I've used almost all the principles that made me a champion archer to make myself a better bowhunter. It's all about complete preparation. For me, the most important part of that is prepping my mind.
All serious hunters spend so much time and money preparing for the fall. We have the best bows, accessories and camo that money can buy. We set up stands, plant food plots and shoot all summer long. We are ready! Or are we? The truth is, most probably aren't, even if they've done everything I just mentioned. See, no matter how physically prepared you are or how prepped your spots are or how patterned that big buck is, if you're not mentally capable of holding yourself together in the moment of truth, all that hard work is for nothing. I may have never stumbled across the importance of mental visualization had I not grown up in the competition world, but nevertheless, I now use it every time I pick up my bow.
In the realm of competitive archery, confidence is everything. Of course, my equipment must be flawless and so must my form. But that won't mean anything if I can't keep myself together on that final arrow. How do I prepare for that moment? I visualize every shot — every possible scenario; I shoot every arrow in my mind before I shoot it in real life. And every time, the outcome in my mind is the same; I win! I do this over and over waiting on the finals or at night in my hotel room. Then when I'm there, in that moment, instead of feeling uncomfortable and nervous, I already know the outcome, because I've won 100 times in my head over the last 24 hours. Obviously, I don't always actually win, but that confidence has carried me through more times than not. The problem is, sometimes the other guy has won 100 times in his head too.
If you love bowhunting like I do, then you already do some form of mental preparation and you don't even know it. I involuntarily daydream about shooting giant bucks all the time, but then I take it a step further — and you should too. Every time I climb into the tree, I instantly go into "what if" mode. I think the deer is going to come from that patch of timber, but what if he comes from behind me? Most failure is prompted by surprise, which causes us to panic and then rush. I try to go over every scenario, every way that big buck could come. I want to imagine it and know exactly what to do when it happens, because nine times out of 10, things don't go the way they are supposed to when you're hunting a mature animal. Then, when that 180-inch buck steps out in the one spot you never figured he would, you're cool, calm and collected because you just shot him there a few minutes ago in your mind.
Mental training has been one of my most important edges in competition for my entire career — if not the most important — and I've used the same method in bowhunting with similar success. We all put in so much work preparing for our favorite time of the year, but for most the mental training goes untouched, causing a lot of heartbreak in the moments that should be our biggest victories. Don't let those opportunities slip away because you didn't prepare your most valuable piece of equipment — your mind.