Skip to main content

Bowhunting In The Zone

Improving accuracy through psychology.

Peyton Manning plays football in it. Tiger Woods plays golf in it. LeBron James plays basketball in it. And you should be bowhunting in it.

It is "The Zone," a state of intense focus free of distraction -- a mental state that allows you to perform at your best.


Oh, sure, you don't have the physical skills of a world-class athlete, but that doesn't mean you can't benefit from using the same mental training techniques that took them to the next level. As Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra famously said, "Baseball is 90-percent mental. The other half is physical."


The same could be said of bowhunting. When it comes down to it, there isn't much difference between trying to hit a game-winning home run in the ninth inning and making a perfect, double-lung shot on the buck of a lifetime. Both are fleeting, pressure-packed opportunities, and you've got to be at the top of your mental game to come through in clutch.

Head Games
Bryan T. Karazsia, an avid Pennsylvania deer hunter who holds a master's degree in clinical psychology from Kent State University in Ohio, said there is no doubt improving your mental discipline will improve your accuracy with the bow.




"The fields of clinical and sports psychology have proven that these [mental training] methods can enhance your performance in the field -- so much that the best athletes in the world have paid thousands of dollars to get some advice from a sports psychologist," Karazsia said.


A perfect, double-lung shot on this year's trophy starts by visualizing that success during off-season practice sessions. By imagining the perfect shot -- and making it -- thousands of times in advance, you'll feel more confident and be able to focus not on antlers, but on exactly where you want your arrow to go.

"The key is practicing not just the skill of shooting, but the skills of relaxation and focus. No matter€¦how great your equipment is, every single thing in hunting comes down to you. Can you make the shot when you must, and can you do it again and again, year after year?"

Karazsia said off-season mental practice is just as important as the physical practice done on the target range or 3-D course. Here's his program for sharpening your mental edge and making the most of your opportunity the next time Ol' Ten Point walks under your stand:

Imagine you're sitting in your favorite treestand. It's getting late in the season, and although you've seen plenty of whitetails, there's been no sign of that big 10-pointer you caught on your trail camera back in September. You've been sitting about four hours, wondering whether he's still alive, when opportunity knocks.

The moment Mr. Big walks into view, your body starts going haywire. Your heart races, your arms shake, your palms sweat and your breathing gets short. You may have practiced shooting all summer, but you didn't prepare yourself for this.

"Would you ever tell anyone to go to a hunting store, buy a [bow] and that day, take it out in the woods and hunt?" Karazsia asked. "Of course not, but far too often that's exactly what we're doing with our methods of relaxation. We don't practice and develop the skills of focus and relaxation during the off season."

No matter how good your archery gear and shooting form are, accuracy depends on your ability to focus. Diligent practice on the target range should include careful attention to the mental side of your shooting game.

'Focusing Is A Skill'
The process of killing that 10-point buck in the winter woods, Karazsia said, should have started months ago on the summer shooting range. Just as hunters are encouraged to make physical preparations such as shooting with the same clothes they'll be wearing in the field, you should be developing a mental mindset that will put you in "The Zone" when crunch time arrives.

The key, Karazsia said, is total focus. "Focusing is a skill. It is not just a natural ability," he said. "Just like any skill, we can get better at it."

Our ability to focus can be enhanced by visualizing that monster buck as we take practice shots and repeat all the little things -- such as standing up and raising the bow -- that could prove critical in the moment of truth.

Karazsia also recommends practicing slow, methodical breathing accompanied by a calm, soothing word repeated over and over in your mind. For Karazsia, that word is "ocean," and he uses it as a mantra when he feels buck fever overwhelming his senses. "When I think of ocean, my body just goes relaxed," he said.

The process of maintaining proper focus continues once hunting season arrives by concentrating on the task at hand and developing a selective memory that blocks out any negative thoughts that can erode confidence.

"When we are hunting, we have a lot of time to think," Karazsia said. "That can be a good thing or a bad thing. It's bad when we're thinking of that buck we may have injured a few years ago, or even last week. It's very good if we're increasing our confidence with memories of a successful hunt."

It also can help to go over a positive mental checklist of all the things that must be done when a shooter comes within bow range.

