January 05, 2024
It would seem that a singular focus on any lifelong goal would be ideal to be a master at that chosen desire. We have all read about those who have dedicated their lives to a singular purpose and have become known by society as the best of the best. However, if you are trying to be the best bowhunter you can be, is it best to completely immerse yourself in all things archery, or would it be more advantageous to diversify one’s approach?
It would seem counterintuitive to put archery or bowhunting on the back burner if you plan on being your best come fall of each year. However, I believe there are other routes that can be taken that will make you an even better bowhunter, and they involve outdoor activities, just of a different sort.
Advice from ‘The Great One
Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player of all time, was once quoted as saying, “I played everything. I played lacrosse, baseball, hockey, soccer and track and field. I was a big believer that you played hockey in the winter and when the season was over you hung up your skates and you played something else.”
This is the same individual who has achieved numbers within his profession that, years later, still appear insurmountable. Gretzky wasn’t putting away his athletic potential when he hung up the skates. He was diversifying his ability to perform in a multitude of ways, which, in turn, enriched his ability to think and react both physically and mentally when it came to his target sport.
I have always tried to spend as much time as I can in the woods. I don’t care if it is chasing squirrels with a .22 in the big woods of Northern Michigan in September, or if it is chopping through ice in freezing January temperatures while setting 330 body grip traps for beavers. The constant state of outdoor thinking keeps me sharp, and over the years I have learned that there are countless overlaps in all of these challenges. When Gretzky was trying to hit a curveball in July, he wasn’t hurting his talents when it came time to strap on the skates during hockey season. In fact, he was actually creating a more diversified set of skills and coordination that could overlap.
Where Trapping Comes In
One of the biggest challenges of bowhunting is the fact that there is a tremendous amount of failure and adversity to overcome. As bowhunters, we are signing up for a true test in resiliency when we try to get ultra-close to extremely adept survival artists. Even when we are successful at closing the distance, we have to pull off a shot in a truly mind-numbing moment.
In recent years, I have taken on trapping to keep me in the hunting frame of mind throughout the winter months, and I have noticed a variety of crossovers that have assisted me when it has come time to grab the bow in the fall.
The first aspect that I have noticed is my ability to remain comfortable being uncomfortable. Chopping through the ice at 10:30 p.m., under a headlamp in a minus-20-degree windchill, and working on a trap that can easily break an arm requires some mental fortitude. Numb hands and a frozen face, along with burning legs as a result of post-holing through deep snow, are now a common occurrence for me. As a result, sitting in a treestand during an early November cold front no longer has the bite it used to. Those days of working in frozen chest waders have helped to build up that “cold callous” for me. There is no doubt that many of the best bowhunters I know have a high degree of that toughness or grind factor that helps them endure when things get miserable.
Another big asset to trapping, which is 100 percent usable for bowhunting, is the tremendous amount of woodsmanship that comes with being an effective trapper. Every trapper I know has an unbelievable amount of knowledge of the woods. Not only is it necessary to be knowledgeable about the process of effective trapping, but it also entails hours and hours of outdoor experiences.
I, myself, have witnessed and learned about a multitude of animal behaviors while trapping. For one, I found some great locations to bowhunt near creeks, waterways and marshes while I pursued beaver, otter, muskrat and mink in the winter and spring. I have also learned to instinctively look for terrain features that are not only effective locations for traps but for treestands as well. The main focus of trapping is to locate an area in which a target animal resides and figure out the area with the highest probability of that animal traveling. Does that sound familiar? Funnels, creek channels, marshes, river bends, etc., are always great locations for any hunter/trapper to set up.
I know great bowhunters always look for these areas; however, the continued focus of this practice through the winter months in a slightly different manner can fine-tune this ability to find killer spots. I personally have noticed that I spend much more time looking at the ground no matter when I am outdoors. All animals leave tracks and signs of activity. Identifying the difference between a species, size and gender of an animal can be understood by looking at specific types of sign. Is this a feeding location? Is this a shelter or bedding location? Is this a high-traffic area for the target animal? Every outdoorsman can benefit from this knowledge.
As a side note, not only will trapping help you find locations to bowhunt in the fall, it may even lead to access to new hunting properties. I know many property owners who are dying to have somebody help them eliminate those eager beavers from blocking off their irrigation ditches, flooding their roads at camp or just plain destroying their poplar groves. Getting rid of those critters in a cost-effective, minimally invasive way may just be your ticket into that “promised land” farm. I personally have shot two of my best whitetails on a farm on which I pulled out a family group of extremely “efficient” beavers, saving the farmer another round of excavator rentals and filling my freezer at the same time. Having a unique set of skills can be a great door opener for future outdoor opportunities.
Successful trapping along with successful bowhunting also involves looking for an “edge.” Once an area is found, consider what else can be put into place to up the odds of success. Analyzing wind direction, observing weather patterns, strategic use of scents, practicing scent control, wearing camouflage, creating pinch points, etc., are all universally applicable details of many outdoor pursuits. Every squirrel occasionally finds a nut, however, the truly successful people that consistently get it done have a widely diversified playbook of tricks and tactics that help them. Just like the specifics of how and why you set a treestand up can be applied to the specifics of where and how you set a trigger on a foothold, attention to detail is the key. The minor details on how you tie a D-loop on your string are just as important as how you specifically wire up triggers on a body grip trap to eliminate the possibility of a faulty trigger. Being familiar with your gear and other tools and tactics is always a necessity. Using that mindset in other practices will definitely further success down the road.
The last and maybe most important beneficial aspect of diversifying pursuits in the off-season is the acceptance of failure and the fortitude that is developed along the way. I have spent hours upon hours in a treestand staring into the lifeless swamp, wondering why in the world I was subjecting myself to such mental torture. I have also spent hours upon hours walking across ice and through snowy swamps to only find that my trap was sprung with nothing in it, or to see it just the way I’d left it. With both disciplines, a healthy portion of humble pie comes as a package deal. If one can’t handle disappointment, then neither of these ventures is a good fit. It is the pursuit and anticipation that make it great.
It takes hours of treestand time, months of target practice or miles of walking with frozen fingers and toes to truly appreciate the success when it comes. Seeing that arrow fly perfectly into the vitals of a whitetail or seeing that fur in the trap is the culmination of many moments of trial and error. In the world of Instagram pictures and Facebook posts, it may seem like everyone out there is shooting giant bucks; however, this grossly misinterprets the number of people who are successful. It isn’t nearly as sexy to send a picture of a non-punched tag or a misfired trap. From the outside looking in, it all seems easy. In the end, though, nothing can replace the multitude of reps necessary to be successful when pursuing any animal.
Trapping is only one example of what can be done to better diversify any bowhunter’s lifestyle. I would have to say that my time in the winter and spring has without a doubt made me a better bowhunter. The list of positives I have received as a result of the pursuit is endless. While most people are inside looking at maps and thinking about spring scouting, I am out in the animals’ environment continuously learning in real time.
If you have never tried trapping, I am sure there is somebody you have a connection with who could lead you in the right direction. Maybe trapping isn’t the deal. Maybe chasing grouse behind a dog is more suited to your liking. It doesn’t matter. I guarantee that whatever extracurricular outdoor adventure you choose, it will help you in your passion to be a better bowhunter. However, you don’t have to take my word for it — there is a reason they call Gretzky “The Great One.”