The Mental Game
" It kills at one end and maims at the other " my friend chuckled as he passed me the big magnum cartridge.....
One fine spring day I was at the local shooting range with a friend who had a 300 win mag. I had just run about 20 rounds through my own 7 mag. While I've never been a fan of big recoil, I couldn't refuse the offer.
My friend was correct ! My shoulder felt the sharp recoil when the trigger broke. Although not a serious case, I did suffer a bit of magnum eyebrow.
Felt recoil though is not my thought this morning, but this statement from the past came to mind, when, once again I caught myself reliving the anguish of losing a big bruin this past hunting season.
Making a bad shot, much like my friend's magnum rifle, wounds both the hunter and the quarry. I may be guilty of letting it play on my nerves more than I should. I know beyond any shadow of a doubt, I did everything I could to find him. After two hours of searching in the dark, I elected to sleep back in the woods in my truck in order to get back on the trail at first light. Nevertheless, there are still moments I think maybe I should have gone a little further, circled one more time, or called in more friends.
There is an analogy here about spilled milk. Whining about it will not put the milk back in the glass nor will it undo a badly placed arrow. Moving forward, the question is, how does a hunter overcome a wounding loss and more importantly, how do we learn from it? How do we prevent spilling any more milk in the future?
I'm sure of one thing personally. The next arrow I fire will be at a target. That's the easy part. The bow ( or gun) will either be true or not. A few shots will give you the answer. Generally, for myself, it's seldom ( or ever) been the bow or gun.
So that leaves me back to the mental building and confidence regaining. I continue to shoot at foam. I continue to relive the bad shot. I might even climb an elevated stand or somehow try to duplicate the scene where the wounding took place. I stew over it. I mull it over again and again and then I shoot some more.
At some point, I climb back into a tree where my target will not be foam. There are moments when I'm not sure I even want to see a live animal underneath me. I'm out there because I need to be there. Hunting is in my DNA and its impossible not to be out. It's as simple as that for me and many hunters I'm sure.
Whether or not I'm ready for it, sooner or later, I'll hear that unmistakable snap of a twig. That familiar thud of a hoof meeting ground. A flash of fur between two trees. However and when ever I discover I'm in the company of a game animal is where the rubber meets the road after the brutal agony of losing an animal.
I'll admit it, I've lost a few animals over the years. It's not something I'm happy about. But I do know it happens.
I've shot at some big adult critters over the years that still make my knees knock. I'll look at old photos and still can't believe I was lucky enough to tag such beautiful animals. I've fought with buck fever on an oversized animal or two.
No shot however, has been more difficult, or put me under more pressure ( even if self imposed) than those that have immediately followed a shot where I lost an animal. Not even close, despite whatever headgear or score they may have possessed.
All you can do is remember past success. All the practice since the misplaced arrow. It's the moment memory muscle and instinct take over.
I've let down in the past simply because I felt like I was praying for a perfect hit as much as knowing I would make the shot. I have no regrets about that. Other times the familiar feeling of being apex predator kicks in and the recent wounding loss is temporarily deleted from my mind.
I don't know if there's a magic pill to prevent from ever missing or wounding. I do suspect though that making consistent shot after consistent shot is part mental and part physical.
We don't lose the benefits from months of practice from one badly placed shot. That part of the successful equation of making perfect shots remains. We may however, lose some of our confidence. The key is to regain that as quickly as possible. Regardless of the time it takes, it is important to have it before we take another shot at an animal.
Nothing makes our confidence skyrocket back as does a perfectly placed arrow or bullet.
Since losing the bear mentioned at the start of this story I have taken another big game animal. I know I'll need another animal or two to get the mental part of the game back to where it was. I'll accept the challenge . Its the least I can do. Being prepared mentally is just as important as having your gear tuned and properly matched to the game you are hunting.
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