During a UFC pay-per-view some years ago commentator Joe Rogan used a reference that caught my attention. In quoting Musashi, a famous Japanese samurai that wrote “Book of 5 Rings”, a classic book of strategy and life, he said, "Once you understand the way broadly, you can see it in all things." I was struck by this quote which in plain English means, “Once you find the path to success, in whatever it may be, success comes easier in all things.”
Sounds simple doesn’t it, but think about it. Over the years I have met a ton of guys who’ve been successful in rifle hunting, decided to switch over from the gun to the bow, and true to form, they’re just as successful with archery equipment. Natural born killers it seems. Or sports-wise I’ve known great athletes who are seemingly good at everything they try…football, basketball, baseball, track, etc. Then to top it off this group of people are usually smart, earn good jobs and seem to get all the breaks. I am sure you know individuals who fit this mold? Musashi’s quote seems applicable. These guys or gals, found the way to success in the woods with the rifle or bow, on the field or court, or in the business world…everything. In short they “see it in all things.”
That’s all well and good, but what if you are one of the many who aren’t successful in everything you do? You aren’t a be all, do all, win at everything type of guy? No worries, this was me too. It took me a while to find my niche’. Like many young guys growing up, I wanted to be a big football star. Being a stand out in high school was one thing, but I quickly learned after a year of college ball, the dream of the NFL was just that, a dream. I realized no matter how hard I worked I wasn’t going to be Jerry Rice. Same goes for a lot of kids with basketball. Truth of the matter is, most of us could play basketball every single day of the year, for hours at a time and we will never be Michael Jordan. This realization can be sobering. Kids, and as one I remember the feeling well, dream big many times, which is good, but also hold on to unrealistic dreams at times. When the curtain is pulled back and the truth is revealed there is a period of searching. After sports I asked myself, “What now?” Sports was pretty much all I knew and really all that I’d been truly passionate about. Thankfully, for me and many like me that love to push the high-adrenaline envelope, are driven by raw, blood and guts challenge that most would shy away from and in general like a TEST, there is bowhunting.
So, after not really Blue Chip excelling at anything for 19 years of my life, I picked up the bow, launched a handful of arrows towards a paper plate fastened to a cedar bale and smiled to myself thinking, “Finally.” I was infatuated and the best part, over the next couple of years it became apparent that bowhunting the mountains seemed to come naturally. Maybe this is what I was born to do? Who needs the Super Bowl? My Super Bowl came around every September. Others knew it as elk season.
If you are new to the great tradition of bowhunting, maybe like me, it is going to be the thing that defines you? A real passion to fuel your fire. Like I mentioned, before bowhunting, I hunted with a rifle like most start out and I killed a few decent bucks, but nothing real noteworthy. It was fun, I liked hunting, and yes rifle hunting taught me what it meant to take the life of an animal I respected. But, it was hard to have the next level type of success I really longed for. During rifle season the woods seemed crowded and the animals nocturnal, which made it tough for me to get fired up. That all changed when I started bowhunting. By swapping the rifle for the bow, now I could really hunt, one on one, me against the animal. There wasn’t nearly the competition from other hunters and finding animals to hunt wasn’t as difficult. Getting in bowrange was tough which meant my true hunting skills blossomed. I gained confidence and soon I was headed deep into the wilderness in search of adventure with my bow in hand.
I honestly believe, without bowhunting I wouldn’t be the person I am today. As Rogan alluded in his Musashi quote, I found success in bowhunting and I think since I began roaming the mountains with a bow understanding the way broadly has helped me succeed in many areas of life. Can bowhunting be the key for you too? Maybe so? Bowhunting is more than a hobby for many, it can be life changing. I am proof of that.
Train Hard, Hunt Easy
Training for the hunt. Some will shake their head at the mere thought of training to hunt. No matter what you want to read into the words I write know this… I am not at all bad mouthing those who don't lift weights, run 100 miles, 26.2 miles or 1 mile to prepare for hunting season. There is surely not a fitness test or 12 minute run like back in the gym class days you must do before opening day. Being in shape is not mandatory in order to buy an elk license or kill a bull as many have proved.
That being said, I believe our body and mind are tools to use in the woods. Training hones those tools, simple as that. The better tools you haul into the mountains (pack, sleeping bag, stove, bow, etc.), the more success you’ll have. While I won’t judge guys who scoff at training, likewise I am never going to apologize or minimize the value of what I do. Love the approach or hate…I am going to keep plugging away for a couple reasons. Firstly, I believe I’ve found a formula that works and I am going to ride it as long as I can. I kill more animals and achieve more of my hunting goals the better shape I am in physically and mentally. The mental strength I mention is a direct by-product of hardcore training. And secondly, because I know what I do inspired others. I get 1,000 of emails a year from guys who have reinvented themselves for the better in the name of fit hunting. It might sound cliché-ish but truthfully, I can deal with legions of naysayers if the trade off is helping even one guy enhance their quality of life.
I’ll say, when I came up in the sport, it seemed like most guys hunted just to get away from it all. For a vacation of sorts. Many still do and that is just fine. Hunting is a personal journey. For me, hunting is more than a vacation and always has been. Hunting, specifically bowhunting, is what I think about 365 days a year. Beside my family, hunting is my life. And, for those wondering, the fact that I make money for my work in the hunting industry means absolutely nothing regarding my approach. I would do what I do either way. Those who really know me would validate this. Moderation doesn’t work for me and in hunting and life, average effort yields average results. None of my sponsors make me run hills at night with no light, which I have convinced myself enhances my low light vision thusly helping me navigate the bowhunting mountains in the low light of early morning or dusk. No one makes me run 100 mile races, do cardio or lift weights when most sleep even though I have to be up at 5:00 a.m. to head to work. In fact I do what I do almost in spite of some. I remember being told once by a long time industry person, “Cameron, no one cares about your running.”
