column By: Gordy J. Krahn | March, 18
Most instruction on predator hunting dwells long and hard on strategies, calling techniques and associated gear. While it’s true that these things are important if a hunter wants to be consistently successful, there’s an element of hunting that is too often overlooked: The mental aspect of predator calling. I’m not talking about a furbearer’s intelligence – that’s fodder for another article. Rather, it’s the preparedness and mental toughness predator hunters must exhibit if they want to stay in the game when the going gets tough.
First and foremost is attitude. It is vital to approach each and every stand with the genuine sense of optimism that comes from the confidence of knowing that the methods employed work – and much of that confidence comes from experiencing success in the past. As it is often said, experience is the best teacher. Only when armed with the assurance that their techniques and tactics are sound, and their equipment and methods exemplary, will predator hunters have the fortitude to sit as still as a mountain, hopeful throughout each setup – whether they are experiencing success or not.
Then there is the physical component of mental toughness. Only when properly fueled and hydrated, comfortable and dry, will the hunter maintain the psychological sharpness and physical capacity to wring the most out of every stand, maximizing time spent in the field. Brutal weather conditions – hot or cold, windy or rainy – can cause physical discomfort and emotional weakness. That’s why it’s important to prepare for anything Mother Nature dishes out.
Like a lot of predator hunters, I draw confidence from past experiences. I have been in this game long enough to know it is important to adhere to the mantra: Never say never. I have called and killed critters in gale-force winds, blinding snow, pouring rain, bitter cold and searing heat. It is the collection of these memories that keeps me going when hunting conditions go south. This is extremely important when hunting away from home, where there are few options but to deal with the weather. So, if hunting in 30-mph winds – knowing full well the effectiveness of my calls is greatly diminished – fortitude is drawn from memories of a critter, or critters, responding under similar circumstances. Sure, chances are pretty good I will draw a blank – the odds might even be one in a million – but there is always a chance.
I understand that success is greatly compromised by extreme weather conditions, or when hunting heavily pressured areas where every coyote on the landscape knows the lyrics to the old “Dying Rabbit Blues.” It is just that when the chips are down, it is more important than ever for hunters to dig deeply into their reserves and keep on hunting. I try to maintain the attitude that every time I sit my butt down and pull out a predator call, something good is going to happen, even if it doesn’t. It is important to learn to take the bad with the good.
No one knows more about the mental aspect of predator hunting than competitive callers. These guys are good! For example, I have had the pleasure of hunting with Al Morris, and I will tell you this: He hunts coyotes like he is mad at them. Morris and his hunting partner of 21 years, Garvin Young, won the World Championship in 1997, 2007, 2008 and 2016.
In my opinion, complacency is the No. 1 killer when it comes to mental toughness. Only those hunters who approach every stand with a positive attitude will come away winners, whether they are competitive callers or weekend warriors just trying to put a little fur in the back of the pickup. Hunters who truly believe every stand has the potential of producing fur, and that they can remain vigilant from the first setup of the day to the very last, will realize the full potential of their efforts. When the chips are down, it is time to hunt harder, not give up. That’s mental toughness.
Morris agrees, saying that it can be difficult to stay focused when things go wrong, or coyotes won’t respond – or there are gale-force winds and blowing rain. “The thing that keeps us going is that you never know if the next stand might be the one that turns it around,” he said. “It’s like fishing. Some days it’s a morning bite, some days it’s the afternoon. If you are not 100 percent committed and focused, you might miss that opportunity where the switch flips and a quad shows up. Things rarely go as planned, and the great teams adapt and move past whatever is holding them back, and work together to accomplish the main goal of winning an event.” This is good advice for weekend warriors, too.
Then there’s the physical aspect of mental toughness; preparing for the hardships encountered during the hunt. This means keeping hydrated and nourished throughout the day, and dressing for the conditions. Only with proper nourishment and the comfort derived from being dressed for the conditions will the hunter be able to stay focused and on task all day.
