Everyone has one of those days where nothing can go right and everything just seems to fall apart. Whether it be losing your rangefinder or cow call up on the mountain or bombing a test, sometimes the smallest things can send you into a down spiral for the day. It’s funny how some of these obstacles we face seem so minuscule after that fact. We ask ourselves how stupid could I of been to stress out about that small hiccup and why did I respond so negatively to it. I see it as a matter of perspective. Whatever position you are in today, somebody wants to be there. Someone wants to have a job, skill, hobby that you currently have, and someone would do anything to obtain one of those things no matter what it would cost to them. Say I have a bad test one day here at A&M and start to question if I should just drop out or not. Someone else at that same moment is hoping for just a chance to get into this school to have the same problems that I am going through. Some of the common things that I do seem like extraordinary things to other people, and somebody’s natural talents and skills seem extraordinary to me. The way we treat the ordinary things in our life immolates how we will handle things that we think are extraordinary.
Another thing that I am a firm believer on is that you can tell the true character of a man by throwing him into conflict and asking him to humble himself and teach others. It’s easy to stand up and preach about whatever you like to talk about when you have smooth sailing, but how do you respond when you are just having an awful day, and somebody comes up and asks you for advice? Are you going to give them a valid response or will you just give a half-hearted answer and soak in the fact that you think you are a loser? Just like how someone wants what you have, someone is always watching your every move. Everyone hates losing, and if you hate losing you aren’t going to be happy after the fact. But you have to make sure your actions don’t compromise all of the work that has gotten you to that point.
In this age of social media and keyboard warriors (someone who talks a big game on the internet but can’t back it up in the real world), every little action a person does can be seen by a large crowd of people. Although most of us don’t have cameras following us around every second of the day, we do have real life people who are observant and watch. I didn’t have the best shooting day at an archery event and couldn’t for the life of me calm down and put the arrow where it was supposed to go. A family from India walked by with a young boy. The father motioned that his son wanted a picture with me and the bow. I’m sure I looked about as American as you can get with a cutoff shirt, big bow, and a backpack full of arrows. I gave the kid my bow and nocked an arrow so that he could hold it for the picture. He then wanted to watch me shoot a couple of times. This showed me that no matter how rough a day I am having, I can still be a huge part of someone else’s.
A matter of perspective is usually defined as seeing the world as half empty or half full. That’s great, and all but I think it is kind of cheesy. A matter of perspective to me is defined by if I am the greatest person in the room or not. If I am, I am in the wrong room. There is always something more you can learn, and if you consider yourself the best at something then you are doing nothing at all to help yourself. Leave that argument up to your peers. You can learn something from anything. A thought, a baby, an elder, or even a mountain. There are so many lessons to be learned if we can just humble ourselves enough to listen to them. So, our perspective on life should be that we must always be the second smartest, greatest, etc. guy in the room. No matter how great our accomplishments will ever be, there will always be a new lesson to be taught. It’s up to you to decide which room you will be in and listen.
Note on the top picture: I have always found the sight of a hunting camp to be comforting. Whether it be a small one man tent on top of a cold mountain, or a hunting cabin back on the family ranch, so many conversations and memories are made in these places. Stories of past success and the big buck that just got away are ones that I will never forget. These places are filled with dirt, sweat, good food(under the circumstances), and sometimes tears. These are places where boys turn into men and life lessons are taught and learned. Finding a place and a group of guys to be around can truly change your life. I would say that if you have found a place like this, you have found the right room.
Source: Hard work
There are 52 weeks in a year. A lot happens in this time. School. Work. School. Hunting. School. I think I have finally reached the age where time seems just to fly by. I have less than 15 school days left in my first semester at TAMU. And as much as I am dreading turning in projects and studying for finals right now, here soon, I will blink my eyes and will be on a mountain in Colorado. Time catches up to us pretty quick. This makes putting your priorities in the right places even more important. Staying on task and being diligent at completing whatever it is you want to complete is a must at this time of my life. Every hour adds up when I am studying and writing, and eventually those hours will produce a final product that I am proud of.
