By Mark Huelsing

Countless articles have been written about how to be a successful whitetail hunter.  These articles tend to focus on the tangible things that we need to have, do, or be.

We need to “have” – a good bow or gun, some effective calls, the proper clothing for the conditions, etc.

We need to “do” – habitat improvement projects, extensive scouting, trail camera surveys, etc.

We need to “be” – scent free, quiet, proficient with our weapon of choice, etc.

These items and activities prepare us for the season, but they certainly don’t guarantee any sort of success.  That is the funny and often unbelievably frustrating thing about hunting whitetail – one guy will work his tail off and not have success, while another guy won’t prepare much at all, yet he will stumble his way into luck.

There is no question that disciplined preparation will lead to a greater level of consistent success in the field, but I don’t think the formula for success is simply, preparation = success.  All of the preparation that we put into whitetail hunting does stack the odds in our favor, but this preparation does something inside of us that is equally important.  There’s another variable in the preparation/success equation, which we often fail to recognize…

I believe that… preparation = confidence = success.

In other words, the key to frequent success is confidence, and a key to building confidence is preparation.

When it comes to hunting confidence there are two sides of the coin.  There is confidence in what can happen, and confidence in what will happen.

The confidence in what can happen is primarily about attempting to put the variables of deer location and behavior in our favor.  When we are scouting, studying maps, placing trail cameras, and assessing the food/water/cover needs of whitetails, we are building confidence.  The behavior and location of wild whitetails is not guaranteed, but we should have confidence that we have done everything we can to understand them and to put ourselves in a position where great things can happen.

At this point in time, with less than three weeks left before my season starts, there is little left that I can do to give myself more confidence in what can happen.  I’ve studied maps, put boots on the ground to scout, and identified and prepared treestand locations.  To be honest with you, my pre-season scouting hasn’t given me the prospects that I hoped it would have, and my trail cameras haven’t shown me the quality or quantity of deer that I was expecting see.  Nevertheless, I am confident that I will put myself in a place where great things can happen.

Right now my focus is on continuing to build confidence regarding what will happen; specifically, that I will successfully kill any deer that I intend to kill, when given the chance to do so.  This type of confidence is sureness in my gear, my abilities, and my effectiveness – to make the best of the chances that I am given.

There are always a lot of thoughts that run through my mind as I draw my bow back on a whitetail.  In that moment everything seems to move at the speed of light, and yet, somehow also stand still.  In that moment there is no room for doubt, questioning, or speculating.  In that moment I need to be ready to do what I have done thousands of times over the past few months – execute a perfect shot.

I know I can do this.  I know I will do this.

What gives you confidence?  What challenges your confidence?  Be aware of these things.  At the end of the day, there are only so many things we can control in hunting wild game.  Right now, as we all approach the beginning of our season, focus on building confidence in what you can control.

– Mark Huelsing is a regular guy with an irregular passion for bowhunting and the outdoors.  If he is not bowhunting, then he is planning towards it, training for it, and writing about it at