I’ll be honest, that one statement had me clinching my jaw and biting my tongue…it also motivated me for many years. And, it wasn’t about “my running”, it was about what the act of exercising to prepare for the hunt meant on a grander scale. I knew they were wrong and I love proving people wrong. Besides, I had inspiring stories from countless bowhunters that proved they were wrong. And, since the no one cares about your running comment we’ve seen an “Athletes Hunt” campaign from performance apparel giant Under Armour, I wrote an article in Field & Stream titled “Big Game Boot Camp”, pen my every issue column in Bugle, “Backcountry Conditioning” and author my Bowhunter Magazine column “Bleed” which focuses on will you bleed for success commitment to the sport of bowhunting to mention a few pro-fitness examples. Bottom line, what I’ve learned and others have realized is specialized training will help you to be there very best you can be in the mountains.
The sweet part is, especially for guys or gals with a competitive background similar to mine, the sky is the limit in the sport of bowhunting. We haven’t even scratched the surface.
Redefining the Sport
I have some observations on why I believe hunters in this day and age can be much more successful in the backcountry than those of previous hunting generations.
* Proper strength training and power training can be used to help the hardcore hunter. Like I said most old time guys wouldn’t dream of training for the mountains. Jogging? Lifting weights? Not likely. For one thing most hunters from previous generations were probably working all day and into the night. Free time to train was probably severely limited decades ago. That being said, guys today are still busy, I know I am. Despite a hectic life more and more are prioritizing their commitments make time to train. Nowadays there are hunting athletes using strength and power training to better themselves. I can promise you, cleans, deadlifts, squats, etc. makes a big difference to the bivouac mountain hunter.
* More quality fuel availability. Yes, there is more junk food available than ever before too…gotta have some self-discipline here. However, good food is also easier and cheaper to obtain than back "in the day". A race car runs best on high octane fuel, same goes for your body. Think about it.
* Better sport supplements. There is some incredible stuff out there these days. Top of the line supplements can actually target specific areas of sport performance. There are products like Power Drive which is a drink mix designed to help you focus and push harder in your workout. For me it seems to give a sense of well-being, which makes a big difference in the quality of my workout. Also, thanks to a local Complete Nutrition here in town (Google em’) I really got dialed in on a killer supplement program. They aren’t a sponsor BTW and this stuff is expensive but it works. I have no problem paying for products that I believe in, which is why I think I spent $1,100 for a PSE Mach-6 back in the early 90’s. That would be like $17,000 today. Normally, come December after a long hunting season I chill a bit. Not this year. Since hunting season along with a cocktail of high quality supplements I have ramped up my weight lifting routine, put on muscle while still keeping my endurance which is key in mountain hunting. In fact I just ran a 31 mile ultra, finished 8th and felt so good I went on a run the next day with my wife. This year, there won’t be any “off-season” slide. That excites me.
* Better designed nutritional programs. Yes, we now better understand how easy strategies like pre and post-workout optimal nutrition can make a huge difference in performance. For pre-workout try Buzzerk drink mix and for post use Rezzerect, both from Complete Nutrition. Mostly though diet-wise it is just the basics for me. Carb load before a workout (run or lift), lots of protein after for muscle regeneration, smart eating everyday…no soda pop, no dairy…just the good stuff; whole wheat, brown rice, lean meat, etc. Your body will respond if you treat it right. Most of us tap just the surface of what we are capable.
* Better equipment. Bows, arrows, broadhead, optics…everything you pack into the mountains is better than that of our bowhunting forefathers. Not to mention performance gear like what Under Armour puts out. Yeah, bowhunting will always be tough but quality gear goes along way to level the playing field.
Above all else, realize no matter what you do or how hard you train arrowing a big 6x6 bull in the mountains is never going to be easy. You could get lucky once, but if you expect every year success like I do you’re going to have to work.
Speaking of consistent success as a side note, I gotta mention THE highlight of this off-season was having one of my bowhunting heroes, Larry D. Jones, officially score my most prized bowhunting trophy from 2010 this week. My big Oregon Roosevelt, which is my 8th straight 6x6 or better bull, will enter the books as one of the top 20 bulls ever arrowed in Oregon (according to the latest edition of Pope & Young) and also qualifies for entry into the all-time Boone & Crockett record book with lots of room to spare. Alright, talking about consistent bowhunting success and big bulls got me sidetracked for a minute…sorry about that. The point I want to make is to having similar success in this day and age is possible for many bowhunting but it will take dedication. While training this off-season you are gong to have to get out of your comfort zone.
To me that is what the saying Train Hard, Hunt Easy is all about. Try to make training as hard as possible and you will go along way towards succeeding on those ball-busting hunts. I shoot my bow every day of the year anyway, but I believe the reps that really count are when I shoot after running an ultra or after a tough lifting session. I am beat down, tired, weak and mentally exhausted, much like I get on those long mountain hunts. I know if I practice putting the arrow on its mark when feeling like this, I’ll be that much more proficient come “crunch time”. Try it for yourself in training this year and reap the rewards next Fall.
Keep working hard fellas. Feel free to email me anytime, firstname.lastname@example.org…I will hit you back when I can. I’d love to hear your train to hunt stories. Remember, if we all raise the bar the tradition of hunting benefits. It’s up to us.