As I do with everything, I directly relate this to hunting, but not yet. A couple of weeks ago, I came to the realization that I needed help with my workout program. I had taught myself some new techniques but was at the point where I wasn’t progressing because I didn’t have a second pair of eyes to tell me what I was doing wrong and what I needed to do to fix. I have worked hard in getting stronger these past few years and prided myself in pretty much self-teaching myself a majority of the workouts. This led me to a realization that I had put off for a while. For me to get better, I had to humble myself. I was putting in hard work, but it was headed towards the wrong direction. Sometimes, just because you work hard at something, it doesn’t matter because you were doing it wrong. Life sucks. I knew that I needed to admit that I needed instruction and critique in my movements. I started looking for ways to do this and finally decided on a gym close to me that does CrossFit. Now I’m not going to argue whether CrossFit is right or wrong. People love it, and people hate it. Frankly, I don’t care what other people have to say about it. I know in my mind that you get out what you put in. If I dedicate myself to learn and bust my butt every day, I will get better. Becoming a sponge and soaking in all the information I can get. It doesn’t matter if the guy is stronger, weaker, faster or slower than me. If he can perform a motion better than I can, I am going to pick his brain on how he does it, and will tell him to say when I mess it up.
I was raised on the fact that I had to work hard. I know when I don’t put out my best effort. Sometimes I try to get away with a half-hearted effort. Sometimes it works, and sometimes I get caught. People may hate the idea of hard work, and really, who can blame them. It sucks most of the time. Long hours. Tired muscles. Sleepless nights. I am blessed and annoyed that I have the knowledge of knowing what my best effort is and what is not. I know when I haven’t prepared for something, and when I get that result that I expected from not being ready, it is disappointing because I know that I can do way better. It really is a challenge to get a step up and do what you have to do. Hard work is defined as “a great deal of effort or endurance”. I don’t necessarily agree with that. I can watch tv for 20 hours. That takes strength to stay awake, and endurance doesn’t it? Alright, kind of thoughtless analogy but it leads me to this. To work hard, you must have a purpose. A goal. A challenge accepted. A finished product you want. Why would you work hard at something if you didn’t have a strong reason for doing it?
One short thought I want to add is the idea that hard work creates physical results. The older crowd will know this not to be true, but for the younger generation, this can be a hard concept to grasp. There are going to be a good amount of things in life that you are going to fail at. You are going to work super hard on accomplishing a goal, and then it will all fall apart. Hard work isn’t just a one and done type of thing. You have to set a path that instills your mind to say “whatever I am doing, I will give it my all both physically and mentally. Success or failure. Pass or fail. It doesn’t matter if no one is watching or the whole world is. I will give it my all.”
My first “official workout” with CrossFit was a team exercise. I started out with lots of high expectations to going hard only to find out my partner didn’t have the same mindset. He tried to make it easier, quit with 10-15 seconds left, and had the attitude of “Well, I am just here to get this checked off the list”. This slowed me down, and I didn’t like it. With the 52 weeks in this year, I am looking being able to go backpack hunting, with my tag, for maybe 2 of those. So everything I do up until those two weeks adds up. If I go easy for a few days or quit 20 seconds early on an exercise, that adds up over the span of the 19 weeks I have until the time that I get to do the thing I love. So if I exercised every day until then, I would have 133 workouts. Say I quit early twice a day adding up to a loss of 40 seconds. That adds up to almost an hour and a half of time. So 20 seconds equals a wasted day of working out pretty much.
I love hunting. As I have written before, every aspect of it intrigues me. It is a goal I have. Not necessarily to kill big animals, but to be the best that I can be. And I know that the only way that I can do that is with hard work. No going around it. If I want to reach and beat my own challenge, I have to go all out. To do this, I decided to change up some things in my own life to accommodate my goals. I don’t have a tv in my house anymore. In my down time, I read and listen to podcasts(particularly my friend Jim Burgen’s sermons with Flatiron’s Church, I usually listen to a lesson a day and have learned so much from that). I found that I would waste a good amount of time a day watching stupid shows and that I was gaining nothing out of them. My book I am on right now is “Wild at Heart. It is a great read as it talks about what a Christian man should look like. By taking out the unnecessary things, and replacing them with items that will build me up, I have the chance to step forward in the process of the great adventure known as life. All of these little things add up for me. It won’t be tomorrow or next week, but sometime down the line, it will. Look at it this way. If you had to put in 1,000 t-posts by hand, that would take you a long time. How bad would it be to finish, and look back at your line of posts and see that they are all crooked and out of order? All of that hard work, but since you lacked focus, it is all for nothing.
