot - maybe it's time to try the spot next door. You can hunt harder, farther, and smarter - and come back with game, anyway. "You won't get one if you don't go out." Hunting season isn't over until the end of the last minute of the last day.