Category Archives: Zen Hunting

Secret Bowhunting Tip #6: Put in the Time

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Secret Bowhunting Tip: Putting in the Time

Bowhunting in August sometimes feels like doing time. Spending sixteen hours straight in the woods can be incredibly boring, hot, and seemingly futile. Because deer are most active in the morning and evening, most hunters return to camp for lunch and a nap during the day, and then head back to the field in the afternoon. But hunters beware: your odds of bagging a big buck at midday might be low, but your odds of bagging a buck at camp are zero. But if you learn a little bit about mule deer daytime habits, you can increase your odds of success.

In low hunter pressure areas, bucks bed down for the day around 9:00 a.m.

Between 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. deer get up for short time to stretch, grab a quick bite, and maybe change beds to avoid the sun. They unbed again between 3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. to use the restroom and then bed down until evening.

The reason we can count on these times is simple: Mule deer are browser-feeders and their digestive systems run like clockwork. Since a buck is most vulnerable when he rises from bed, we can watch for them to move during the slower midday hours.

When the hunters roll into high-pressure areas–like most of Utah’s public lands–deer change their behavior quickly. The worst place I know of is Monte Cristo. I hunted this area for several years and never saw a big buck up and feeding during the day. Eating may be the primary drive for deer, but sheer survival is more important than eating.

When their lives are on the line, deer will bed before daylight and remain bedded all day until the sun goes down. They simply adapt to a nocturnal lifestyle. When hunting nocturnal bucks, don’t get discouraged. They still exist somewhere; you just have to find them.

When the hunting pressure is on, bucks leave the upper ridges where you might see them living all summer, and move to steep secondary ridges where there’s more protective cover. Look for the steepest and thickest terrain possible. Sometimes they move to the heavily wooded north-face side dark timber where the elk live.

Learning a little about deer’s diet will help you pin-point a good secondary area. In Utah, the deer’s primary food source is bitterbrush, cliffrose, and sage brush. It is imperative that you learn you identify these sources. Try to locate secondary hideouts areas and a quality food source, and then be there before first light. Deer that aren’t feeding midday still have to eat at night, but they won’t travel far from their hideout to do so.

When hunting secondary ridges, start by still-hunting the steepest and thickest terrain you can find. Move very slowly and glass every ten steps or so. There’s nothing harder than hunting bedded bucks, but remember you have all day!

It’s also good to locate a nearby water source. Deer don’t require daily water because they get most of their moisture from the plants they eat. But they still need to water every few days, and even more frequently in hot, arid areas. Any small seep or spring will do. One way to locate water is too look for willows. Willows are easy to spot because of their tall, reddish stems. As an aside, deer also eat the willows.

In my time, I’ve see some real monster bucks up and feeding during mid-day. Whenever possible, spend the entire day in the woods and it will eventually pay off. Hunt smarter, not harder. By putting in the time, you will increase your chances of success.

Secret Tip #1: Weight is Everything

Secret Tip #2: Success is a Decision

Secret Tip #3: Be Patient

Secret Tip #4: Hunt Alone

Secret Tip #5: Enlarge Your Consciousness

Secret Tip #6: Put in the Time

Secret Bowhunting Tip #5: Enlarge Your Consciousness


arrowheadEnlarge your consciousness. If your consciousness is small, you will experience smallness in every department of your life.
  –Robert Pante

Secret Bowhunting Tip: Enlarge Your Consciousness

I always wanted to find an arrowhead. I felt a great romanticism in stumbling across an ancient bowhunting artifact that paralleled my own plight as a modern hunter. Well, in 2013 it finally happened. On opening morning I headed out across a steep ridgeline on my annual quest for deer. I laid my bow on the ground and pulled up my binoculars to view the new surroundings. When I reached down to pick my bow up, I noticed a small, shiny, black object lying right next to my bow. My heart leapt! For a second I imagined an ancient hunter following his instincts—just as I had that morning—and walking the same path that I was on. It was a wonderful, serendipitous moment.

