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Does this sound familiar? You’re going hunting. You strap on 20 pounds of gear, grab your rifle and proceed to slog through two miles of brush, mud and rough terrain. By the time you reach your stand you’re exhausted and it takes just about all you have to settle in.

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Your heart is pounding from the exertion and as you try to catch your breath, out of the brush, 50 yards out, a buck the size of Texas appears. You take aim, but because your heart is racing from the trek, your arms shake and your pulse makes your vision throb. As you squeeze off your shot, it goes woefully wide and the trophy buck escapes.

It happens to the best of us; it happens to all of us, and it’s tough to prepare yourself for something like this.

Or is it?

As we prepare for each hunting season we spend ample time at the range, sighting in our rifles, getting used to the feel of the trigger pull and conditioning our bodies to the recoil from the shot. The goal is to become familiar with our equipment so when the big moment arrives we know exactly when the firing pin will release so our body will react and we can make an accurate shot.

But, sometimes we can’t depend on our bodies to react, or not react, to the external factors like exertion, physical activity or simple nerves.

If it was as simple as flipping a switch and controlling your body’s physiological reactions, we’d all do it. Of course, that’s impossible ... or is it?

Mind over matter, meditation, concentration — call it what you will — the trick is to condition your body to respond to conscious actions you take that will influence your body’s physical state. If you’ve ever hyper-ventilated you know this — by controlling your rate of breathing you can calm the adverse reaction.

In this era of technology one expects there to be a gadget that legitimately helps with a situation like this, and I recently put one to the test. The Inner Balance app paired with the HeartMath sensor by HeartMath is an app and peripheral package that is designed to help you condition your body to concentrate on breathing rate and flow to give you a feeling of control in stressful situations.

Imagine the first scenario, after slogging through the mud and having your shot thrown off because your heart was beating so fast. What if you could slow your heart rate down, or feel like you did, to allow yourself to concentrate on the actual shot?

The Inner Balance program is pretty straightforward: You clamp the HeartMath sensor to your ear lobe and plug it into your iPad. The Inner Balance app runs you through a startup sequence that explains how the app works and then you cycle through breathing exercises. You adjust your breathing rate based on the “coherence” and feedback that app gives you based on your bio-data collected from the sensor.

The developers recommend doing these exercises two-three times each day, or anytime you feel stressed.

So I put it to the test. I decided to use handguns rather than a rifle, because the short barrel exponentially shows variance in your aim even from short distances compared to a rifle. I conducted my shooting at Mills Indoor Shooting and Archery range for a controlled environment.

At 10 yards I prepared two magazines of five rounds. I started with a control, simply loading, firing, doing a mag drop and then firing the second set of five rounds. Next, I changed out a clean target, reloaded both magazines with five rounds each ... then I did 60 seconds of cardio. I did as many jumping jacks as I could in that minute, without stopping, and quickly. When I finished I paused for about 30 seconds, then picked up my handgun and repeated the cycle.

The difference was immediately noticeable. The cardio workout, which also felt like walking a mile in gear, clearly affected my aim, causing my spread to nearly double in diameter.

I spent the next four days concentrating on doing the Inner Balance app exercises, twice a day, for about eight minutes per session. I tried as many of the different suggestions the app had, and improved my “coherence” level each session.

Then I took a return trip to the range. The control group was very similar. Then I did my 60 seconds of jumping jacks and then fired away at the target. This time, however, I did 30 seconds of Inner Balance training breathing. Comparing the target images, the results were very similar.

What really amazed me was how I felt as I was doing the set of shooting after the Inner Balance breathing. The first time around I felt awful — out of breath, head and eyes pulsing. It was incredibly difficult to focus on the shot.

However, after doing the breathing, I felt much more in control, my eyes did not pulse, and even though I could feel my heart beating at an elevated pace, I felt I was much better able to concentrate on my shots. I did not expect that, but even if the results do not show a 180-degree difference, the feeling while shooting felt much more like shooting in the control stage.

My conclusion is still a little indecisive. I plan to do more testing and I have a friend who shoots archery who will put it to that test.

That being said, I was really impressed at the difference I felt after doing these exercises and plan to make it a regular part of my routine. It may not be a perfect solution, and it certainly doesn’t guarantee a trophy buck, but if doing these exercises means I can feel more in control of my shot, then count me in.

For more information about the app I used, visit www.heartmath.com.

(Phil Seibel is vice president of revenue development at the Brainerd Dispatch.)

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