How to Stay Mentally Tough at Crunch aTime: Power of practice

Posted on May 19, 2013

Exclusive BOW & ARROW HUNTING Feature Series: Check out this excerpt from Joe Bell’s recent book, “TECHNICAL BOWHUNTING, The Ultimate Guide to Shooting Performance.” Learn how to stay mentally tough and deliver at the moment of truth. This segment covers the power of practice.


“What this power is I cannot say; all I know is that it exists and it becomes available only when a man is in that state of mind in which he knows exactly what he wants and is fully determined not to quit until he finds it.”—Alexander Graham Bell


My friends and I called him “Big Jim,” because he was clearly one of the biggest Southern California mule deer we’d ever seen loping the coastal mountain range. I had a fascination with this buck to the deepest extent. Weekend after weekend, I’d trek the rugged, brushy slopes searching for this buck. On one occasion, I spotted him vacating a canyon area, and I ran for more than a mile with my pack and heavy boots, trying to intercept the giant 4×4 buck. And I did, only the shot was much too far.


One day, I left the office a little early and got to my hunting area on time. My boss was fully aware of my obsession for this buck. I knew of a deep, nasty canyon filled with brush where a spring jutted from the ground. I set up on a fairly open hillside 100 yards above it, and then waited in the hot, August sun.


About 1 1/2 hours before dark, I noticed a doe coming out of the Godforsaken ravine. I quickly became excited, but then relaxed a bit, knowing it was only a doe. But like a mirage, his giant antler beams jutted from the foliage. There he was—my Big Jim—nosing, pushing the doe up the gnarly, 40-degree slope.


I waited for a shot, almost shaking. Little by little the twosome got closer, as the monster continued his harassment. Over, around and even through bushes they went. Before I knew it, the doe was just below and climbing upward. She popped out of cover about 35 yards away.


I knew the shot would come to fruition; it would soon be my golden chance at this legendary buck. Knowing full well he’d appear in seconds, my nerves became increasingly tangled. Emotions were now in full flow.


At full draw in a flash, I held for the moment I so longed for. Despite my physical strength, mentally I couldn’t draw a good bead on the buck’s vitals; my focus was obviously on his wide-sweeping 26-some-inch beams. Uncomfortable, feeling physically awkward as I held for nearly a minute, I frantically whipped my sight onto his chest and released. The arrow flew hair lengths below his armpit. Even today, it stands as the worst bowhunting moment in my life.


The interesting part of all this is, during this phase in my archery career, I could place arrow after arrow in a tight cluster on a 60-yard butt. I had successfully shot other deer at ranges beyond 50 yards. And, nearly every other weekend I had drilled one ground squirrel and rabbit after another at challenging distances. I thought I was ready for Big Jim, and so did my friends. Yet, “buck fever” had the power to heighten every nerve in my body, all at the worst possible time.


Feeling excited is natural under intense encounters with big game. The problem is, high excitement will plague your shooting. Controlling this emotional element is crucial in executing a good shot. Here are some helpful tips on how to overcome, or at least manage, this common bowhunting ailment.

Consistent bowhunting success doesn’t just happen. To make high-pressure shots again and again, you must have a system in place, such as a mental drill you go through just prior to hitting full draw.

Practice With Pressure in Mind

Certain things stick with you, and I remember an old friend telling me, “You’ll shoot (at big game) like you practice.” Simple, but poignantly true. To expect to perform better on big game than on targets is absurd. A steady, accurate shot in the woods only comes from executing perfect shots on the range.


Fact: To control excitement, keep your mind preoccupied with all the steps necessary to make a great shot. When practicing, allow each shot to absorb you. Focus on each step (Chapter 1), and just before drawing the bow, visualize the perfect shot. Practice this enough and simply allow autopilot to take over when the chips are down. Chances are, you’ll do it right, just like you have so many times before, and the odds will be leaning on your side.

Please don’t take this process light-heartedly. You can’t ingrain it one day and leave it out the next. Nor can you learn it a couple of weeks before opening day. Carry it out throughout the spring and summer so it becomes a customary habit, like the mindless act of inscribing your signature on a check.


Pick a Spot!

In the heat of the moment, most bowhunters fail to do it, despite it being so elementary. When you’re about to pull back on a trophy, taking a gander at the lower one-third part of the chest—where you want your arrow to strike—just isn’t refined enough to counter a less-than-perfect aim. In practice, if you were to aim at this large of a target, you’d scatter arrows all over, every time. Precise aiming equals precise arrow impact, particularly when your breathing is elevated and your sights could be trembling in a giant 2-inch circle. Pick out the smallest patch of hair or crease on the animal’s vital zone and start performing some serious tunnel vision.

This is your only objective at this point—until your arrow splits this mark. This kind of focusing has a way of poising your excitement so you can perform as a shooter. “I find I do best when I think of only one thing, and for me it is ‘pick a spot,’ ” says Mike Slinkard, pro shooter, accomplished bowhunter and President and owner of Winner’s Choice Bowstrings. “I just keep mentally repeating this in the moment just before and during the shot. I find this helps control my nerves—ones that will make even an easy shot impossible. “If there is time I will quickly picture the shot happening perfectly in my mind (just as I do when shooting a target archery shot),” says Slinkard. “All this happens very quickly, and again it’s really about controlling emotion more than anything. As far as the shot itself, that will just happen subconsciously as it does in practice.”

By Joe Bell


Stay tuned for the remaining segments of this exclusive series!

And be sure to pick up your copy of Technical Bowhunting, available at or by calling (866) 834-1249, and requesting item #216. Cost is $21.95; shipping extra, CA residents pay sales tax. Direct dealers e-mail or phone Becky Silvas at; (800) 332-3330, x259. 


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