Big bucks are like arrowheads. What I mean is, you might hunt for years and years without seeing a truly giant buck. But given enough experience, inevitably you’ll stumble across one. Still yet, it may take several more years before you actually bag one. But if you persist in strengthening your skills and keeping an open mind, one day you’ll wrap your hands around some trophy antlers. Eventually, it won’t feel impossible, but inevitable. It’s all about enlarging your vision of success.

Two weeks after finding my first arrowhead, I found a second one. I’d moved to an entirely new section of the unit, and after setting up camp I hiked to a nearby stream for some water. Just before I got there, my eyes locked onto another black, shiny object. This arrowhead was even bigger and more perfect than the first one. I’m not sure that it was entirely coincidence.

Bigger bucks are just like bigger arrowheads. It might take many years to finally bag a big buck, but once you do, they’ll come easier. That was the case in 2013 when I found two arrowheads AND bagged the biggest buck of my life, dubbed Superbuck. The story I wrote for that deer was based entirely on building bigger success off of previous success.

Entrepreneurs frequently tell a similar story: It took years and years to earn their first million dollars, but a very short time and a lot less effort to earn their second million. As it turns out, success has more to do with our state of mind than anything else.

So, what does it mean, “To enlarge your consciousness?” When I first read this quote, I asked myself the same thing. Was I infinitely UN-successful in my finances, relationships, hunting, etc, because my vision of life was too small? Was I limited by my own physical brain or the evolutionary chain to have a small consciousness? Was I limited by my upbringing or my peer’s influence to have low success? Yes, I think so. But I wasn’t about to let it stop me from having success in bowhunting. What I needed to do was enlarge my consciousness beyond the old style of hunting that I’d grown up learning. So I struggled, studied, and fought against mediocrity, and after years of doing my own thing, I was finally a hunter reborn.

When I set my annual goal to harvest a trophy deer, I envision a real monster buck with huge mass and a wide, sweeping set of antlers. I am conscious of the fact that there are at least one of these stud-bucks in every general unit in the state; I just have to find it. I can set this goal because I know I will consciously and subconsciously do things differently than other hunters who just ‘hope’ for a nice four-point. I am also conscious of the near impossibility of the goal, but instead of getting discouraged, I just try harder.

I always wanted to find an arrowhead, and I found two. I’ve always wanted a 200” trophy mule deer buck, and now I have two. I’ve always wanted to ‘enlarge my consciousness,’ and now I have too.

Click here for the next tip, Secret Tip #6: Put in the Time

Secret Bowhunting Tip #4: Hunt Alone

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Secret Bowhunting Tip #4: Hunt Alone

As a young deer hunter I frequently hunted with a buddy, whether it was out of fear of being alone or just to have some company. But in almost every case we both failed to get a deer. So I quickly learned to hunt alone.

The main reason why you shouldn’t hunt with a partner is because it doubles your scent, noise, and visibility to the deer. And since a partner will probably be chatting about something, it actually triples the noise you’d normally make.

An even more important reason to hunt alone is because another person is prone to compromise the crucial decisions you’d normally make while relying on your instincts. Often times, for no particular logical reason, I am compelled to go left instead of right. But my hunting partner is simultaneously compelled to go right! And when I feel I should travel uphill, he thinks we should go down. So instead of making a simple, subconscious decision to move left, you stand in the woods arguing your case. Eventually you compromise and go straight instead. The problem is, by compromising—by splitting the decisions equally—you shoot each other in the foot. Your God-given instincts are rendered useless. You cease to be a predator and suddenly become a lemming. That drives me nuts! That’s the main real reason I hunt alone. Other than elk hunting where you might need a caller, I can’t think of a single situation where it would be beneficial to have someone hunting with me.

