Bowhunting the backcountry is what we make of it time and time again, I see this statement holding true! In order to sustain for days on end, we need to be able to push ourselves past where we thought we could mentally and physically go. It is no secret that the backcountry and this style of bowhunting will test even the most fit and gritty hunter, which is why we must hold ourselves accountable if we want to succeed and be a part of the "10% club" that finds success year in and year out!
As a Midwestern farm kid, I cut my teeth on chasing whitetails and turkeys every fall and spring. This led to my bowhunting obsession, which then led me to venture out West in search of the great unknown and adventure! I absolutely fell in love with this new style of bowhunting that the western game offered, but I quickly learned a few valuable lessons along the way. One of those lessons that I learned rather fast was that in order to suck every ounce out of these hunts, I needed to be in the best physical, mental and shooting shape of my life and I needed to get comfortable being uncomfortable! To do that, I needed to hold myself accountable. Not only would this new bowhunting obsession change my thoughts and dreams, but it would also change my lifestyle and mindset on the big picture of how I view my life!
Looking In the mirror
Let's face it: in today's world, everything is expensive and time is always of the essence! Most of us are blue collar, hard working men and women who love to spend our valuable time afield. For a guy like me, I dream of high country basins filled with velvet-covered mule deer and screaming bugles in the crisp, September morning air. I live for these moments and absolutely strive to soak in as many of them as I can in my lifetime. However, I have to make training for these moments a priority in my life or I won't succeed when these moments present themselves. Instead of making my plan on which stalk route to take on my bedded buck after he beds a second time or which ridgeline to head for on a dead sprint to cut off the lead bull with cows, I'll be mentally exhausted or physically spent. And these failures on my accountability just absolutely cannot happen — I won't let them happen. Looking in the mirror everyday I ask myself, "Did you hold yourself accountable today?" That answer sets my tone for the following day to come! Let me explain.
Do it for you
Nobody forces anyone to hunt the backcountry, so before we can hold ourselves accountable and really strive to succeed we need to be honest with ourselves and ask the "why." Why are we choosing to do this? How bad do we want to be successful on this type of adventure? What are our goals for this trip? I ask myself these questions before even planning a bowhunt because it gets me in the right state of mind. I’m doing these hunts for me. Not for anyone else or a company or an affiliation, etc.
I choose the pain, struggles, misery, hard work, effort and early mornings/late nights for me. I want to be successful and punch tags on every single trip that I go on and that all starts in the beginning. And the beginning for me starts with making sure that I'm doing this hunt for the right reasons where my heart and gut feelings are the leader!
Planning for failure
Personally, preparing for the backcountry is really preparing for failure and how to deal with it. On these types of bowhunts, I know things will fail that I cannot control, but I can control how I react and prepare for these situations. This is where accountability really comes into play.
I know at some point my body will fail me. Maybe it’s a hotspot on my foot or a badly strained calf or back muscle, etc. These hunts are tough and extremely demanding on our bodies, so if we do not get our bodies used to this stress, we will never know how to deal with it when it hits and trust me: it will hit at some point. Holding ourselves accountable and getting into tip-top shape is a must. I personally have changed my whole lifestyle around in order to train and eat correctly for these hunts. My philosophy is that I want my body to get comfortable being uncomfortable, so holding myself accountable and getting in the gym late in the evening after a long day’s work is a must.
By forcing my body to perform in the gym and on the track doing long runs and hikes I am teaching myself mentally and physically to be tough when shit hits the fan. Am I tired? Absolutely. Do I want to be there every night? Nope! However, by holding myself accountable I struggle through those tough nights and find another level to accomplish my mission. Not only is this accountability making me tougher, but it’s also forcing me and my mind into a routine of being comfortable with the uncomfortable. Trust me. This will pay off in the backcountry.
Making the most of your opportunity
For most of us on a backcountry adventure, we may only get one opportunity to seize the moment and punch that prized tag in our pocket. This is it: the moment of truth where the game is in the fourth quarter and the clock is winding down. You need a touchdown — a field goal just won’t cut it. So with the lights at their brightest and the game on the line, you must now throw a strike in the corner of the endzone. Are you ready? Did you mentally prepare for this 71 yard downhill shot on the buck you've watched for six days straight? Can you make the 1,000’ climb to the saddle above in order to cut your bull off and still hold it together enough to make a perfect shot? I hope you've held yourself accountable in your training all summer because, if not, your flawed armor will now surely show!
Strictly being a bowhunter for years now has forced me to analyze and evaluate my shooting capabilities every year. What needs to be fixed, what needs to be improved, what can stay the same, etc. Typically, I get one opportunity for every week I'm in the backcountry. That's the statistics that I've come up with for myself over the last seven years of backcountry bowhunting. With that in mind, I know how important it is to know my bow — inside and out — and how important it is to make my shot count! Knowing this statistic has made me more accountable than ever before because I know how much I have invested in these hunts: time, days away from my kids, money, wear and tear and on my vehicle, time off work, etc. I owe it to myself to be as deadly with my bow as I can be and, by holding myself accountable, I work on my craft daily.
Even if it's only a few arrows a day. Or maybe even one, I shoot everyday. I'll shoot in the morning. In the evening. In the rain. On my knees. When I'm tired. In the shadows. In the bright light. Close distances. Far distances. I want to be prepared for every scenario because I know I'll only get one opportunity. The shot all rides on me and how I can perform under pressure, so by practicing with accountability in my mind, I force myself to make every, single arrow count.
Leave no stone unturned
In the grand scheme of things, these hunts are your hunts and only you will make them what you want them to be. Why wouldn't we want to do everything in our power to be prepared and ready for the adventure ahead? For me, I want to know every piece of gear I’m taking with me inside and out. I want to be confident in my cook system, sleep system, shelter and clothing. I will meticulously fine-tune my bow and arrow setup as well as my optics and tripod. Leaving nothing to chance is all part of holding ourselves accountable before a hunt of this caliber even takes place.
For four years I traveled to Colorado, in search of my first velvet mule deer buck. I chose the solo game because it intrigued me and I viewed it as my title fight year in and year out. For three straight years, I came out empty-handed, but with more knowledge gained — more knowledge to hold myself even more accountable for the following year and to fuel the fire that burned inside me. Last year, in 2019, I finally got my chance on an absolute bruiser, velvet buck at 13,600’! At 73 yards, downhill, I had no doubt in my mind that I would make this shot. I trusted in myself, my equipment and my shooting abilities. There was no fear or doubt in my body when I came to full draw. When I saw my fetching bury into that buck’s chest, I knew exactly what it had taken to get to this unforgettable moment. Every scenario holding myself accountable.