Cameron Hanes shines light on what he feels it takes to be the best bowhunter in the world.
People who strive to be the best at their disciplines have a lot in common. A sincere dedication, a sometimes unnaturally strong drive, and skills built over time are all shared traits of the highest achievers.
Cameron Hanes fits those descriptions, almost to an exact formula. He says bowhunting has changed him, and he’d be oblivious to think that he hasn’t changed bowhunting. The amount of followers on his YouTube Channel and Facebook page speaks for itself.
We had the privilege of speaking directly with Hanes during some recent traveling, and covered a variety of topics. Here, in his own words, are his feelings on physical fitness, advice for backcountry hunters, and much more.
On his current trip to ATA, the Archery Trade Association’s annual conference:
I just like the bowhunting family, basically. It’s people I’ve looked up to. I feel like bowhunting’s number one fan most of the time. I just like seeing all the people who I’ve been following and look up to, so it’s just cool to be able to say hi, see what’s going on, and see new stuff.
On when he realized the importance of fitness as it relates to bowhunting:
I was an athlete in high school, I guess you could say. I played football, basketball, baseball, but the only time I really ran was just to try to get in shape for football. I’d just do a 10K or two each summer, nothing crazy. Then I played a year of college football, and then I just started bowhunting. I needed something else to drive me. How it happened, I guess, was, I didn’t really have any access to any good hunting, I didn’t have any money, I didn’t know anybody.
So me and my buddy Roy, we went to high school together, and we just thought we needed to get to the wilderness, to where the country and the conditions would eliminate competition with other hunters. Because we had been used to hunting out the back door, basically, around the hills from home. So we went to the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon’s largest wilderness, it’s 30 miles by 60 miles, and we got a map. We basically pointed at the center of the map and said, “Let’s go there. That’s as far as you can get from any road.”
From there, I realized quickly what the limiting factor was. I got rid of all the rich-guy competition, the premium tags and all that. It was just you against the country and the animals. But I realized the limiting factor was my physical ability. That country was just so unforgiving, unrelenting, and then the weather gets in there, and the animals are tough, so it was just kind of a progression from there. I realized the better shape I was in, the odds would turn in my favor.
My philosophy was, if I could hunt as hard on the tenth day of a hunt as I was on the first day…? Well, you start to learn the country, you start to learn the animals, you get tougher mentally, and if you can stay focused and hunt just as hard on that last day, given all those other factors turning in your favor, you should be pretty deadly. So that’s how it began.
On what really happens in the mountains:
You could go with all the cliches you want, but I’ve never heard anyone say they were in too good of shape, you know what I mean? The hunt was too easy, because I was in such good shape. That never happens in the mountains. They’ll take everything you’ve got, so the more you’ve got, the better it’s going to be.
On the toughest lesson bowhunting has taught:
The hardest thing I’ve personally faced, and I can’t speak for everybody, but for me it was failure. Disappointment. Leaving it all out there, emotionally, physically, and coming up short. That was, God, you know, when you work so hard, you just don’t want to fail. Until you get that invested into something… And people aren’t going to live for bowhunting like I do. People aren’t going to gear their life to be the best bowhunter like I have, so I can’t expect anyone else to understand how I felt. But when I was on an eight-day hunt, and I had one chance at a big bull, and I blew the shot… I can be deep down, by myself, and I’m on my knees. It’s emotionally devastating.
For me, that was the hardest thing, learning that bowhunting doesn’t care. It doesn’t care who you are. It doesn’t care how successful you are, or if people believe in you, or if you killed something the year before. It doesn’t matter. You have to prove yourself, every single time, on every single hunt. Just the brutal nature of how difficult it was in the mountains, that’s the hardest thing.
On how that motivates him:
I’ve geared my life and my focus to being the very best I can be. And it doesn’t ensure success, but I can’t do any more. I’ve come to a realization that if I’m not successful, I’m better with it, because I don’t feel like I’ve taken a shortcut. I feel like I’ve done all I could, and sometimes killing an animal with an arrow, sometimes it’s not going to happen. But my goal is to make it happen every single time.
On his workout regimen:
Sometimes I don’t even like saying everything I do, because people have been pretty critical of me, either calling B.S. on what I do, or negatively judging what I do, or I don’t know what. So I’ll just say, in short, I lift weights, I run, and I shoot my bow every single day.