This of course doesn’t apply to teaching children and first-time hunters. Each year I participate in other people’s hunt, whether it’s my son, my wife, a friend, or a family member. It’s important for me to pass along some of the wisdom and woodcraft I’ve earned after two-and-a-half decades of deer hunting. But these are special cases, and I’m usually not the one hunting anyway.

I still occasionally break my own rule. Sometimes just for fun, or out of pity, I’ll let someone tag along with me on my personal bowhunt. The fact is, some people just haven’t learned to hunt alone, or maybe I’m bringing someone to a new area and want to show them around. What I’ve noticed with most “buddy-hunters” is that they’re usually stubborn know-it-alls. The reason they don’t hunt alone is because they haven’t learned that they should! These people follow me around all day, and sometimes they even heed my advice. But for the most part they go right back to doing their own thing—what they’ve always done—thinking it’ll work out, but rarely having success. When I hunt with these people, I have little or no expectation of success for either of us. Sometimes I don’t even take my bow out of the sling.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in life is that you can’t help people who aren’t willing to help themselves. You can lead them to the best areas, but they’re gonna make the same mistakes they always made: underestimating deer, making too much noise, moving with the wind instead of against it, over-packing, resting when they should be moving or moving when they should be sitting. In the end, it’s not so bad because I actually learn more from unsuccessful hunters than successful ones.

When hunting alone, safety is my only concern. Some areas—such as the High Uinta Mountains—are just too big and rugged to venture into alone. One false step and no one will ever find your body. But that doesn’t mean I’m required to hunt with someone; I’m really just hiking and camping with them. In the morning when the hunt begins, I’m going out  on my own. In dangerous areas it’s good to have someone else in the general area—just not right next to you.

In two decades of bowhunting, I haven’t arrowed a single animal with someone standing next to me. Bowhunting is not a team sport. If you have a regular hunting partner, that’s great. Just make sure you set out in opposite directions before your hunt begins.

Click here for the next tip, Secret Bowhunting Tip #5: Enlarge Your Consciousness

Secret Bowhunting Tip #3: Be Patient

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Secret Bowhunting Tip #3: Be Patient

Never underestimate a buck! If you hunt long enough, this will ring loudly in your head.

To be kind, let’s call him Joe. A few years ago I went elk hunting with Joe. After a long, fruitless, half-day hunt, we finally spotted a herd of cow elk bedded on a steep hillside. Since I was really holding out for a bull, I let Joe lead the charge on the unsuspecting elk. What transpired was sad and kinda ridiculous. I crouched behind Joe as he steadily climbed through the thick scrub oak towards the bedded elk. There were probably 20-30 animals total, but we could only see bits and pieces of a few. As we got closer, a bedded cow came into full view and was looking right at us. At more than 90 yards, I pleaded with my Joe to slow down and wait for one to feed into view. But he persisted forward. Joe was somehow convinced that he was invisible to the cow because he was wearing camouflage. At about 40 yards, the bedded cow leapt from its bed and blasted away, taking the whole herd with it. Surprise, surprise.

Had Joe been just a little patient, I’m certain he would have gotten a shot. The wind was perfect in our faces. The cows couldn’t see us crouched in the brush, and some of the elk were feeding randomly around us. Because of the snow and steep terrain, they felt safe and weren’t going anywhere.Even if it had taken three or four hours, inevitably one of the cows would have wandered close enough for an easy shot. Instead, we went home empty-handed.

In 2012 I was hunting the extended hunt for deer. On the second day I spotted a massive, tall-racked, mature 4×4 buck. He was a true giant. Unfortunately, I spotted him late in the morning as he was bedding down with a group of does. The ground was blanketed with crunchy snow and I knew it would be nearly impossible to stalk close. But I had to try. For the next seven hours I worked carefully into the area. As I got closer I literally had to break the frozen ground with my hand before placing my foot down. It was the most arduous stalk I’ve ever been on. Finally I knew I was close, but the thick oak brush made it impossible to see anything. So I just sat and waited.

