By Todd Amenrud
|When a trophy buck is closing the distance, you’re heart is beating out of your chest and you’re shaking from excitement… can you make the play? Most all hunters get excited, that’s why we hunt! But controlling those emotions when the moment of truth arrives is what puts notches on your bow, antlers on the wall and venison in the freezer.
OK, here he comes…he’s got a set of antlers so big it looks like a "rocking chair" on his head. Your left leg is shaking; your heart is pounding so hard you wonder if he can hear it. You have to avoid actually looking at his antlers because that just makes it worse. The buck of your dreams is closing the distance fast, how are you going to act? Can you "close the deal?"
Especially for a trophy hunter, the mental part, of the "total hunting skill," is the most difficult to master. The mental part being: how you handle stress, what you’re like in the presence of a trophy class animal or how you utilize your hunting time for the most productivity. Whatever the cerebral task might be, the great trophy hunters have a few things in common.
Before we go any further, let me bring up the fact that I think sometimes too much emphasis is put on huge bucks. Every person’s definition of a "trophy" might be different. But whatever level you’re on, the "mental game" is part of it. The main goal is to have fun!
I’ve seen people who are great hunters but every time they’re in the presence of a huge whitetail they loose it! They can hardly control their bodily functions. When the pressure is on they can’t make the big play – it’s a form of what many call "buck fever."
Back when I made my mind up to be more of a trophy hunter, the first few encounters I had with huge whitetail, left me shaky, heart pounding and unbelievably wound up. I must point out, however, that’s why I hunt whitetail with a bow. There is no drug known to man that can make me as "high" as I get in the presence of a huge buck. I hope I never loose that feeling. However, being able to control that excitement - while still being excited - is what puts notches on your bow, antlers on the wall and venison on the table.
I have a couple of friends who have their own deer herds. Two of them in particular have had huge bucks in their keep over the years. I consider myself very lucky because they would allow me to enter their enclosures where I would sit and watch these deer and be in their presence for hours. I really think that helped. During the next few encounters I had with big whitetails I wasn’t so "star struck," or intimidated, by having big deer near me.
||It is very important when you practice that you practice realistic situations. If you hunt from a treestand, practice from a treestand. If you hunt from the ground, practice while kneeling or sitting. If you hunt with a facemask or other clothing on, practice that way. It’s important to know how you and your equipment are going to react in different scenarios.
Sometimes you can see the evolution a bow hunter takes. First, they’re happy just to get close to any deer, then they start to get more selective, then they take only bucks, then it’s how many bucks in one year, then typically they reach trophy or nothing. I think there is actually a higher plateau to reach above a trophy hunter - a hunter, who is a trophy hunter, but also practices selective harvest and is concerned about implementing a sound management program for the betterment of the entire herd.
Something I have had to deal with as I have evolved as a hunter is, "what will I accept as a trophy?" For a long time I was so hung-up on whether a buck would make the Pope and Young record book or not, I let some huge deer go. Some of which I’m now sure would have made it. But, because it was a four-by-five, or he could have used a few more inches on his brow tines, he might not make it, so I’ll let him go. I’ve changed my tune! Now there are only two categories for me, (shooter or non-shooter). When I think of it now, I was stupid - sure wish I could have those opportunities back. What matters is that you have a good time. Set a goal and stick to it no matter what level you are on.
Confidence helps a great deal. Aside from your hunting skills, your shooting skills must be finely honed too. Our superior mental power has us in an area with big deer, we’ve let the little one walk by, the "shooter" is standing in front of you, now what? When the moment of truth arrives, I want to know I’m going to make the shot. I put up a treestand in my yard and set out several GlenDel Buck full-body deer targets - putting them in a variety of situations and angles and then practice-practice-practice. I shoot until it becomes second nature. I find the full bodied targets help me dearly when learning shot angles and which shots not to take. If you hunt from a treestand, practice from a treestand.
You also have to have confidence in your equipment. I just got a new Reflex Ridgeline. You can bet the bow was matched with the correct arrow shafts and was tuned to its optimum performance before I ever thought of carrying it in the woods. Having confidence in your equipment and your abilities leaves your mind clear to think about other things when the time comes.
Another thing you actually don’t have to be too brilliant to figure out: if you want to harvest big deer, you have to hunt where big deer are. It’s common sense. "There has to be a big buck, if I’m going to harvest a big buck." I know many great hunters who never kill big bucks because there simply aren’t many in the areas they hunt. A little leg work, research and scouting will be your best assets here.
Another huge step for most hunters is letting the little bucks go. First, because obviously if you harvest every little buck that walks by, that specific deer never grows old enough to sport a big rack. Second, if you harvest the first small buck that walks by, you’re not giving the big boys a chance to get to you. This detail alone is a huge mental step towards harvesting a trophy.
There are a lot of great hunters in our sport, but if you look at the consistently successful trophy hunters, there are definitely some factors present. They hunt where the big deer are, have great knowledge of the quarry they’re after, let the little ones walk by and stay cool in the presence of big animals. No matter what level you’re on, paying attention to the mental side is going to put you closer to a trophy.
Todd Amenrud is the Director of Public Relations, Territory Manager & Habitat Consultant for BioLogic.