Preparing for Hunting in the Off Season

By:
Shane Reynolds, Outdoor Recreation Director & Outfitter

As we begin the summer and look ahead to fall, I always use this time to prepare for the upcoming hunting season. Here are a few suggestions to fill those summer months. A quick note on preparing for fall, start looking for ammunition now, it is tough to find!

Preparation for hunting can be bucketed into three different categories: mental, physical and gear preparation. Because hunts differ from site to site and vary among species, it is important to focus on all three.

Successful hunters are typically those who put in months, weeks and days of practice and training. We rarely ever hear about hunters tagging a 350-pound bull elk or monster mule deer or getting their limit of dove without ever shooting their bow or gun before the season.

Mental preparation goes hand in hand with the physical challenges of hunting. When your body hits a breaking point, you need the mental strength to push through and climb that mountain or pack that last elk quarter out. When training for hunts, there are some hunters that use other hunting seasons to build up the strength for the big hunt. I personally do not find this method very practical as there are many different challenges both physically and mentally among the different types of hunts.

Physical Endurance

The method I find most effective is to set goals for your desired hunt and train towards them. The first step in preparing physically would be conditioning. Know the terrain you are hunting and get used to it. Walking on a treadmill will not prepare you for climbing 3,000 feet in elevation chasing elk or mule deer. You have to actually get out and put the miles on your boots. Over the years here at Cordillera Ranch, I have enjoyed helping several members prepare for high-altitude sheep hunts. Bobby Theis and Kemp Copeland physically challenge themselves to train for successful hunts and they are both accomplished in every aspect of high-altitude hunting.

When setting your physical goals, be sure to make it realistic. If you start your training off by trying to hike 10 miles on your first day, this will most likely deter you from achieving your goal. Each goal is a stepping stone and should increase each time one is achieved. For example, start your hike off with no weight and light gear, making it three miles without pushing yourself to exhaustion.

Once you’ve completed your first goal two or three times, take it up a notch by adding distance. For example, when you reach your anticipated hunting season distance goal, you should exceed that distance by a mile or two — this will prepare you for the unexpected days that surpass your own expectations of daily miles. If you have a specific hunt you are planning that requires physical conditioning and you need help, contact our Fitness and Wellness Director, Tamra Christiansen, and she is always happy to set up a specific training program for you. Tamra can be reached at 210.878.5367 or via email at tchristiansen@cordilleraranch.com. 

During the course of your conditioning, you will be increasing your mental stamina as well. You should find confidence in knowing you have been putting in the miles and doing it with the weight you plan for. Knowing you can do it is half the challenge, which you are now preparing for.

Get To Know Your Gear

The second part of physical preparation is using your gear prior to hunting season. Whether this is a rifle, bow or shotgun, you should be shooting regularly. Ensuring you are comfortable with your weapon of choice, groups you are shooting and distances you are accurate from is very important prior to getting into the woods, on the mountain or in the blind or field. 

I typically wing shoot a lot more than rifle or archery so I will go over my routine prior to hunting season. I will service my shotgun prior to and after any shoot. It’s important to know your limits when it comes to choking your shotgun and the distances you feel comfortable shooting at a given species. Shooting clay targets at our Gun Club is the perfect way to practice for any type of wing shooting. 

The same applies to my bow prior to getting any arrows in; making sure the bow is clean, strings are waxed, all alignments are correct and arrows are flying straight is the first step. Once the bow is ready for practice, I start at a 20-yard distance and get 30 arrows in. If my sights are still on from the previous season, I move back in increments of 10 yards until I get to 50 yards. I shoot 20 arrows from each distance (20, 30, 40, 50 yards) as often as possible. When I have a bad group or a few arrows out of whack, I will continue shooting from that distance until my group is cleaned up. We have several types of archery targets we set up at the Equestrian Center so come on out and practice with us. 

Mental Focus While Shooting

Mentally you must focus on many things while practicing shooting. Not flinching, breathing, not gripping the bow or gun too tight, making sure the bow is level, steadying your bow or rifle, etc. I try to go through a quick checklist prior to sending each arrow or bullet down range.

1. Is my bow or gun level?

2. Is my anchor point correct?

3. Is my hand gripping the bow or gun too tightly?

4. Is my breathing steady?

5. Is the correct pin or scope on the target location?

Prior to any release or shoot, I ALWAYS take a deep breath, expel around 80% of the air, then I release or shoot. This mental checklist helps me prepare for the opportunity during the season when I have a big animal in front of me and my adrenaline is pumping. Calming down and going through each point will help lead to a clean and successful shot.

Stick To The Plan

The last part of mental preparation is not second-guessing your game plan. If you’ve prepared for the hunt and have done your scouting, you should have faith in yourself. If you are not finding the animals you are after, keep at it. Not doubting yourself is huge when in the field. When you hunt solo, it is even more difficult to not second-guess yourself. To work on this, you must put the time in to scout the land for animals or use your mapping systems to help assist on your hunt. Knowing where the water sources are, feed sources are and where the animals are getting the least amount of pressure will help keep your spirits up and overcome the mental game of doubting your strategy.

I hope these tips I use are helpful in your upcoming hunts and reward your efforts with success in the field.

Finally, make sure you get all of your permits and licenses squared away this summer. 

Get Your Texas Hunter Safety Certification, If Needed

The Texas Parks & Wildlife Online Hunter Safety Course, required for all hunters born after September 1, 1971, is offered through the Club each summer and through Bass Pro Shops® at the Rim. 

Onward in preparation!

Shane Reynolds is the Outdoor Recreation Director & Outfitter at The Clubs of Cordillera Ranch. He can be reached at sreynolds@cordilleraranch.com or 210.616.6051.

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