There I am, sitting in my tree stand and it has already been several hours. The weather conditions have been in my favor. Temperature in the low 50s, no wind. Last light is upon you and nothing has come in to view for most of the day. Until now. A nice big bodied whitetail deer curiously comes towards me, not quite within shooting range yet but my mind begins to assess. Is it a shooter? Spike? 6 points? 8? Doe? Is it continuing on this path? Attempting to wind me? About to turn around? It doesn’t really matter because I am ready for this moment, right? I recall all the reps at the range and the target practice in the yard. I then call up the process: breathing, form, and so on. You’re in the moment now.
The deer is now within range but still walking toward me. I am as patient as can be as the deer begins to change its direction and sets me up for a nice 18 yard broadside shot. I’ve already drawn back by anticipating this move. The deer stops in its tracks and I am at full draw. To this point, I know that 100% in my mind, I have done everything correctly. I send the arrow down range….and….
I missed! Really? I missed?! Yes, it happened. I missed. And now comes the fight within myself.
But which route do I take: The “How did I miss, I never miss path” or do you walk down the path of “I missed. It’s going to happen so I can learn from my it.” Personally, I think you are not human if a tiny part of you doesn’t feel the former sense of self doubt and blow to your ego, but in reality, it’s the latter thought of learning from that miss that digs at me. Right away I consume myself with an avalanche of questions like: Did I miss high or low? Was it a clean miss? Did my form break down? Did I forget to breathe? Did I snap shoot? This is a perfectly normal juggling act of your confidence. So I am told. I could have, but I did not, believe there was any point of kicking myself over and over about this. Especially as a newer bow hunter, I was sort of expecting some type of misfortune. And because it was a complete miss and I did not wound the animal and cause suffering, my thought process shifted immediately to, “I am going to learn from this and move on from it.” I began to grind out those emotions and got back to work. I wanted to keep getting better and continue to get out there and hammer those woods. It worked for me and it is pretty straight forward. I use an analogy of another humbling sport, golf. I have played golf for 20+ years. The one aspect of that silly game that I always compare to archery is the mental capacity. You cannot get hung up on that last shank down the fairway because you will have another opportunity to make good on the next shot. I am confident that I am a good shot and at some point hunters are going to miss. It’s just a fact.
When I finally climbed out of that tree stand and trekked out of the woods, the first thing I did was grab my bag target, walked off 20 yards and shot 3 arrows. Tight group with less than 1” spread. Okay, so I know my equipment works, that wasn’t the issue. I decided not to continuously replay the moment and break it down in my head but instead focus on a few key elements of the moment. The next day I decided not to hunt. I took the bag target into the woods, climbed up in a tree stand and put in some reps from there until I felt confident I could do this blindfolded. I worked on shot picture, breathing, and the proper form of bending at the waist instead of drawing the bow back and down on the animal. I shot from both seated and standing positions and simulated various shot angles. The work was put in. I have to know and not think I am ready because confidence is key.
After all the reps, research and mental notes I made, the element that pushed me the hardest through this recovery process to maintain my confidence was my hunting circle. Hunters are unique in that we all want to see each other succeed. When I shared my story with my team members and other friends who are also hunters, the overwhelming positive comments and shared like experiences made all the difference. The hunting season feels short in these moments but fortunately my miss was early on in the season. With the rut upon us, my confidence is high and I cannot wait to grind out the rest of this season.