Like a lot of you I watched the ESPN series on Michael Jordan called The Last Dance. Being a basketball fan born the same year as MJ, I followed his career from the time he was a freshman in college. I have also closely observed other highly successful people over the years to learn what it was that set them apart from others. With my own interest being primarily the pursuit of giant whitetails I am always looking for that little edge to take my hunting success to the highest level possible. While watching the 10 episodes of The Last Dance, I picked up on a few things that stood out to me as reasons that Michael Jordan was the best basketball player to ever walk the earth that could also be real-life lessons for deer hunters looking to up their game.
Let me state right out of the gate that I am in no way comparing myself to Michael Jordan nor do I believe that my deer hunting skills even come close to matching his basketball skills. That is not the point of this article at all. The point here is that I do think there are some things regarding MJ’s success that any deer hunter could use to take their game to the next level.
The first thing that jumped out to me is the reaction that MJ’s mother had when he was cut from his high school team as a sophomore. She didn’t call the coach or athletic director and complain or even show Michael any mercy. She showed him love and told him to “get better”. I have often said that as a deer hunter “I don’t make excuses, I find solutions”. Excuses are a losers consolation prize. If you aren’t killing the caliber of bucks that you desire, find a solution! That solution might be a new hunting property or a change of tactics but if you keep doing the same things you will keep killing the same caliber of bucks.
Throughout The Last Dance MJ talked about motivation. He was always looking for something to motivate him to really buckle down and beat an opposing team. Often the motivation came from another player trash talking but sometimes he just made up things that really never happened. As deer hunters we can get in the middle of a long season and start to lose our edge. We might get out of our stands a little sooner than normal or just not be mentally as sharp as when the season started. Your entire hunting season can turn from dreadful to fabulous in 5 seconds so you have to remain motivated. One of my favorite ways to stay motivated is to have photos of my target bucks on my cell phone and when I am tempted to end a hunt early I just look at the photos to keep me sitting sight and focused on the end goal. I find that one’s motivation is closely tied to their success no matter the goal.
Michael Jordan always believed he would win every game and hit every shot he took. He didn’t allow negativity to creep into his mind. His confidence could not be shaken with a missed shot or a loss. The best big buck serial killers I ever met were extremely confident. They entered each season believing they would tag another giant buck instead of just hoping they would. Of course confidence comes from past success but it has to start somewhere. Confidence helps us stick with our plan and stay in our stands when doubt derails most other deer hunters.
Success breeds confidence. Do you start each season confident that you will kill a giant, or simply hoping to do so? There is a big difference!
When MJ first entered the NBA he clearly stated that his goal was to bring championships to the Chicago Bulls. It took several years to reach this ultimate goal but he never wavered from it, instead he persisted. From my personal deer hunting experience I can tell you that a big reason for my success is that I never wavered from my goals. My goals on the last day of hunting season were the same as they were on the first day. Some years I didn’t reach my goal but I didn’t lower it, instead I became more committed to achieving the goal next season. If your goal is to kill a buck scoring over 170” you are going to have to stop filling your tags with bucks scoring 140”. When a goal is compromised it is really a dream not a goal.
The Detroit Pistons were a huge hurdle for Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. The last time that the Pistons eliminated the bulls from the play-offs MJ started preparing for the next season the very next day. He committed himself to becoming better during the off-season to reach his ultimate goal. I have often said on my podcast and in my writings that champions are made in the off-season. Great deer hunters never stop working. It doesn’t matter if it is March, June or October; they are always doing something to improve their chances for success. I personally spend more time preparing to hunt than actually hunting. In fact the time I spend hunting has been decreasing in recent years however my success has skyrocketed. Again, champions are made in the off-season.
I don’t think there are many correlations between basketball and bowhunting mature whitetail bucks. One is a team sport performed in front of an audience while the other is a solitary endeavor in which the participant operates under a wide variety of rules and personal choices. Deer hunting will never have a Michael Jordan who dominates all others on an even playing field but still, we can take a few lessons from the greatest athlete ever to improve our approach and success in the sport we cherish.