The old cliché of “practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect” is pretty much 100% true. There are going to be a lot of guys who go to gym, study for a test, or shoot their bow, but if they really don’t have an end goal for why they are suffering now, all of that work will be wasted. We weren’t put on this earth to just go through the motions or to just do enough to get by. If you have minimum skills, you will probably get minimum wage. If you just show up out of shape to go climb a mountain, you probably won’t make it to the top. Life is hard. Life is unfair. I can’t tell you how much it sucks to work all of your bow hunting life to get to the pinnacle. Having a monster bull at 25 yards, and not letting the arrow fly because you didn’t have a shot. That burns man. People talk about being okay with losing or maybe next year I will get the big one. I sure wasn’t okay. I may not have shown it, but I felt like a failure. I second guessed myself so many times following that. That moment in time took all of my hard work and made my dream just vanish into thin air. I hated it. All alone in the wilderness with no one around me, and seeing my goal that I had worked so hard for just slip out of my hands. Now that’s some mental pain right there dude. But I decided to take that anger and frustration and turn it into a fire to be better. With every day, comes a new challenge and every day I can either meet that challenge or fail. I know that God gave me certain strengths and abilities. Some I see in my life and work on vigorously to improve so that I may glorify him in my success’ and failures. Other strengths, I don’t know about yet. I hope someday I will be able to find them and use them in the way that He intended me to. But for know, I will take it one day at a time. Working hard at whatever task I am given. Knowing that I will reap what I sow in the future.
How often are we every truly alone? In today’s age, there is always some entertainment that is going on to suck away our time. Always having to check our phones for the newest tweet or Instagram post takes up a huge part of everyone’s day. I finally noticed this in my life and started limiting my “checking” and even leaving my phone off during the day. Always having to be entertained by other people’s accomplishments or random selfies really does nothing for you. When I walk through the Texas A&M campus, almost everyone I see is either on their phone or listening to music. Nothing wrong with that of course, but it limits us to experiencing new things.
If I told someone that I’m not thinking about the mountains, I would be lying. Being out in the woods brings a sense of peace. Everything that is going on in the world all of a sudden doesn’t matter. The only thing that means anything is my next step. There is not an hour that goes by that I don’t think of some spot I haven’t explored yet or a place I have been to many a time. People always ask “how can you just go off into the unknown?” “what if a bear or cougar attacked you.” Well, I never think about those kinds of things. My best explanation is that I just love the simplicity of it all. There are three steps to climbing a mountain: 1. See the mountain 2. Climb the mountain 3. Find another mountain and repeat. I mean, that’s not very complicated at all. I think where I lose people is that doing this by yourself can be a daunting task in itself. I love being by myself with my thoughts. I find that this is the only way I can find a sense of accomplishment in doing a hard task.
Going off into the woods is a huge mental burden. Those first hundred yards from the truck seem to take forever and slowly doubt begins to sink in. No one can influence your next step. There is no bouncing around ideas on which route to take. There is no one to talk to. For a lot of people, this is too much. You really have to drill it into your head that you will conquer your mind and beat the mental games. The reason I love being up in the middle of nowhere all alone is because I have it all to myself. Rather watching a herd of elk move through or watching the sun slowly hide behind a peak, I have that picture saved in my memory, and nobody else can take it. Prayer and conversations with God are another thing that solitude brings. What else are you gonna do all by yourself? I always have a little bible with me and will have devotionals throughout the day. I relate my little expeditions in a way to Jesus’ 40 days in the desert. He was all alone with only his thoughts and the devil. Talk about some self- motivation to not give in to a delicious meal for 40 straight days. I have come to love and appreciate these talks I have with Him about my struggles on the mountain and back in the real world.
Being a part of a team is a very important thing. A team teaches many lessons and is there to support and challenge you. Let’s take lifting weights for example. I am going to lift more weight if there is a crowd around because of the competition presented at the time. This comes in thanks to adrenaline rush I get when trying to beat out someone else. As there are many great things about this, accomplishing something by yourself is just a different animal. Finding the inner strength to push past failure is hard. Doing it by yourself is even harder. Being mentally tough enough to push yourself through difficult obstacles with only your thoughts encouraging you is a very formidable task.
I like taking pictures. I have come to find that people like my pictures. I think that somehow I bring a feeling of beauty to a location that is rugged, unforgiving, steep, cold, intimidating, etc. (you get the point). Most of my pictures were spur of the moment where I just decided to grab a quick shot before heading off. I am always trying to find places for a good picture, but I never realize till after I am back and looking at my camera roll which ones actually turned out well. This in a way is a little self-motivation for me. In order for me to find new places, I have to push myself to get there.
