March 31, 2021
As both a collegiate wrestler and world-class MMA fighter, Chad Mendes went up against some of the toughest opponents in the country and world. Off the mat and outside the octagon, however, he’s long enjoyed another nerve-wracking challenge — pursuing big-game with bow and arrow.
An avid outdoorsman, Mendes has been bowhunting since his early teens and today is well known in the archery world, working with some of the industry’s top brands including Rage’s Hypodermic NC +P and Lethal Field Spray. He’s also co-owner of Finz & Featherz, a guide service that puts together top-notch excursions where clients hunt and fish alongside professional athletes and celebrities.
We caught up with Mendes on his way to his latest Finz & Feathers adventure, one where he was personally guiding hunters in pursuit of California wild hogs. Here’s what he had to tell us about how he got into hunting and his passion for archery:
Petersen's Bowhunting: Chad, how did you get started in hunting? What drew you to the sport?
Chad Mendez: I started when I was 5 or 6 years old. My dad used to make me homemade bows and arrows; I’d come home from school, and in between school and wrestling practice I’d set up cans and just shoot cans with my bow and arrow. My dad’s the one who really got me into it. He started hunting later in life and my brothers and I would go with him. I grew up hunting the Sierras up above Fresno.
PB: How did you transition into bowhunting?
CM: That’s what I probably started with before anything else. Actually, my very first kill ever was with my bow. I think I was 13 years old and I killed my first blacktail buck; just a little forked spike…I tracked blood and found him with my dad and brothers; it ended up being a crazy story. We split up from my dad, because my dad thought he was going to hike back up and get the truck. He got lost and we got lost. We were dragging this buck, me and my two brothers, and ended up coming into somebody’s’ camp in the dark and they gave us a ride back to our camp.
PB: What’s your favorite species to pursue with a bow?
CM: I’m going to have to go with elk, screaming elk. A big, old slobbery bull coming in is pretty freaking exciting. A close second is rutting axis deer. Those are pretty damn fun, too. It’s an elk in deer size. They make all kinds of crazy noises, too.
PB: Is there anything you’ve taken away from your MMA career or training regimen that you apply to bowhunting?
CM: I get asked that a lot. I think discipline from being an athlete and training. I started wrestling when I was 5 years old. I wrestled every single year up through college, and after I graduated jumped right into the fight years. I did 29 years of competition straight and I think ‘discipline’ is the one word I use the most when people ask that question.
Obviously, being a wrestler, you have to stay disciplined on the training, you can’t slack off. When you do things, it has to be 100 percent effort; you can’t half-ass it. Putting that hamburger down when you got to make weight, even though you want to eat one more than anything in the world.
All of these types of discipline I think transferred over to the bowhunting world for me. There are so many times in a stalk where you start showing that itch and think, ‘I’d better hurry up; I’d better hurry up. He’s going to get out of here.’ And you have to have that patience, you have to have that discipline of knowing when to move fast and when to move slow, when to be quiet and when you can make a little bit of sound. Another part of it is obviously training with your weapon. A lot of guys will shoot a bow 5-6 times right before the season and then jump in there thinking they are going to make a perfect shot on the animal. I feel like it’s pretty disrespectful to be doing that. Having that discipline to train year-round with your bow is key, and when it comes down to that moment of truth, it’s definitely going to pay off.
PB: What’s your most memorable bowhunting experience and why?
CM: Obviously, that first bow kill was pretty memorable. I did kill a big Alberta mule deer buck in a cut canola field one year, and that was pretty cool because the canola field was pretty wide open. This thing was bedded down and I was able to sneak in on him in his bed, with like 3-4 other bucks (nearby). I made a perfect shot and got it all on film. It was my first drop-tine buck and it was a cool experience.
PB: When do you have more butterflies, when you are stepping into the ring for a big match or when you’re staring down that big bull elk or mule deer at mere yards?
CM: (chuckles) I’m going to have to say I probably get more worked up when I’m staring down the big buck or the big bull. I think training and going through an entire training camp of studying your opponent and knowing what you can and can’t do, their strengths and weaknesses, you can kind of plan to that and prepare for it a bit more.
Obviously, you have a lot of tendencies you need to try to understand when it comes to a certain animal, but there are so many parts of the bowhunting world that are completely out of your hands, whether it’s the wind, wind switching (direction), stepping on something you didn’t know was there or another animal you didn’t see that spots you. I think I get a little more on edge when I have that giant bull elk coming in or that big buck standing there feeding and I need to make that perfect shot.