November 22, 2021
Question: I’m really getting into bowhunting, but I’m a loner. From both a physical and mental perspective, how do you deal with hunting wild places alone, and how do you get used to being in the woods in the dark? Cliff W., via e-mail
Answer: I get asked this question often. What has helped me when hunting solo is my early experience backpack bowhunting in the Western states. Back then, I ventured out to Colorado to hunt elk and deer. When I finally arrowed my first elk, a 4x4 bull, on a remote backpack hunt, I proved to myself that I could do it. It was during these early excursions and first backpack hunts that I built a basic framework of knowledge, experience, and self-confidence, that still gets me through my solo adventures today. And I continue to learn every time I bowhunt wild places alone.
The byproducts of those experience-building excursions will be physical and mental toughness. Obviously, to be able to conduct a solo bowhunt in the wilderness requires physical fitness. It does not, however, require you to be in Olympian shape. You have the freedom to hunt your way. You’re alone, so you can go as fast or as slow as you desire. It’s your hunt; you make your own decisions.
I believe bowhunting is more of a solo endeavor, so it tends to attract loners. Sure, I love bowhunting with friends for black bears, caribou, and whitetails. But for the extreme hunts in wild places, I prefer to hunt solo. I don’t have to depend on other people’s schedules, abilities, or commitment to the hunt. I can focus completely on putting everything I have into pursuing the animal I’m after.
Maybe more important, is the mental strength you specifically asked about. I believe being mentally tough is one of the most crucial characteristics a bowhunter can possess. Yes, physical fitness and having the ability to shoot well are critical to bowhunting success, but the value of mental toughness cannot be overstated. With each hunt, both successful and unsuccessful, this mental advantage will grow, and consistent success will come easier. Experience will give you the determination to never give up, and it helps you develop a “do whatever it takes” bowhunting attitude.
Being comfortable in the dark, on solo hunts, also comes with experience. No one likes to be alone in the dark woods. And there is no way to prepare yourself to be comfortable in the dark. However, the more time you spend there, the more relaxed you will feel. That said, you must be well-prepared, you must be smart, and you must make good decisions, especially when you’re by yourself. There is no one to help you, so every step and every move should be analyzed. Think ahead. Anticipate potential problems. Plan for the worst and take nothing for granted. Have a contingency plan for emergencies, and have a way to contact help like an InReach or satellite phone.
Solo bowhunting in wild places is what I live for. It’s why I moved to Alaska over 20 years ago. It can be challenging, but there’s nothing more rewarding than tasting success on a solo, extreme bowhunt. I encourage you to plan a short solo backpack hunt to start with. Put the correct amount of research and total preparedness into the hunt. Gain some of that experience in being alone and getting accustomed to the dark. Gradually, you will learn to embrace the challenge of bowhunting solo. Good luck!