By Mark Kenyon

I want to talk about reflection.

Not the kind you see in the mirror or when you look down into the shimmering flat waters of a still lake. Not the reflection you see in your rear view, or the reflection shimmering back at you from the glossy laptop screen in front of you.

No. Rather, I’d like to discuss the process of self reflection. Please, don’t run. Bear with me on this.

I want to take a look at the value of reflecting on past experiences, decisions, realizations, and moments in our hunting lives. This  kind of reflection, I believe, has tremendous power.  Now, on the surface, looking back on past experiences can take the form of simply reminicising. But the key is taking your reflection beyond just remembering. The true power is in remembering and then learning. And this is an idea that can make a tremendous impact on us as hunters.

Each season we enter the woods countless times, experiencing new things on each and every excursion into the wild. But too often we experience and then move on, rather than experiencing, reflecting and learning. I would argue though, that to become a better hunter, you must first learn how to walk yourself through that aforementioned process of experiencing, reflecting and learning. And if you fail to do so, you run the risk of becoming more of bow holder, than a bow hunter. If you can’t experience, reflect and learn – you’re well on your way to becoming a deer watcher and not a deer hunter. So with that threat looming in our minds, lets dive into the power of reflection and how it can and will change your world as a hunter.

As I mentioned before, every time we go on a hunt, we are encountering uncountable new situations and experiencing new stimuli at all moments. Of particular interest to us, as deer hunters, should be those experiences and situations that we encounter while in the presence of deer. At first glimpse, you might interpret a deer encounter as nothing more than watching a certain deer moving across the terrain in front of you. But delve deeper, and you all of sudden have now an opportunity to observe deer behaviors, reactions, patterns, vocalizations, social interactions, and so much more. Now obviously thats a whole lot of “stuff”, and I wouldn’t expect any one of us to be able to observe a deer and then analyze all of the aforementioned factors at the same moment. But this is where reflection comes in. Focusing on step one though, you must experience these aforementioned situations with a purpose. What I mean by this is that when you have an encounter in the wild with deer, you should be focusing on the purpose of soaking in every detail possible surrounding you. Watch the deer, analyze the deer, take note of what they are doing and possibly why. Your purpose is to observe and process everything you can about the situation at hand. In some cases, yes, you’ll be attempting to kill or film the deer – but always do your best to pay attention to all the details for later analysis.

Paying attention and then looking back upon these past encounters with whitetails is the first step in unleashing the power of reflection, as it presents us with an opportunity to revisit these experiences with our quarry and “unpackage” all the various factors surrounding it.

Lets now fast forward to the end of a day on stand hunting. You watched numerous does filter across the swamp that you hunt, and you also observed two different bucks come in from a different direction, cutting some of those does off and chasing them. One of these bucks actually cruised very near to you, passing just out of shooting range on the other side of some downed trees as he headed in to intercept does.

You’ve just had a great day hunting, and most people would take it as that. They’d tell their buddies, “Yea, I saw a bunch of does and two good bucks. One almost came in to range, but he ended up just a bit too far.” And that would be that.

But if you want to become a great hunter, you have to take it a step further. You must reflect. In your mind, you must bring yourself back to those moments in the woods, relive the actions the deer took and examine all circumstances surrounding it. Begin asking yourself questions.

Why did the buck come from the direction he did? What direction was the wind coming from? How was that buck using the wind to his advantage? Why did he cross 50 yards from you behind the down trees and not come through the deer trail next to you? Why were the does moving the direction they were across the swamp? Where did the bucks chase the does after they intercepted them? What time did the does start moving through? When did the bucks show up?  Why did the does travel across the swamp at that particular point? Why did the one matriarch doe get skittish when she got SE of your stand?

These questions, allow you to truly engage in the process of reflection. Remember, reflect, question.

And then finally, you must answer. This is the key to actually learning from those experiences. If we look closely at our past experiences, and then question why and how they occured, we can then take away valuable lessons that can and should be applied to our future hunts. Why did the buck come from the direction he did? Well if you think about it, there is another doe bedding area from that direction and when you consider the wind that day, you all of a sudden realize that he was slightly downwind of that bedding area and he was slightly downwind of this swamp. He must have been cruising from bedding to bedding, scent checking for does. All of a sudden now, you’ve identified a pattern of deer behavior and how it applies to this particular location, which you can now apply to future hunts. Next time you’ll know that during the rut, when bucks are cruising between bedding areas, you’ll want to be downwind of this funnel and closer to the downed trees that offer the best cover for bucks as they travel between these two sections of woods. Experienced. Questioned. Learned.

It’s amazing how much you can learn when you look at your hunts this way. Through this self introspection I’ve been able to work through many different deer hunting conundrums and then come out the other side with a new idea or tactic to try. Here is the true power of reflection. Learning from your periods of reflection.

I urge you, implore you, plead with you to try this in the future. Actually, try this today! Just take a moment and look back on that one big buck encounter from last year that still is under your skin. Look back on it, not just on the surface, but delve into the details. Explore the nuance, all the surrounding factors that may have led to what you actually saw and experienced. Lay all the puzzle pieces out on the metaphorical table in your head, and start seeing how they all fit together. Consider the what, the how, the when, and the why of those past experiences, and before you know it that puzzle will begin coming together into a shape that is much more understandable than you might have guessed earlier.

If you can begin to make this activity of reflecting and learning a common habit, you will become a different kind of hunter. No longer will you do the same thing, over and over despite the poor results. No longer will you always have to watch the deer just out of range. No longer will you have to smile and congratulate your buddies on their constant string of big bucks, while you struggle inside to understand why they can do it, but you can’t.

The power of reflection is your key, your ticket, your pass to taking your hunting skills to the next level. If you want to become the best possible hunter you can, you must learn from the past and actively apply it to the future.

You must experience, reflect and then learn.

This is the power of reflection and it will revolutionize you as a hunter.