Right around 4 pm I heard the crunching of hooves in the snow. By some miracle, the group of deer were up and feeding in my direction. Long story short, the buck appeared briefly in the only window I had. I misjudged the distance and sent my arrow sailing harmlessly over the giant buck’s back. Game over.

Although I failed with my shot, I succeeded in my stalk—a stalk that burned up then entire day. The failure still stings today, but not as bad as it would have if I’d simply rushed in and blew out the deer.

In bowhunting, the hunt only just begins when a deer is spotted. Having patience and getting close is the real challenge. But if you are patient, there is almost no buck you can’t get close to. Since hunters are really predators, we can learn from studying other predators. Have you ever watched a lion stalk a gazelle on TV? Have you noticed how carefully, calculated, and slowly it’s done? Wild predators have innate and instinctual patience. Otherwise they starve.

Next time you’re on a stalk, remember the lion in the grass. He might not be successful every time, but he never gives up and he moves with eternal patience. Be a predator; be patient. Let nature unfold at its own pace.

Click here the next tip: Secret Bowhunting Tip #4: Hunt Alone

Secret Bowhunting Tip #2: Success is a Decision

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Secret Bowhunting Tip #2: Success is a Decision

It took half a lifetime to finally understand that success in bowhunting is a decision. Failure comes not from luck, but from failure to commit to the goal. The decision to succeed is not made a week or two before the hunt, but the very second the last season ends.

In sharing this insight with other bowhunters, I’m usually met with some skepticism or hesitated response. They want to agree with the premise, but don’t really understand it. So here’s what I mean:

When I make the decision to succeed—to arrow a great buck—I set a goal for the entire year. And it’s not just any goal, but the most difficult goal to reach. It’s so difficult because there are just too many variables in bowhunting, and no guarantees. What if I simply can’t find a buck this season?

By setting such a lofty goal, one’s mind begins making immediate preparations to accomplish it. This goal is broken down into planning, studying, shooting, equipment preparations, mind-set, and a myriad of other sub-goals.

Keeping this goal in the forefront of my mind, I find myself making daily decisions to achieve it. One example is to block out my intended hunting dates on the calendar. No matter what opportunity or “responsibility” arises, I adamantly refuse to alter my schedule. This year alone I’ve turned down two potentially profitable jobs because they would interfere with my hunt dates. Admittedly this can be very difficult for some people. Most jobs will allow one week off work, or two if you’re lucky. The sad fact is, if you let your all-important job interfere with your hunting schedule, then you CANNOT set the goal in the first place. The decision isn’t yours to make, thus you must prepare for failure.

Making such a big goal sets a precedence upon which failure is not an option. If you are truly committed, subconsciously you will make mental and spiritual goals which you aren’t even aware of; goals which will seemingly magically bring you and your quarry together into a single space and time.

As prepared as I might be, successful bowhunting still feels overwhelming to me at times. I believe that bowhunting is the hardest thing a person can do successfully and consistently. I also know that there are greater forces at work than I can ever understand which will increase my odds. Call it the power of positive thinking. Call it Zen.

There is nothing more magical than the breaking dawn of a season opener. And there is nothing more deflating than last light of an unsuccessful season closer. I have no intention of ever experiencing a failed season again. I’ve made the decision!

Click here for my Secret Bowhunting Tip #3: Be Patient

Secret Bowhunting Tip #1: Weight is Everything

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Bowhunting Tip: Weight is Everything

Be prepared. – Boy Scout Motto

Be prepared, not OVER-prepared. – My Motto

In this article I’m going to address weight issues. I’m not talking about body fat; if that’s an issue then it’s a personal problem. No, today I’m talking about unnecessary items we carry into the field, and which are most likely hampering our success.

