I could think of a lot of other things that I would of rather of been doing than sitting underneath some shrubbery at 11,500 feet while hail was pounding my poncho. The day had already been rough with an early morning hike straight up a mountain side through eight-foot-tall willows. My dad and I had found a large herd bull in this upper bowl and had laid out the game plan on how to stick him. Climbing fifteen-foot cliffs for an hour was not in the plan. As I think about that long awful morning hike, I wonder if I would have just turned around if I had not been chasing the bull. I didn’t want to think even about how I would pack an elk out of this hell hole. No horses could get up there, and I don’t think I could have paid anybody to hike up there to pick up 80lbs of meat and head back down. But even as I was struggling up the steep face, I was not fearful of my next step or what the next twelve hours held for me. As anyone who has hiked off of the trail, that first step into the unknown is the hardest one to take. This was especially true for this hike. After arriving at the trailhead at 4 am, the first challenge was crossing a river. I have navigated my fair share of rivers but every time I crossed this creek, it was a struggle because I knew exactly what was ahead of me.
Fear defined is to be afraid of something and to expect something bad to happen. To even attempt to be a successful backcountry hunter, you must eliminate fear from your mind. (now if you are jumping off into an abyss or figure on attacking a grizzly head on, then you have the wrong idea) “What if take the wrong trail” “What if the herd has moved on” “What if I’m not ready to hike up there” Just one of the questions can keep you from stepping out and having the adventure of a lifetime. I remember scouting a couple of nice bulls right before the opening day. I had been lucky because nobody else had seen this bachelor group of five bulls that hung out not 1000 yards from the county road. Well, my luck finally ran out as two trucks with five hunters spotted the bulls and glassed them for an hour or so. I went over to make small talk with them and found out that they had no interest in going after the bulls. (2 bulls were over 320 FYI) I was relieved and dumbfounded at why they would hunt the group. One man told me that it was impossible to hunt that high because “the wind was unpredictable.” Another man added in, “It’s just too high up there.” I smirked, said my goodbyes and left. The first week of the season I had three good chances at these bulls. One of them was in the pouring rain. The clouds had finally cleared, and I spotted the big six up high at the tree line. Without a second thought, I jumped out of the truck and headed straight up the avalanche chute. After struggling up the muddy elk trails, I had reached the halfway point. I looked down and there right by my truck were two other 4wd’s glassing the elk and I. I laughed to myself thinking that if I would have waited on the road for another hour to see if the weather would clear up; these guys would have been right there with me. But as it stood, I was having the time of my life getting soaked while hiking straight up this chute and they were stuck watching me chase the big bull. Eliminating the fear of failure or the fear of being uncomfortable can be an incredible triumph. Going over that ridge that you always thought unreachable or sitting out a heavy rainstorm can be oddly satisfying. As the late Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” The fear of failure is always surrounding me it seems while I am on the mountain, and I have succumbed to it many a time. I can remember every time I have quit on a hunt because I was scared of getting rained on or turned around with twenty minutes of daylight left because “nothing is gonna come in anyways.” As everybody has heard from the old man sitting on the porch of the hunting cabin “you can’t kill ’em from your bunk.” (unless you have a sweet setup, and the animals feed right outside your room. In that case, sleep in and enjoy it for you have mighty favor with the hunting gods.)
Hunting has become a bit complicated. The new companies coming out with the heated blinds and the ultimate call that brings in the animals every time make us second guess our tactics and gear. Canned hunts offering “guaranteed” success have shadowed what hunting is truly about. Along with the various options for guns, bows, clothing, and so forth we have almost forgotten what we need to “enjoy” the hunt and be successful. Now I am not saying that having the best gear doesn’t help you hike farther and faster, it sure can. But the biggest thing that keeps a hunter from reaching out past his comfort zone and exploring new lands is himself. Sure, having a big muley on the ground or kneeling by a huge 6×6 elk is the goal of every hunter, but success for a hunter isn’t defined by just the animals taken. Hiking miles upon miles, exploring new areas, pushing yourself to the limits are all parts of determining how successful a hunt is. Just as all of the other hunters I have talked to who “watched the herd top the ridge and disappear forever” or “well, the wind is just too tricky, so we didn’t hike up there”, these guys will never realize the feeling of defeating the thought of fear, and pushing yourself to the breaking point. Once you find that inner drive that balks even at the thought of failure, then you truly have become successful as a backcountry hunter. Until I find that inner urge, it will be my driving force whether I am lifting weights or standing in the shadow of a 13,000-foot mountain.