My goal is to be the best bowhunter I can be, and I feel like I need to punch the time clock on those every single day. And if I don’t, I don’t feel like I’ve done my part. I owe it to the animal, and I owe it to myself, to be the very best predator I can be. To do that, I need to be strong, I need to be disciplined, I need to be focused. I need to know when I shoot at an animal, that I’m not hoping that I hit it good. I need to know for a fact that I made a lethal shot. And to do that, and this is just me, I’m not telling anybody else what to do, but I have to put work in every day.
I could go on and on about what I do, but probably nobody cares. I lift weights every day, and I run on a mountain not too far outside of town. I run every day, regardless of the weather. The more miserable, the better for me, because I want the mental test, too. And then I shoot my bow, which is the easiest part of all of it, because it’s fun.
On advice for those interested in hunting the mountains:
Who doesn’t dream of hunting the mountains? The biggest thing I could tell them, I say, is to just get outside. My goal, just to be as simplified as possible, is to just work up a sweat every day. Whether that’s hiking, whether that’s jogging, whether that’s in a gym on a treadmill, it doesn’t matter. Get outside, work up a sweat.
Be proficient with your weapon. If that’s a gun, know that gun in and out. If that’s a bow, make it an extension of your being. I’ve always said you can be in the best shape in the world, but if you can’t put the arrow on the mark, you’re probably not going to kill anything. Or you can be the best caller, or whatever. You still have to be able to make the shot. Be dedicated to making that shot, have confidence in your weapon, and then work up a sweat every day.
On what backcountry hunting boils down to:
I think if you do those things, then the backcountry doesn’t seem so daunting. Then it’s just logistics. Where am I going? How long am I going to stay? Get the physical part and the shooting part handled, because that’s usually what sabotages people. They just can’t get around in the mountains, or they get that shot and blow it. I like to control what I can. I think if [people] control those two things, they’re controlling as much as they can prior to the hunt.
On the bowhunting experiences he’s had:
Like I said, bowhunting has changed my life. So yeah, there are many devastating memories and amazing memories. This has been a long journey for me, almost 30 years. And so where I’m at now in that journey, is that I have a lot of confidence, even when all the chips are down. I can point to a moose hunt I had this year, and the conditions were terrible. It was really hard hunting. I couldn’t see 50 yards sometimes, and it was big country that we were trying to glass bulls in. It was freezing. It was hard on the cameramen, it was hard on everybody. But I didn’t have any doubt I was going to kill a bull.
And this was in a rifle area, and I had a bow. So you have a lot of odds that were not in my favor. I think being positive and knowing that, if I get one chance, I’m going to be able to make it pay off, pay its dividends.
So on that hunt, I couldn’t see anything for a few days, and finally, I called my buddy Roy. He was going to his son’s football game… but I wanted him to be there when I killed it. So I said I had this big bull spotted, and I waited. Like I said, we grew up bowhunting together in high school. He got me started bowhunting so I wanted him to be there. It was a long walk up the hill, and he got there and said “What time does it get dark?” And I said we had a few hours, but we got this bull spotted, let’s just go and kill him. And so we did.
It looked like there was probably zero chance that I was going to kill a big bull with a bow on that hunt. But for whatever reason, years of doing this and being defeated… That’s a big part of this process too. If you go in and you’re successful on every hunt, you’re never learning, and you’re never getting better. Success can mask a lot of weaknesses you have. You might get lucky, and you can get lucky in hunting, but maybe that success masks all the errors you’ve made. I’ve made a lot of errors, and I’m trying to get better because of them.
On perhaps his biggest miss:
On my very first day of bowhunting, I called in a big bull. This was back in 1989, and a big Roosevelt bull came in, a 6×7, 43 yards away, and I missed him. He was facing to the right, and I missed him behind his butt to the left at 43 yards. So I’m six, eight feet off. We cow called, he stops again, and I miss again.
I was on a giant bull, it probably would have been one of the best Roosevelt bulls I’ve ever killed, on my very first day of hunting. I was 19. I just think if I would have killed that bull, I wouldn’t appreciate everything that goes in to being able to kill a bull with a bow. It was a curse; I ended up killing a spike bull, but it was also a blessing. I got a bull, I didn’t get a giant bull, but if I would have killed a giant bull I wouldn’t appreciate what it means to be a successful big bull bowhunter. So I was cussing it at the time, but it was a big part of my growing process, just to appreciate what it takes.
To continue letting Hanes’ words speak for themselves, here he is in a video that further explains his experience.
There’s a lot to be gleaned from Hanes, and any hunter would benefit from taking his advice and learning from his experiences.
At the end of it all, Hanes is doing his damnedest to ensure he has no regrets and lives his life as a bowhunter to the fullest. There’s no way you can argue against that.