Utah offers a great opportunity for bowhunters who still have unused archery tags at the end of the general season. It’s called the Wasatch Extended Archery Hunt. The “extended hunt” runs from the middle of September clear through the middle of December, and encompassing the entire Wasatch Front, and even the entire deer rut. I usually see more giant bucks during the extended hunt than the whole general season and scouting trips combined. The biggest downside to the extended hunt—particularly in November and December—is the steepness of the terrain coupled with deep snow and cold weather.

In late November, 2012, I hunted the extended hunt for a few days alone. There’s always a little apprehension when venturing into those steep and freezing mountains alone. No one knows ever knows exactly where I’ll end up, including myself. To feel safer that year, I brought tons of extra gear including extra clothing, food, water, hand warmers, boots, and even some reading materials for when I got bored. In other words I over-packed, and that was a big mistake. Instead of taking three hours to drag my sled up to camp, it took five and I didn’t get to bed until 1:00 am. For the duration of the trip, my legs cramped, I blew through my water, ate more food, and had to rest more frequently. Although it was warmer than previous years, I was more tired and miserable. Miraculously I arrowed a nice buck two days later, but with so much new weight, I had to leave half my gear on the mountain and return the next day to retrieve it. Not fun!

In 2013 I returned to the same spot alone, only this time I brought my brain. Before the trip I went over the list of junk I hauled up the mountain last year and then crossed out almost half of it. Most of that ‘extra stuff’ served only to make me feel safer and had no real use for hunting. Some of the items included extra food, extra water (I could just filter water as I went and /or eat snow), extra boots, a pillow, books, propane, extra knives, hand warmers, utensils, batteries, archery tools, a handgun, extra flashlights, lighters, etc. I also noticed that my big, leather hunting belt weighed twice as much as my skinny “church belt,” so I wore that one instead.  I even cut the tags off my clothes and the handle off my toothbrush. All in all, I probably removed 30% of my pack weight, and man did it pay off. I got up the mountain in record time, ate less, and covered more ground than ever before. You’d be surprised at how difficult it is to be quiet while carrying a heavy day pack. In the end, I didn’t miss any of the junk I left home. Well, at first I did miss my handgun once I learned there was an active cougar den with kittens only 300 yards of my tent!

For most people, it’s hard to believe that such small items matter that much. But in truth, these items have a compounding effect. You never know which erroneous item will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Weight is especially  a negative factor when hunting in snow. More than anything else, a pair of heavy boots will fatigue you in the snow. For years I had two boot options for various weather conditions. One pair is a heavy, high-top, insulated cold-weather boot, and the other is a lightweight, breathable, un-insulated stalker-style boot. In 20I3 I stopped using the heavy boots altogether. What I found was the heavy boots always got too hot, primarily because of the amount of steep terrain I was covering. They were also noisy and very heavy compared to my stalker boots. Now, the stalker boots weighed only half as much (similar to tennis shoes),  but there were two minor drawbacks. First, my feet always got cold when I wasn’t moving, and second, they had minimal traction-tread. To counteract the cold, I simply wore two layers of wool socks. As for traction, I simply used a pair of lightweight ice cleats which worked wonders in the snow.

The next time you return from a grueling backcountry bowhunt, empty everything in your backpack onto the living room floor, and then make a list of everything you didn’t use. Is there still a tag on your tent? Why did you pack it into the woods? Were you going to eat it? Is there half a tube of toothpaste left in your toiletries pocket? Why did you pack extra paste?

Weight is everything; that’s what I learned in 2013. And surprise, surprise, fear is your worst enemy. Fear is why we over-pack. The more afraid we are of the mountain, the more extra stuff we cram in our packs; you know, just in case… And then there’s the great gear paradox:  the more we fear failure, the more hunting gear we carry around in our daypacks. Bowhunters, heed my plead:  You are the predator, not the crap on your back. You are too be feared, not the mountain. All that extra weight is an anchor keeping you from your goal. Pack light. Don’t be your own worst enemy. Be prepared, not over-prepared.

