For Scott Darnell of Payson, earning back-to-back national bowhunting championships was all in his head.
"Archery is so much more mental than mechanical," the International Bowhunting Organization champion said. "The No. 1 skill you have to have is mental focus."
Darnell, who owns Pine Country Outfitters, a bowhunting specialty store in the Swiss Village Shops, has nearly a dozen sharp-shooting trophies on display in his showroom, not including those he won for the 1999 amateur and the 2000 semi-pro IBO winter nationals in Phoenix.
According to 3-D Times Magazine, the 32-year-old not only pinned down the 2000 semi-pro title last year, he outscored the pro division world champion, David Stepp Jr., by five points.
"I've been real lucky," he said.
This week, Darnell is preparing for the biggest bowhunting competition in the West the Arizona Bowhunter Happening Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Flagstaff. Roughly 3,000 people, including Darnell's wife, Melanie, and their three children, are expected to turn out to watch some 300 archers shoot for the gold.
Bowhunting competitors must navigate a predetermined course marked by shooting stakes, which put the archers at different distances from each 3-D animal target. A hit in the body of the target is worth five points, a hit in a circle around the lungs is worth eight points, a hit in a smaller circle in the lungs is worth 10 points and a hit in the smallest circle is worth 12 points. The competitors with the best scores win their divisions.
"Judging distances is a big part of the sport," Darnell said. "A few degrees can put you a yard off."
Most tournaments put the competitors through a 40-target course 20 targets the first day and 20 targets the second day, he said.
"When you come to each stake, you judge the distance, set the sight, notch an arrow, take a deep breath and hope all those hours of practice pay off and you make the shot," he said.
Darnell, who picked up his first bow when he was 7 years old and won his first competition when he was 10, practices about four hours a week now.
"I try not to over-train," he said. "You can get burned out and start practicing your mistakes."
In addition to his two national titles, Darnell holds an Arizona state bowhunting title and three Kansas state titles. He still holds the distinction of being the youngest person to win a Kansas state bowhunting title an honor he earned in his home state at the age of 17.
But his most memorable win wasn't during a major competition; it was during a 1997 shoot at Hawley Lake east of Show Low.
"The bleachers were packed, and I was in the top four," he said. "On my second to last shot, my string broke and I dropped to 11th place out of the finals. But the guy in 10th place didn't show up, so I made the shoot-off after all.
"My friends helped me build another bow, and I started watching for the guys to beat. One of the shooters had just won the pro-world points championship. He was doing well, but he dropped one target.
"It was a six-target competition, we were down to the last target and I was the last shooter. I'd hit every 10-ring up to that point, and it was dead quiet. I shot, and this slow-motion arrow just floated into the last 10-ring.
"That day I beat the guy I thought I'd never beat.
"It's all about being able to control your mental focus."