The bull was screaming a short 50 yards away and as he turned and headed right toward us, I glanced at my friend. He was on his first elk hunt and was shaking so badly, I knew there was no way he could draw his bow. The bull stopped a short 15 yards away and began trashing a tree right in front of us! I again glanced at my friend and witnessed the worse case of bull fever I had ever seen. I slowly drew and settled the pin just behind the bull’s front shoulder. The bull spun as the arrow passed through him, and just as fast as he came screaming in, he was gone. Again, I looked at my dear friend and said, “Are you OK”? “I’m just cold”, was his response. I laughed and said, “It’s nearly 70 degrees out!”
How do you handle bull fever in the heat of battle? Can you keep your composure? Can you draw at the right time? Can you concentrate on shooting a spot or a single hair on the animal? Are you focused?
Or, are your knees knocking? Are your hands shaking uncontrollably? Is your breathing labored and your heart pounding?
Over 30 years ago, I stood at the end of a pole vault runway, ready to attempt a new high school record and possibly win the State Championship. With my eyes closed, I visualized the vault in my mind. I could see the run approach and how it felt. I visualized planting the pole and swinging up and over the crossbar. I could literally feel how it all felt and I hadn’t even opened my eyes. The whole visualization process took about the same amount of time as it did to actually make the jump, and as I opened my eyes and started down the runway, my confidence was extremely high. 33 years later, that vault still stands as the high school record.
Since that time, I have used visualization techniques on everything from riding cutting horses to running mountains, and especially for bowhunting. I can practice my form without physically drawing my bow. I can practice picking a hair or spot on the animal I am hunting. There are many different ways to use the visualization or mental imagery, and I recommend you find a way that works best for you.
In the above situation, I was able to stay focused because of the visualization practice I used. My friend, on the other hand, was quite a mess mentally. I had practiced time after time in my mind. I had pictured the bull coming in. I had felt the excitement and waited for just the right moment to draw. In my mind, I had picked a single spot to aim at and settled my pin on that spot. I was completely relaxed in my mind as I imagined myself squeezing the release. I even go as far as picturing the arrow hitting the exact spot I aim at and how it feels as the animal runs away. I practice this scenario over and over again from my office, when I lay in bed, when I do my workouts, when I run or climb, and any other time I can. Does it work every time? No, but it has gotten me through some pretty exciting, adrenalin-filled moments!
I now share this technique with the high school pole vaulters I coach. When they walk onto the runway, you’ll often see them with their eyes closed, running the vault through their mind. You can do the same as you prepare for your upcoming elk hunts and I believe it would be well worth your time to explore the world of Mental Imagery or Visualization Techniques.