The hunter athlete movement has taken the outdoor industry by storm. There are supplement companies who cater specifically to hunters and competitions aimed at keeping you fit for the mountain. I got sucked into the craze and in 2016 I competed in a Train to Hunt competition.
Before this competition, I had very little experience shooting archery. I was also about the furthest thing there has ever been from an athlete. This girl has a whole lot of try in her, but I was not blessed with natural athleticism.
Still, I decided I had nothing to lose. I trained with a local group at my gym where I met my partner, Keisha. We both adopted a clean eating diet and worked out 2 times a day 5-6 days a week. When we weren’t working out, we were shooting or doing some combination of both. Train To Hunt completely consumed us and our lives.
When competition weekend finally rolled around, it was everything I expected and feared. The shots were difficult, the packs were heavy, the hike was steep, and the burpees were…well they were burpees. We walked away from the weekend in second place, which would be much more impressive if there were more than two teams in the women’s category. In some ways that silver cam felt like a symbol of how much I hadn’t achieved. I had never worked so hard for something and come up short like that, and I hated it.
I quickly stuffed myself back into my little box labeled “unathletic” and put the competition behind me.
But, 2 years later, as I stood over my first bull gasping for air from the treacherous climb I realized being unathletic didn’t make me a bad hunter. And physical fitness was the least important thing I took away from my TTH experience.
Here are the 4 things I learned from training for a TTH competition:
1. Shooting Ability
A huge part of the competition is shooting ability. In one portion you shoot a 3D course without a range finder. In another part, you shoot a 3D course mixed with physical obstacles. I had shot archery before. I had even hunted archery for a season. But, I didn’t fully learn about my bow and how to shoot it efficiently until I decided to compete. I was fortunate enough to make friends with a few talented archers who corrected my shooting form and helped me learn to maintain my bow. I practiced daily until my draw was fluid, my anchor consistent, and my release was lethal.
Should I have trained this hard for hunting? Absolutely. But the truth is, it wasn’t until I started practicing at 3D ranges that I realized how much I NEEDED the practice. Were it not for TTH, I wouldn’t have been as prepared for my subsequent archery seasons.
2. Estimating Ranges
As I said, part of the competition was shooting without a range finder. My naive self thought it was unnecessary, but I was willing to do whatever they asked. My husband and I practiced ranging everywhere we went. While hiking, I would guess ranges to different rocks, trees, and animals and confirm with my range finder. It became somewhat of a game. On the day of the competition, it was one of my biggest strengths.
Then archery season came. I played cat and mouse with a small elk herd before finally getting a shot on a cow. I drew back. She looked so big through the peep – she had to have only been 40 yards away. But as I took a breath and moved my head to look at the surrounding rocks and trees, I realized she was closer to 65 yards. Had it not been for my TTH experience, “buck fever” would have gotten the best of me and I would have taken a terrible shot.
3. A Thirst For Knowledge
Shooting accurately and trail running was cool, but none of it amounted to anything if I couldn’t get within range of an elk. After all, TTH was a means to an end. My ultimate goal was to be a successful hunter with a bow.
I attended seminars, read, watched videos, and asked questions. I soaked up everything I could. When I stepped foot on the mountain that season, I was confident in my strategy as a hunter instead of just hoping for a lucky opportunity.
4. Mental Toughness
The meat pack portion of the competition was daunting. It was hands down, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. We loaded our packs with 40lb sandbags and ran the 1.62-mile uphill trail in over 90* heat. I would not call any part of that run, “fun”. But, it did teach me that I was tough enough to tackle whatever the mountain threw at me.
This again came into play when I killed my bull. Anyone who has hunted elk knows they rarely go down in a convenient or easy spot to access. My bull died on a steep hillside. For portions, I was literally crawling on my hands and knees to get up to him. And if that wasn’t difficult enough, I had to come back down in the dark. As I laid in my sleeping bag that night thinking about packing him out the next day, my stomach was in knots. I KNEW I could do it. But I also knew I would be slow and I was worried about letting my husband and our hunting buddies down.
The next morning as I hoisted my pack onto my back and adjusted the straps for the weight, my mind wandered back to that TTH experience. I knew that I could manage this weight in these conditions because I had done it before. Even as my legs shook and my feet were unsteady on the hill, I was able to stay mentally strong. We brought the elk down in one trip and I was able to keep up with the guys. It didn’t have anything to do with how fast I could run a mile or how much weight I could squat. It all came down to quieting the voice in my head that told me this was too hard.
So if you are looking to improve your archery hunting game, I highly recommend signing up for an archery competition. You will take home so much more than a medal.