The Mental Side of Deer Hunting

Letter from a "Buck Stops Here" viewer:

I've been hunting hard for 5 years now in the heart of the Catskill Mountains, both with a bow and during the regular season, and have yet to get a buck or a bear. Each year I work hard to get better, learn from my mistakes and put in my time.

I am well aware that if it was only about killing a buck, I could go to Texas tomorrow and pick one out. But the Catskills are tough, especially on public land where I hunt, given the pressure and the very low buck-to-doe ratio.

For perspective, I don't just sit behind my cabin. I've hunted high, I've hunted low. I've camped at 4,000 feet in a foot of snow. My main stand is a 2 hour hike from my cabin, beyond the pressure. 

I've never been challenged quite like this in my life. 

I think back to something you say consistently on your show: "It's mental." The last time you said that was during your 5th successful trip to Canada when you dropped that huge 10 pointer on day ten.

This philosophy has completely changed my attitude in the woods, from one of complete frustration and wanting to give up at times to a much more positive mindset--one in which I keep telling myself that each day I spend without seeing my buck is one day closer to getting my opportunity.  

"It's mental" has helped me get through. "It's mental" has made me tougher as I wait for my chance. Thanks for the show Mike.--Regards, Lou

Never realized I subconsciously say “It’s mental” so much on TV, but glad I do. Scouting, setting stands, etc. is physical. After that it’s 90% in your head. Can you hang on stand for 10 hours a day? Do you pull yourself out of bed at 4:00 a.m. to go back when you haven’t seen a shooter in weeks? How do you handle it if you bust a big buck or miss?

Remember: There will days, weeks, maybe months this fall when the hunting is tough. You can mope and make yourself and everybody around you miserable. Or you can do like Lou, suck it up, go hard and be ready when that big deer finally shows. You will have only seconds to kill him. Will you have the right attitude to get it done? comment.


java's Gravatar great letter Lou, I think this is why so many people like Hanback on TV, he connects and inspires us
average hunters
# Posted By java | 4/8/11 12:16 PM
hanback's Gravatar thanks man!
# Posted By hanback | 4/8/11 12:17 PM
David in NC's Gravatar This is true in hunting and in life. It's all about your mental integrity. Yeah, you can be dealt a raw deal, or your hunting ground could be public land in the Catskills, but what will keep you going is your outlook. It's not even so much about the result, as it is how you it makes you feel and how you respond. In other words, even if this year, with the greatest optimism, you still strike out, you will have enjoyed your hunting more because you were optimistic, because you were persistently waiting on your opportunity.
# Posted By David in NC | 4/8/11 12:42 PM
Silverback's Gravatar Hunting is WAY more than killing something. However it is real sweet icing on the cake. It is about enjoying being in the woods and spending time with you family and friends, making memories. The true mental aspect is getting past the idea that you haven't killed something. Nature is fickle. You bust your ars for months and have nothing to show for it. Then one day you say screw it and sleep in, and as you walk down the trail to your stand and 9am, boom, it's over. You shoot a deer that happened across the trail in front of you. No less rewarding, it's all about timing. And a lot of time it's luck. I'm pretty succesful and I am asked what's the secret. No Secret. it's spending as much time in the woods as you cam (even if you only have an hour) and change it up. Sometime they have YOU patterned and you NEED to switch it up to catch them off guard.
# Posted By Silverback | 4/8/11 12:50 PM
Curt's Gravatar Great topic. Great letter.
I have a great spot to hunt, but this past year was my worst ever as far a seeing deer. I hunt from Oct 1 - January 1. I went 7 weeks straight without seeing a buck. And I only saw 5-10 does in that same time. That included an average of 2 evenings a week, plus all day Saturday. I was in a tree stand, a ground blind, sitting beside a stockpile and still hunting. Snow, Rain, Wind or 80 degrees. If I had the patience in "real Life" as I have in deer hunting, I would be a much happier person. I know the family would like me better. Hell, I think we have to be a little "mental" to hunt like that anyway.
# Posted By Curt | 4/8/11 2:22 PM
Scott from MI's Gravatar right on, good post!
# Posted By Scott from MI | 4/8/11 2:45 PM
Jerad's Gravatar Well said guys, and thats gotta be one of the best parts of hunting too. The mental toughness it builds in hunters not seeing deer for hours, days etc. If you can some days drag yourself out on the earliest or the coldest of days, those are or could be the ones you get a chance at that Buck/deer everyone else has been waiting for. Good thread topic guys.
# Posted By Jerad | 4/8/11 4:20 PM
PA Archer's Gravatar Mental maturity is so much a part of what I term as a "successful" hunt today.
20 years ago , I could not hang on the side of a tree for longer than an hour at the most . And that was WITH seeing deer. If it wasn't a shooter, "the grass was always greener on another watch" and off I'd go, more times than not, spooking deer as I went.

But with age comes patience and as you experience things, you learn what to do and why to do it. Nowadays, I know myself well enough to know ,even though my feet are frozen solid and my teeth are chattering in a 20mph crosswind , that if I hang tough , my body will adjust to the environment and slow my metabolism down and it'll seem less uncomfortable. The trick is not letting your mind beat your body. That hot coffee and food will still be there when the sun goes down.

Today, if I make the time to sit someplace for the day and the sun comes up and goes down before I leave , that's sucess , no matter what I saw or shot at.
Mind you, if I do my homework right, it shouldn't take that long :)
# Posted By PA Archer | 4/9/11 11:46 AM
Clint in MN's Gravatar Awesome post, Mike.
I have a good female friend who I always tease for being cold. My incredibly clever line is, "cold is a state of mind." Obviously, I'm joking around when I say that but from my experiences hunting I have determined that there is a certain amount of truth to that statement. With the right mindset you can fight the chills and make yourself last another hour on those cold mornings.
# Posted By Clint in MN | 4/11/11 1:38 AM