Psychologist Bryan T. Karazsia doesn't just preach the importance of mental training -- he practices it. The Pennsylvania resident took this nice Indiana County 10-pointer during a recent archery season.

"Take out anything in our minds that tells us what we should not do and replace it with the do," Karazsia said. "For example, if I'm thinking to myself, 'Don't make noise,' or 'Don't pull my trigger,' I'm thinking of the wrong thing. I need to replace those with dos. 'Do stay quiet,' 'Do think of where that deer is coming,' 'Do squeeze

my trigger slowly.'"

And, when a shooter buck finally shows up, the less you stare at the bone on his head, the better.

"Focus on vitals, not antlers," Karazsia advises. "As soon as you ID a shooter, look at nothing else other than where you want your arrow to go."

By employing these simple techniques, and practicing them until they become habit, you'll increase your odds of coming home with a trophy this season instead of a story about the shot that went astray.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

New for 2021: Elite Archery Bows, Slick Trick Broadheads and CBE Sight

New for 2021: Elite Archery Bows, Slick Trick Broadheads and CBE Sight

Learn more about two new Elite Archery bows, the Enkore and Remedy, two new broadhead from Slick Trick and a new site from Custom Bow Equipment (CBE).

New for 2021: Excalibur Crossbow, BowTech Bows, TightSpot Quiver, Ripcord Rests, Black Gold Sights

New for 2021: Excalibur Crossbow, BowTech Bows, TightSpot Quiver, Ripcord Rests, Black Gold Sights

New for 2021 are several hunter-defined products, such as the Excalibur TwinStrike Crossbow, BowTech Solution and Solution SS Bows, TightSpot Pivot 2.5 Quiver, Ripcord Cage and Code Red X arrowrests, and Black Gold Pro FX and Pro Hunter HD sights.

New for 2021: Bear Redemption EKO, Legit RTH Compound Bows

New for 2021: Bear Redemption EKO, Legit RTH Compound Bows

Bear Archery's newest bows - Redemption EKO and Legit RTH - are light, adjustable and fast.

Mathews V3 - Flagship Bow for 2021

Mathews V3 - Flagship Bow for 2021

Mathews has announced two versions of their 2021 flagship bow, the V3.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

With a pull of the trigger, the R18's limbs will expand vertically thanks to the VertiCoil Cam System.New Ravin R18 Turns the Crossbow World Inside Out ATA Show

New Ravin R18 Turns the Crossbow World Inside Out

Mark Demko - January 20, 2021

With a pull of the trigger, the R18's limbs will expand vertically thanks to the VertiCoil Cam...

Follow this step-by-step process to quickly field dress your deer for the best possible venison.How to Field Dress & Quarter a Deer How-To

How to Field Dress & Quarter a Deer

Mike Stroff

Follow this step-by-step process to quickly field dress your deer for the best possible...

If its purpose is to get downrange, you'll find it here with the latest arrows and broadheads for 2021New Arrows and Broadheads for 2021 ATA Show

New Arrows and Broadheads for 2021

Jace Bauserman - January 08, 2021

If its purpose is to get downrange, you'll find it here with the latest arrows and broadheads...

Ravin hits a new milestone with its 2021 R500 series of crossbows.First to 500: New Ravin Lineup Sets Crossbow Speed Mark ATA Show

First to 500: New Ravin Lineup Sets Crossbow Speed Mark

Mark Demko - January 13, 2021

Ravin hits a new milestone with its 2021 R500 series of crossbows.

See More Trending Articles

More How-To

Change your practice sessions now for more success this fall.4 Target Practice Strategies to Try This Off-Season How-To

4 Target Practice Strategies to Try This Off-Season

Taylor Pardue

Change your practice sessions now for more success this fall.

Fields and food plots aren't the best places to kill big bucks.Avoid “Gun Stands” When Bowhunting How-To

Avoid “Gun Stands” When Bowhunting

Bill Winke

Fields and food plots aren't the best places to kill big bucks.

A perfect shot requires a perfect release.Proper Archery Release Aid Technique How-To

Proper Archery Release Aid Technique

Larry Wise

A perfect shot requires a perfect release.

See More How-To

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Petersen's Bowhunting App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Petersen's Bowhunting subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now