Now let me finish my story from the beginning of the page. The hail had halted, and I finally caught a glimpse of a couple of cows feeding into the basin. Within five minutes of their arrival, a huge lightning storm hit the valley. I have never run off a mountain side so fast in my entire life, but I had no choice, unfortunately. Once again, having a healthy dose of fear can keep you from dying. I had waited all day to get a glimpse of this 360 bull coming over that ridge, but playing hopscotch with lighting usually doesn’t end well. I knew I would soon be back up to the hidden basin to resume my chase of the Wapiti so running down the mountain to the sound of thunder was not entirely defeating.
Never assume that a what others believe to be a stupid idea, or an unreachable goal is not attainable. Without opposition, you wouldn’t have the push and desire to do great things. There will always be at least one person who will make you doubt your sanity in any situation in life, hunting related or not. Your job is to decide if the risk is worth the reward. Upon the mountain, the choices you make are between you and God. The idea of fear that is so strongly put on us as hunters is all a battle within ourselves. “Did I prepare enough” “Did I study my topo map enough” Only you can know if you are truly ready for an endeavor. No one can influence you or has power over you. This is the time where you find out what you are made of and how mentally strong you are to push through fear and adversity. Hunt strong.
I had forgotten that I had written everything you just finished reading. It was the first time that put into writing a few thoughts I had from a hunt. Upon reading this two years later, I see that I have made improvements in my attempts to become mentally and physically strong. I have to learn that trying to appease other people or trying to look cool to impress people you will probably not see again is somewhat pointless. I have learned that in order for me to succeed in everyday tasks, I must write everything down that I have to accomplish. Making these advances, no matter how small, every day can add up over the course of two years. The mindset I have while hunting strictly correlates with my everyday life. If I can hike straight up a mountain at 4 am in pouring down rain, I am pretty sure I can write a 500-word response on global trends and its international effects for my sociology class. Fear so many times captivates me into not accomplishing a task.
I love sleeping. As my dad can attest to, there have been many mornings where he had to drag me out of bed to go hunt or go to school. Sleep is a detriment towards success for me. I have missed out on opportunities because I slept too long. How can I fight this? Physically I can prepare my body to sleep and go to bed earlier as any doctor would suggest. Mentally I have to face the obstacle that sleep presents as any obstacle I would face up on the mountain. Face it, fight it, and finish it. This semester, I had a day where I was exhausted. In response, I took a very long nap thus making me not very tired come bedtime. As I lay in my bed trying to fall asleep, I started thinking, as I usually do, of times I had come up short in life. Rather it is a test or an elk hunt, the fear of failure started creeping in. How did I fight this? I got out of bed and worked out in my garage until 3 am. I then did homework, ate some breakfast, and was at the gym at 6 am. I had classes, an interview, and a small group that followed this sleepless night. Was I tired throughout the day? Yes, I was, but I had defeated the obstacle I had faced that was holding me back.
The one thing I am guilty of and many others are, is trying to make ourselves feel better by letting others sympathize over our shortcomings. Now, I have found, as with anything, that there is a time and place for that, but when you are all alone 15 miles from your truck that is neither the time or place. If hunting has taught me anything, it is that I have to come to the fact that I will fail. I will screw up. I will miss shots or wound an animal. No one will be there to comfort me in that time of self-doubt. Now I can either make the choice of worrying about these past few sentences and letting that affect me or I can choose to power through them and look for the best possible outcome. And once I am through with that, I start all over as this cycle never ends, and I must keep on conquering the fear that resonates deep inside me.
There are so many times in life we ask the question “What if…” or say “If I would have only done this instead.” Fear grabs you and refuses to let go. It can be as little as asking a girl to dance or as big as asking your boss for a big promotion. Your reaction to facing fear determines what kind of man you will be and how successful you will be. Success is not measured by physical things, however. Being mentally strong and not giving into the things of this world is a treasure that all the riches in the world could not compare to. In a time where people are giving into the status quo and cowering in fear of failure, you have to bust these public habits. I’ll end with this example. Imagine an obstacle so great that even the strongest and bravest of men was afraid to be even in its presence. A whole army of men would cower at the thought of this obstacle. How would you react to this? Would you just blend in with the crowd? Or would you face the obstacle head on with no fear and no care for what everyone else thought? Do you have an answer? Now compare this answer to 1st Samuel 17, and see how you stand.