I practically live on granola bars and apples when hunting – this source of carbohydrates and sugar helps keep energy levels high and fights off cold and depressed attitudes. I also try to stay hydrated throughout the day by drinking lots of water. My father-in-law is fond of saying, “Just give me my coffee and nobody gets hurt.” I’m the same way. I need that morning shot of caffeine to get my motor running, and an occasional sugar-charged energy drink for an afternoon boost. Be warned, though, that these drinks can cause dehydration. Even mild dehydration can lead to a loss in concentration that negatively affects cognitive performance – causing physical and mental exhaustion. Studies have shown that dehydration can affect motor skills, awareness and even mood. The remedy is to drink lots of water. Fortunately, unlike sitting on stand all day when hunting deer, predator hunters make frequent trips to the truck between setups. This allows them to hydrate and relieve themselves of excess fluids. My rule of thumb is to drink water even if I’m not thirsty.
Morris says that he and his partner eat a hardy breakfast but don’t eat much during the day of a contest. “The way I look at it is if we take time to stop and eat lunch, that’s 10 or 15 minutes when we could’ve called a coyote in,” he said. “We hustle all day long, and it’s usually a chocolate milk and a banana early, and water or Gatorade the rest of the day. Staying on task is really the only way to produce the numbers we need [to win the contest]. When o-dark-thirty arrives, we usually kick back and eat a good meal while we go over the day’s events.”
Morris points out that it’s also important to keep in relatively good physical shape. “You have to be durable to hunt a two-day calling contest, hustling to get in 40 or 50 stands in a day and half,” he said. “Thank goodness I chase elk all over the western United States. That’s the only way I prepare my fat body for the World Championship.”
In many cases predator hunters need to apply their skills in less-than-ideal weather conditions, whether they are contest callers or ordinary guys. Morris says that for both, there literally is no tomorrow – that no matter what conditions they face, they have to hunt. “Wind, rain, sleet, snow – it takes you out of your comfort zone and you need to try to do whatever you can to make it happen.”
Whether hunting in hot or cold conditions – or anything in-between – the key to greater comfort and remaining in the field longer is to effectively use the body’s built-in thermostat to regulate heat and humidity. The most efficient way is to dress in layers, and with today’s high-tech clothing options, finding the right solution has never been easier. Modern “clothing systems” allow for the addition or removal of garment layers as weather conditions dictate, while always maintaining full camouflage.
When most hunters consider dressing in layers to control body temperature and perspiration, they’re usually thinking cold thoughts, but many of the same principles that keep hunters warm and dry in frigid weather apply when dressing for balmy conditions. Regulating core body temperature and dryness begins with undergarments and ends with middle and outer layers that can be added or shed as conditions change. The key to comfort is finding a blend of materials and weights that match ambient temperatures and activity levels.
For cold conditions, the same layering principles apply, only taken to a more extreme level. Comfort begins with protecting the extremities, and that begins with warm, dry feet. Nothing will shut down a hunt more quickly than cold feet. Good socks provide the foundation, and a good pair of insulated boots is imperative. The amount of insulation required depends on the type of hunting. If making frequent trips back to the truck, I keep my footgear on the lighter side for more mobility during those hikes to and from setups. If going cross-country and planning to sit an hour or more at a time, I’ll go with a heavier insulated boot.
Core body temperature can quickly drop if your head and hands are exposed to the elements. Pack two or three pairs of gloves of various weights and designs to match the conditions. I might even wear a heavy pair when hiking in and out, and a lighter pair for on stand. To protect my head and face, I’ll wear a wool hat, facemask, gator and hoody.
In extremely cold temperatures, I might wear insulated coveralls to help hold body heat in, and bring a padded cushion to sit on. All layers should be made from materials that are whisper quiet. Nothing will spook a coyote more quickly than the sound of noisy garments.
Hunters often turn to wool for its ability to absorb moisture and provide superior comfort in both warm and cold conditions. Wool absorbs moisture, leaving a dry layer of air next to the skin, which helps hold in body heat. The body’s absorption/evaporation process also works in hot weather to help keep the body cooler. Its thirsty cells absorb body vapors and help reduce skin temperature. Also, much of the outdoor heat is also blocked out because of wool’s insulating barrier of air pockets. This means the body maintains an even temperature.
Calling predators can be relatively easy when weather conditions are optimal and critters are responsive. It is when the going gets tough that predator hunters must dig deep for the gumption to keep them in the game.