Click here for my Secret Bowhunting Tip #2: Success is a Decision

Part 4: The Good Fight

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The Good Fight

“Keep up the good fight.”

How many times have you heard that? “Keep up the good fight!” What the heck does it mean?

In my last post, I wrote about adversity and how each year, right before the bowhunt, the metaphoric ‘steely claws’ tighten their grip, making life downright miserable. As this disrupts my focus on the hunt—the one thing I fight for all year long—then I have no choice but to fight back. So today, I’m addressing the good fight.

My research tells me that ‘the good fight’ is a reference to the biblical figure, Paul, who said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7) Though once a Christian reference, the good fight now refers to anyone who fights for what they believe in.

For me, the good fight is the fight against evil or any unfair person or entity. It’s the fight against selfishness and those who unfairly take advantage of others. It’s the fight against governmental intrusion into our personal lives, over-taxation, ignorance, and general stupidity. I fight against anyone who tries to steal or destroy my feedom, property, or peace of mind. Sometimes I simply fight weeds in my garden or insects in my house. I fight daily for my tiny little space on this planet.

Now, let’s get back to the Christian reference. In Christianity there’s a whole lot of gospel about forgiveness, turning the other cheek, and basically maintaining the peace. I like that…but it doesn’t apply here. After all, Paul was a fighter. He fought the good fight (whatever that was), and ever since, Christians have been fighting against something, whether it was persecution, evil, or for our country’s freedom. Occasionally throughout history, Christians even went looking for a fight, as was the case with the Crusades and the Thirty Years’ War. The point is, good people always have and always will fight for what they believe in. That’s the good fight!

Years ago I was on a bowhunt and minding my own business. I returned to my truck one night and found that someone had cut up my back tires with a knife. Long story short, I was lucky to get off the mountain. For a long while, I was filled with pure hatred and ready to fight. But with no known assailant or motive, I wasn’t allowed to fight, nor was allowed to forgive. Thus, the fight stuck with me for a long time.

As with any marriage, my wife and I occasionally have a good ol’ fashioned brawl. We’re both somewhat bull-headed and prone to skirmishes. But later, after we’ve made up,  she tells me how she hates fighting. And in a jovial way, I tell her that I love fighting! Fighting is how you resolve problems and address relationship-corroding issues. Like it or not, fighting is progress. After a good fight we usually feel better. It’s just a matter of perspective, I guess.

In the recent past, I had two conversations about the good fight with two different people with whom I’m close to. They are both good people, but had exact opposite opinions. The first person said something along the lines of, “You shouldn’t fight! It’s a waste of energy. Instead, lie low and stay out off the radar. That’s what you need to do to protect yourself and your family.”

At first this made a little sense. But after further contemplation, I realized I’d never heard anything more selfish and stupid. His argument admits there will always be evil, but we shouldn’t do anything to stop it. What a pile of crap! In his defense, he was trying to convince me not to be a martyr; not to waste my energy fighting “the system,” a battle which I can never win. But I still disagree.

The second person I talked to is a fighter. He believes you should always fight. He actively fights against liberalism, stupidity, government intrusion, over-taxation, corruption, and any other kind of evil on a daily basis. He’s a family man, a devout father, and a Christian. He’s humble and kind and one of the few great people I know.

I say fight the good fight! Fight evil where you can. Avenge the evil done unto the innocent. Hunt the hunters. Any person or entity that exacts purposeful harm onto another person should be fought.

By absorbing all the pain caused by unchecked aggression, you invite despair, depression, and madness into your life. When I was a kid, my dad said, “If anyone bully’s you at school, I want you to punch them square in the nose as hard as you can. Don’t worry about getting in trouble; I’ll back you up.” Now, my dad was a very peaceful person, but he knew that by allowing myself to be bullied would set my life up for failure.

