Be ready for the shot.
As sunset drew near, nine does and fawns emerged and slowly worked their way to within 20 yards of my stand. An old, mature doe was wary of my silent silhouette 25 feet up the tree. Then, as I sat motionless, I watched the group of deer turn their faces toward something behind me.
Cautiously moving my head, I spotted a long-pointed shooter 75 yards back to my left. I knew I was in a challenging dilemma, because the old doe wouldn't take her eyes off me. Formulating a game plan, I decided to wait until the buck gave me a close, broadside shot.
When the opportunity came, I slowly began to raise my bow, only to see the old doe bolt and dash away. The remaining deer kept their positions, however, apparently thinking the doe was fleeing the big buck. Completing my draw and releasing the arrow with a 25-yard shot, I claimed the 165-class 9-pointer, whose impressive rack sported three tines of 13 inches.
During a hunt, many things can create unwanted pressure or distractions. Worrying about getting the shot, anticipating the possibility of shooting a prized trophy or being overly focused on the antlers can create diversions that make you lose your concentration. When anxiety increases, mental focus declines and performance suffers.
Needless worry is the greatest hindrance in making an effective shot. I refer to it as "needless" worry because it's nearly always a concern about something you can't change. Will agonizing about which path the deer will take or how quickly you might have to shoot change the situation?
The trick to being successful is to remain calm and attentive to the task in front of you. Then, as the opportunity arises, draw your bow and shoot with good form. Everyone gets sidetracked, but good archers quickly refocus and unite the bond between their mind and body. If you give mental interruptions more importance than your performance, they'll hinder the shot process.
Actually, distractions and pressure are what make hunting exciting. They aren't true problems unless you let them override your performance. In order to be an effective hunter, you have to control your emotions and thought processes. To shoot well, you can't let yourself become angry, unhappy, anxious, discouraged or even overly excited. Your thinking has to be directed at making the best shot you're capable of performing.
How can we get better at this? The next time you encounter an upsetting situation in an activity other than hunting, force yourself to control your emotions. Try to remain calm and go back to what you were doing before the interruption occurred.
On one occasion, a female archery student of mine had to give a speech in front of a sizable crowd. She was nervous about it. However, she ran through the mental program she uses for archery and quickly regained her composure. This athlete had relied on mental control in her game so often that she turned to it when another difficult situation confronted her. Practicing mental control in your daily living will enhance your hunting performance--and even more importantly, it will help you face other challenging circumstances in life.
To perform well, we must be able to confront pressure situations with aggressive confidence. As an archer, you must believe in your ability to execute the perfect shot.
This self-assurance is largely the product of quality practice. Raise the value of every single practice shot and the concentration level needed to execute it. In training, do everything you can, both physically and mentally, to simulate a hunting shot. As your skills become refined and groups grow tighter, your confidence will increase. Place your trust where it belongs: in your ability to execute a shot with perfect form.
During practice, vary your shot rhythm. Consider the common scenarios you might face while hunting. Act as if you have only a brief window of time in which to release your arrow. Rehearse the moment when you have to remain at full draw for a minute or two before executing your shot. Mentally picture a deer stopping behind a tree and finally walking out into your shooting lane. This type of practice will give you confidence to handle the pressure situations that occur in the deer woods.
When the day of your hunt comes and you settle into your blind, mentally begin rehearsing where you plan on taking your shot. Picture yourself executing strong, effective form. Then as the anticipated deer emerges, focus on your shot process. What the mind pictures, the body will do.
(Editor's note: Terry Wunderle's new book, Archery: Think and Shoot Like a Champion, is now available at wunderlearchery.com.)