For most hunters, the winter months can drag along. The season has ended, and whether you killed a monster, or ate tag soup you are already looking forward to next year. With spring comes tag applications, hunting turkeys, and searching for sheds. Then comes summer. The snow starts to melt, and velvet starts to grow. This fuels our passion to get back into the mountains, put in time behind the glass, and find Mr. Big.
The fact of the matter is, the more time you devote to preparation in the "off season," The more likely you are to have success when it counts. We have a relatively small window of time each year to hunt, which means that we have the rest of the year to prepare to make the most of it. Finding the time to put in the work can be difficult, but not impossible. I have a beautiful one year old daughter, a lovely wife who works a part-time, and a full-time job. The rest of the members of OWO are no different. My daughter was born last January, so after hunting season ended, I hung up my bow, cleaned my gear, and focused on being there for my family.
Spring rolled around, and I started shooting a week or two before turkey season. I was able to get out and chase gobblers a few times, and even gave one a haircut with an arrow, but soon the bow went back in its case. I started shooting again in July, to prepare for deer season. Friday before the opener, I huffed and puffed up a trail I had not been up in over a year, hoping that there were bucks in the basins above. My opening weekend was spent watching a few small bucks, trying to catch my breath, and watching a flood of other hunters run every living creature out of the country. I would not take back the time spent with my wife and new child for anything, but this year is going to be different. Hunting in God's wild country is part of who I am. I yearn to be in the wilderness year round. Last year, while I sat nursing sore muscles overlooking an alpine basin, I couldn't help but feel utterly unprepared. I saved vacation time and money all year, but when the time came, I was rusty. On the hike out, I vowed to be more prepared for the next go round.
We owe it to the animals we pursue to be lethal. Mistakes happen, but a lack of preparedness should never be the reason for wounded or unrecovered game. I set an attainable goal to shoot my bow 3 days a week year round. I am not always able to get an hour long session in and shoot every pin, but repeating the routine of picking a spot, anchor, release, and follow through must be committed to muscle memory. This can be achieved at any distance. Shoot with buddies, join a league, or shoot alone in your yard, but shoot, year round.
As I stood hunched over at a spring less than half way up the mountain last year, I had an epiphany. I had spent so much time and money to reduce the weight of my pack, shedding ounces wherever possible, but I was still carrying an extra 15 pounds in body fat. My lungs and muscles were screaming for me to stop. It is important to be in good physical condition before heading into the backcountry, and this takes time and effort. I am not Cameron Hanes. I can't run a marathon, I don't carry an 80 pound rock up a hill every day, and I don't own a muscle shirt. I am, however, already in better shape than I was heading into the backcountry last year. I make it a point to work on cardio and strength 3 to 4 days a week. I am not one of those people who enjoys running, so I break it up by riding my bike and climbing hills with weight as well. My 25 pound daughter in a frame pack plus a full water bladder usually does the trick. I focus on building core strength and endurance. It is my goal to hunt where other people are not willing to go. I need to be in good enough shape to get there, and carry a monster buck out.
This may seem impossible in February, but technology is a very useful tool for wilderness hunters. I use Google maps to target areas that look promising to plan my summer scouting trips. Blacktail are likely to be in the same general area in August that they were in late June and July. I'll pour over maps and satellite images in the winter months, and then put boots on the ground to see what is there in June and July. A quick weekend trip into the backcountry with a light pack is a much better time to find out if deer are using an area than opening weekend.The ultimate goal is to find a mature buck in a remote location, and kill it with one lethal arrow. In order to achieve this goal, one must be proficient with his bow, be able to get to that remote location, know where to go to find a mature buck, and be able to make it home with a heavy pack. In short, this goal is not achieved without much preparation. We have nine months to prepare for three months, there is no excuse to be unprepared. It is not to late to start!
What are you doing to stay sharp this offseason?