The Toughest Sport?

The Toughest Sport?

Professional sports stars can do some amazing things, but bowhunters are the ones who truly need Tiger Eyes.

For me, show season -- the time during which, after a full work week, I travel the West, speaking at various banquets and sportsmen's shows -- begins soon after the first of the year and spans a few months. Conducting seminars for passionate Western bowhunters and interacting with thousands of guys, gals, and kids over the course of Show Season is one of the things I cherish most about the business of bowhunting.

Show Season gives me a chance to interact with bowhunters across the country.

This year I gave seminars in Denver, Salt Lake, Sacramento, Phoenix, Reno, Portland, and Eugene, and it was awesome. I heard story after story about guys changing their entire approach to life because of bowhunting. The drive to bring down a big bull elk in the mountains has people watching their diets, exercising, losing weight, or picking up and moving altogether to better hunting country -- not to mention spending thousands of dollars on gear to chase the dream. But, in a way, it is a double-edged sword, because while bowhunting can have you experiencing what you'd swear is life's greatest rewards, the bounty doesn't come without a price. You'll earn everything you get from bowhunting.

I sometimes wonder if hunters and writers talk and write enough about the difficulty of bowhunting? Success in this sport takes not only commitment, dedication, and woodsmanship -- I sometimes feel woodsmanship is becoming a lost art -- but also intense focus.

Of course, other psychologically tough sports demand serious focus. For example, making a putt in golf can test the nerves of even the best professional golfers. Some say that, in terms of focus, making a putt in crunch time is as hard as it gets. All golf fans know what Tiger Eyes are. Tiger Eyes originated when TV cameras zoomed in on Tiger Woods as he squatted down and put his hands up on the sides of his eyes like horse blinders, essentially blocking out everything but the ball and the hole in an attempt to read a putt. Yeah, I am sure in such a situation a pro golfer is likely feeling tons of pressure, but come on -- that ball is lifeless, and the cup is just a hole in the ground.

In other sports, guys must constantly react to things all around them. In football, the players are reacting to the guys in front of them. In baseball, the batter is reacting to the pitcher, and vice versa. Fairly straightforward, "reaction mode" stuff. Granted, it might not always be easy but, in relation to focus, it's not as tough as bowhunting.

For a good example of the difference between reacting and being faced with a challenge that requires extraordinary focus, here's one. Ask any basketball player what he would rather do -- attempt a game-winning shot within the flow of the offense as the clock winds down, or to be standing at the free throw line for two shots with one second left and his team down by two. Almost every player will take the "make the shot within the offense" option, because making two clutch free throws, when it is just you, the ball, and the rim is as tough as it gets for most.

So, yeah, these sports scenarios are hard. But still, in my opinion, they are nothing compared to making a shot on a bull elk that comes crashing in, full of rage, a live wire of blood, muscle, and raw energy, blowing snot from his nose. Are you kidding me? How could it possibly get any tougher than drawing your bow, staying focused enough to pick a spot, and sending one arrow on its way toward 800 pounds of wildness with only one goal -- stopping his heart? That's no game like golf or basketball. That's life and death.

Okay, worship those mainstream sports stars if you want, but save your real admiration for the guy down at the local pro shop who has killed a handful of bulls with his bow.

Learning to bowhunt takes lots of time combined with supreme focus.

That guy deserves respect. He has faced tough head on -- and won.

Often I write and talk about the work required to succeed in the grand tradition of bowhunting. The pain, anguish, devotion, and feeling of achievement are all part of a special journey that takes us from humble beginnings as new bowhunters to mature roles as seasoned veterans.

I know, because I've been the guy sitting in a crowd at a bowhunting seminar, staring awestruck at what I was seeing and hearing. The seminar was at The Bow Rack in Eugene, Oregon, many years ago, and the speaker was Oregon bowhunter Jim Hodson. I don't know how Jim is doing and haven't talked to him since he shared hundreds of slides with his eager audience, but that one night made a huge impact on my life. Listening to Jim's experiences from Oregon to Kodiak Island, I craved to do the kinds of things Jim had done. At the time, though, I didn't know or appreciate how tough the road would be. How could I?

During my first year in the woods with bow in hand, I figured it out real quickly. I remember thinking it was going to be completely impossible to get within bow range of a bull elk and get him on the ground with one of my arrows. No one told me I would feel utterly harmless in the woods with my stick and string. I kept plugging away, though, and each day I learned.

Finally, by the end of the season, I was starting to get it, and the effort paid off when I arrowed a spike bull elk. The key to that success? Time. It took me nearly a month straight of elk hunting, every day a supreme effort, to take that little bull. But with something as difficult as bowhunting, you have to walk before you can run.

This is one reason my home state of Oregon, while not a famous big bull producer by any means, is ideal for guys like me who just want to hunt and learn. Here in Oregon tags are over-the-counter, which means guys can dedicate themselves to the craft of bowhunting and know without a doubt they will be in the mountains hunting elk come September.

Idaho is similar, Colorado gives out a lot of elk tags, and in Wyoming I've drawn a general nonresident elk tag two years in a row. By punching the bowhunting time clock for years and years, I've gone from the guy who felt as if he was wasting his time chasing elk to a guy who has now killed six-point or seven-point bulls for six straight years.

How? By finally accepting the fact that having success in the bowhunting woods was going to be one of the toughest challenges I'd ever faced. I run, work out, shoot my bow, and obsess about bowhunting every day, because I want to keep my edge, knowi

ng I'll need it to achieve the success I dream of.

Am I in the minority? Does bowhunting come easier for some of you? In the past I've admitted that I don't think I am the greatest hunter or the best archer in the world. The only reason for my success has been my willingness to give absolutely all I've got, and then to give a little more. I've embraced the "toughness" factor of bowhunting, but I often wonder if, for some, bowhunting is second nature? Like watching a great runner stride seemingly without effort only to then realize how bloody fast he is running and thinking, "Dang, why can't it be that easy for me?"

Where do you rank bowhunting on the toughness scale? Has it been easier or harder than you'd imagined? I'd love to know.

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