Digging Deeper: Pre-Season Prep
By Gary Faith
Traditionally thinking, when it comes to pre-season prep a few things come to mind. Check stands and straps, trim shooting lanes, get trail cameras out, work on food plots, set out minerals, scout new spots, and the list goes on and on. At times, it may lead to paralysis by analysis with the idea of so many tasks. On the surface these are good things to get done, although my preseason list tends to dig a little deeper.
Each hunting season, I strive to be a better bow hunter than the season before. I want to hunt harder, more efficiently, and with more success in the field. With this mentality, my preseason prep begins right after the previous season has ended. The anticipation for the next fall drives me all year long. There are so many things that are beyond my control when it comes to chasing big game. My approach to preseason prep is to work towards improving those things that I can control. Improving these areas in the pre-season will make me a better hunter in the fall. When it comes to my own list of pre-season preparations, 6 items come to mind:
• Be an Archer First
• Get In Better Shape
• Make a Hunting Budget
• Get Home/Work Life Settled Away
• Practice Mental Toughness
• Reflect On Previous Seasons
1. Be an Archer First
If you are anything like me, when I know the shot is coming on an animal, my heart rate jumps instantly. I start to lose my breath, and I need to make a conscious effort to keep myself under control in order to make the moment count. This is where the time put in shooting in the off-season is going to count. It is good to be able to shoot out X’s at 20 yards over and over. That is a great place to start, but you need to challenge yourself as an archer. Go do a 3d shoot somewhere. Practice at longer distances than you would comfortably shoot at an animal. Shoot the in-between yardages and understand the hold offs on your pins. Practice shooting up and down hill, they have a tremendous effect on the flight of the arrow. Set up a ground blind and shoot from a sitting position, or even from your knees. Put on the broad heads you are going to hunt with, and shoot them, a lot. To invest the time and energy it takes to get a shot opportunity, and to squander it because of a lack of preparation would be a shame. Practicing with your bow in these real life hunting scenarios or pressure situations will help make it count when the time comes.
2. Get in Better Shape
Trying to get in better shape before the season comes is critical. The key word here is “trying”. Making an effort on a weekly basis is going to make a difference no matter what or how much you do. With an elk hunt in September to start my season, my main concern is to just not break anything important while out there. Hoping to prevent injury, I tend to work towards strengthening the connective tissues around the main joints such as my hips, knees, ankles, and back. Working on functional strength is more of the focus than anything. This conditioning carries over into the whitetail season very nicely. Being able to carry a hang and hunt set up miles back on public land allows for a chance at some incredible hunts. As the season wears on, it can be a war of attrition as much as anything and preparing my body for that strain is going to help. Coming into the hunting season having worked on my physical conditioning is going to make me a better hunter. Being able to hike longer, faster and farther is going to allow access to new areas, find new spots, and find more game.
3. Make a Hunting Budget
Hunting can be expensive, but being able to budget some money ahead of time is going to take a lot of the financial sting out of the fall. Being conscious of this in advance and setting some money aside for licenses, fuel, stands, etc. helps tremendously. Making a separate hunting fund that you put money in will make it easier to take the time off in the fall, and still be able to pay your bills at the end of the month.
Looking for deals on gear in the off-season can help save money overall also. Facebook buy/sell/trade groups and Craigslist can be a good place for finding quality used gear at a decent price. In many cases, the lower priced used gear is going to be a more realistic option, especially if you are just getting started. At the end of the day, it’s about spending time in the woods more than how you look while doing it.
4. Get Home/Work Life Settled Away
Talk to your significant other or loved ones about the upcoming hunting season to make sure they are on the same page. To give a friendly reminder of the upcoming season and being open to talk about hunting plans can reduce a lot of stress around the whole topic. On the same point, it is important to get work life in order. That could be talking to your boss about the upcoming time off, or scheduling projects with clients around the time you want off. It is important to not have any loose ends when wanting to take time off to hunt. Being out hunting and having half your focus on the things you should be doing at work or home instead is not going to help the overall goal. Getting your home and work life in order before getting into the woods will make the time spent out there that much more enjoyable and productive.
5. Practice Mental Toughness
This is a truly underrated part of hunting. Mental toughness is having the wear-with-all to force myself to accomplish tasks I otherwise would not want to. Being mentally tough plays a part in all of the topics that have been discussed to this point. Having the discipline to put in the time I need behind my bow. Having the drive to make my self-exercise months in advance for a hunt. Having the foresight to set money aside that I could otherwise use. Being able to talk to my loved ones and co-workers about the upcoming fall and my hunting plans. All of these topics require a degree of mental toughness.
Mental toughness can be applied to so many different areas of hunting and life. When it comes to chasing whitetails specifically, it can be applied in variety of ways. Being able to hold off on my best hunting spots until the weather conditions and time of year truly align takes mental toughness. Forcing my self to stay on stand later rather than going back to my truck can be an epic mental battle. Many times, the toughest battle is fought between my ears. Having the ability to be able to push through these challenges and obstacles along the way with a positive and strong mental attitude can make all the difference.
6. Reflect on Previous Seasons
Taking the time to reflect on the success and failures of previous seasons is the last category. I spend the vast majority of my time hunting on public land. Looking back on the season past, one of the first things that come to mind is all the hunting pressure that I encounter throughout the season. I think about the hunter pressure and how to improve my game plan as to where I should be spending time in stand. Doing this should increase the odds of a quality encounter. Most all of this reflection recon can be done online from home with digital maps.
There is a variety of resources to do this, but for us in Iowa, the Online Hunting Atlas at the Iowa DNR website is what I do most my E-scouting with. If you are not using this online resource you are missing out, whether you are hunting private or public. Spending this time recalling the pervious seasons may allow a chance to find a piece of information that could have otherwise been overlooked. I believe it is the time spent reflecting on seasons past that allows you to capitalize on opportunities when presented with a similar set of circumstances the next time around.
While this is not the end-all-be-all list of preseason preparations, it is a good start. Focusing on improving these facets inside of my hunting life before the season arrives is going to make me a better hunter. It seems like chasing big game is like most things in life; success is buried under hard work. I have found that the preparation and the anticipation of the upcoming hunting season have almost become as rewarding as hunting itself. Almost. Good Luck to everyone this fall and be safe.