Kids these days are encouraged NEVER to fight back. When my son was very young, I told him to fight back against bully who hurt him. Much to my chagrin, he refused adamantly, pleading that it was ‘against the rules.’ This pacifism attitude is very unhealthy in the long run, as well as completely un-natural. Without the fight, some kids eventually absorb so much mental torture that they crack, and one day they bring a gun to school and kill a bunch of innocent people. And every time this happens, society divides the blame into  three categories: 1) blame the gun, 2) blame the bully, and 3) blame mental illness. The truth is: BLAME SOCIETY for teaching the kids NEVER to fight.

In conclusion, life can turn on you in a second. There is too much evil and too many controlling mechanisms all collaborating against you. Happiness is fleeting and no one is immune to calamity. By ignoring the good fight—by allowing blatant evil to thrive—you indirectly hurt the innocent. It reminds me of a quote by Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Evil thrives in a pacific society that teaches kids never to fight. Fighting back is healthy and natural. If you never fight, you’ll eventually lose your freedom, and then your mind.

Fight the good fight!

Click below to read the three previous articles:

Part 1:  Overcoming Adversity

Part 2: The Steely Claws

Part 3: Constants, Controls, and Variables

Part 3: Constants, Controls, and Variables

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Controls, Constants, and Variables in Life

So, this is a good year; my worst was 2008. I won’t get into the specifics, but rather what I learned as a result of determined contemplation of what adversity means:

Life is made up of three controlling mechanisms. They are as follows:

    1. Constants: Things you cannot change: i.e. genetics, age, physiology, general appearance, I.Q., gender, etc.
    2. Controls: Circumstances or occurrences that are out of your control: i.e. accidents, illness, other people, the economy, death, etc.
    3. Variables: Things which you have control over: i.e. attitude, lifestyle, relationships, career, extracurricular activities, etc.

These three mechanisms of control dictate our daily struggle, mind-set, attitude, and ultimately our success. We can control some things, and are controlled by others. But what I want to focus on today is the greatest enemy of peace, which is Controls. Controls is the great fear and the great unknown. It can change your life in a second and you never see it coming. It is the finger of God. It is fate.

 Some may argue that our attitude can eliminate the effects of controls, or that our happiness is purely dictated by our negative reaction to stressful events. This is the case when, say, your car breaks down or you catch a cold. But if your son gets flattened by a garbage truck or your house burns down, well, positive thinking won’t help much, at least not in the short run. You are no longer in control, but being controlled.

So what can you do to avoid controls?

Nothing. You don’t have to like it; flee from it if you can. We are justified in fearing Controls. You can never control the Controller. But when crap happens, fight it if you can, embrace it if you can’t. Turn tragedy into action, not reaction, and you’ll get through it, eventually, and  be stronger for it.

You will always have controls. This is how we learn and grow; this is the purpose of life. There is no pleasure without pain. The knife is honed by friction.

Click here for Part 4: The Good Fight

Part 2: The Steely Claws

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Overcoming Adversity: The Steely Claws of Responsibility

In my book, Zen Hunting, I address two important life concepts which arerelated. The first is what I talked about in my last blog (Adverse Conditions), and the second is “the steely claws of responsibility.”

The steely claws of responsibility represent the controlling aspects of daily life which causes stress and affects our mood in adverse ways. These metaphoric ‘claws’ grasp hold of us when we least expect it and keep us from our goals or happiness. Examples might be a car crash, a serious illness, family emergencies, financial struggles, etc.

How do the steely claws relate to bowhunting? Allow me to get personal:

This year was going quite well in almost every way, and until recently I thought I’d be going into the bowhunt next month with a stress-free mind and a positive attitude. But, in just the last week or two, I have endured surprise attacks from every direction: financial woes, family problems, work problems, and car problems. As the stress and negativity mounted, I was suddenly hit with déjà vu. This sort of thing seems to happen every year at almost the same time, and in similar ways, and as far back as 1997 when my now ex-wife ran off with another man from her work. That year I went into the woods feeling like I was going to throw up on my boots. The fact is I can’t remember the last time I entered the peaceful woods without some huge, black cloud looming over me.

This is just how life works. You see, when I go into the woods this year, I’m going to shoot an innocent and beautiful animal to death in cold blood with a razor-tipped arrow, and maybe watch it die right in front of me. Do you think that sort of action is free? Do you think the God of  Nature would allow this without some sort of sacrifice? Every culture in the world previous to ours knew this. But somehow we forgot.

Nowadays, a failed hunt results in a little disappointment, and maybe a razzing from fellow hunters. In ancient times, a failed hunt meant starvation. Do you think those ancient peoples—for tens of thousands of years—didn’t experience some level of stress prior to and during the great hunt?

And so I embrace it. The long-term effects of stress can be very harmful, but the short-term effects are good. Stress raises my heart rate, focuses my mind, and separates the trivial from the important. The regular seepage of adrenaline into my blood gives me an energy boost on an otherwise hot and lazy day. My patience is thinner, but my decisions are quicker and clearer.

As dreadful as they are, ‘the steely claws of responsibility’ exist to help me succeed in hunting and life.

Click here for Part 3: Controls, Constants, and Variables

Part 1: Overcoming Adversity

Part 1 of a 4 part series on life, hunting, and overcoming adversity.

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Adverse Conditions = Success

In teaching advanced archery, one of my lessons revolves around ‘adverse conditions.’ What I mean by adverse conditions is that when you’re shooting arrows in your backyard, you are generally shooting at a large target, on a flat surface, at a known yardage, and in fair weather.

But the inexperienced bowhunter quickly figures out that in the mountains, everything changes. Now you are shooting kneeling down on a steep hill, through some brush and limbs, at an unknown distance, with a fly buzzing around your eye, and aiming into the sun. No wonder so many bowhunters have such poor success! In the real world, whether fighting the mountain or fighting the rat race of life, we are constantly battling adverse—or at least unpleasant—conditions. We must learn to welcome adversity and use it to our advantage.

The secret to successful shooting, then, is to practice in adverse conditions. Place as many mental and physical obstacles between you and the target. Have your shooting partner yell or poke you right before you shoot. Shoot at unknown distances. Shoot with a strong crosswind. Shoot through heavy cover or around obstacles. Do whatever you can do to make practice harder and it will pay off in the woods.

From years of real-life hunting experience, I’ve learned that the biggest obstacle is yourself. Even if you shoot 10,000 arrows in the preseason, you’re never really ready for that buck-of-a-lifetime to step out in front of you. And when it happens, I guarantee you’ll come unglued! My brother, Russell, relates a story of this happening to him many years ago when he was still new to bowhunting. A small, two-point buck stepped out right in front of him at only fifteen yards. Sure enough, the instant pressure caused him to send his arrow plowing into the dirt at the buck’s feet!

So how do you prepare for that kind of pressure? The following are some of the best ways I’ve found to create high-pressure practice:

  1. Don’t shoot square targets; shoot realistic 3D targets. If you don’t have a 3D target, you can always dangle small balloons from a string in front of your target. You’ll be surprised at how difficult it is to hit them as they dance around in the breeze. Not only will this prepare your mind for realistic situations, but it’s a lot more fun.
  2. Compete! At least once or twice a year, sign up for a 3D tournament, even if you aren’t that good. Competitions–especially ones with lots of money on the line–always raise adrenaline levels. If you aren’t up for a formal competition, you can create competitions by practicing with a couple friends. Put a couple bucks on the line and watch the competition soar.
  3. Sprint to and from your target to get your heart rate up, shoot quickly, and repeat. I admit, it’s not a fun way to practice, but it helps.

Remember, overcoming adversity is how we grow stronger in life and bowhunting. Anticipate it–even welcome it–and you’ll be better for it.

Click here for Part 2:  The Steely Claws