When you are by yourself anywhere, your mind wanders. When you are hiking let’s say up a super steep mountain at 3 am in the morning, you really wonder if you are a crazy lunatic. Like seriously, what in the world can push you to keep on suffering when the only thoughts you have are of pain and pain? There is a somewhat odd feeling in bringing this type of pain to yourself. Every hike I have every been on was challenging is some way. At some point, I hated what I was doing, and on many hikes, I hated every second of it. So what really makes one push on to conquer this overwhelming thought process? To be honest, I don’t know. I think you have to be a little bit crazy, dumb and have a true passion for being out in the woods. When you reach that point where everything in you wants to turn around and go home, what do you do? If you were with a team of people, they would encourage and help you along, but there is no team around you. You alone control every part of your actions.
One thing that the social media industry has done in aspiring people to do great things is putting amazing people on a platform to inspire others. This leads to people wanting to be just like (insert famous person name), but what do you really if you want to be just like someone. That’s like ending a one on one basketball game in a tie. Wanting to have a body just like someone or wanting to kill animals like this guy on Instagram sets limits to your goals. You see them as a final destination of your progress towards becoming the ultimate whatever. Now, what if we took the same people and decided that we wanted to be better than them. Sounds easy, but how can you change your mindset to do this? Personally, I always try to do just one more rep at the gym then the guy across from me. If we are playing basketball, I am going to win or come pretty dang close to it. Settling for mediocracy and fitting in with the status quo is boring. I see all of the famous hunters and all of their accomplishments. I think to myself that I don’t want to be known as similar to so and so or to be compared to almost being as good as some other guy. I want to be better.
This is where I believe that doing stuff by yourself can be a way to accomplishing any goal you put in front of yourself. If you have the mentality of being a winner, and the toughness that no matter what gets thrown at you I will defeat it, you will have a head start in accomplishing great things. When I am doing homework, I always compare it to “Well, this isn’t as hard as hiking up (insert random hiking location), if I could hike that, I for sure can do this stupid paper.”
With taking pictures and writing, I have always wanted people to see the awesome places and animals I get to chase. I have made it a goal to present myself as an admirable hunter who can be approached by both hunters and non-hunters alike. I want people to see the drive and passion I have for exploring new places. I want to kids to look up to me and see my attitude and work ethic. In doing all of the hiking and hunting that I do, self-motivation is more of push in that I want to be a role model for how these activities should be done.
So actually, when you go solo, you are not alone at all. The people who look up to your and respect you will always be there. The relationships you have made to make people better help you in that it gives you a certain drive to want to accomplish more so that you can learn more. The more you learn, the more you can teach. (in reference to Jesus’ 40 days) “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” Hebrews 2:18. If you decide not to go to the top and just turn around and quit, how can you talk about being mentally tough and beating self-doubt? This is what truly motivates me. I want to see lots of cool places and experience many amazing things. But if I just keep it all to myself, I have accomplished nothing. In order to be a good leader and role model, you have to be first and foremost a servant. Serve others as you would want to be served. Answer questions. Give advice. Put yourself in someone’s shoes, and think about how just a little word of advice and praise will affect their overall attitude and set the path for their future.
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.
Long have been the hours
For you have practiced hard
And now success is not too far
For the choice of life or death is in your power
It has seen many a target
For you have shot it time and time again
To which your reaction was usually a slight grin
And now the lethal arrow is on its way and nothing can stop it
The stillness of the hunt is short-lived
As soon it will be no more
As the arrow is right at the door
The arrow’s flight ends as another challenge has arrived
i am a killer.
I often have trouble sleeping at night. This night is no exception. It is 2am, and I can hear the rain coming down along with a slight breeze. But I am not on a mountain, I am at my house in Bryan, Texas, with my fan on as I try to find a way to convince my body to sleep. Too often I find myself thinking about all of my previous encounters with animals that got away or ones that I wounded. The one that got away for me was a 360 bull in the backcountry of Colorado. Every night I think about it. He had a huge 4th point that was over 25 inches. He had a huge body and a presence that truly was majestic. I battled this bull in a place that few men would go, and then chased him 4 miles up to 13,000 feet and down to 11,700. After hours of hiking and tracking, I found myself 15 yards with my hair being blown back from his bugle. I came to full draw but would never release an arrow as he never presented me a clear shot through the few branches that separated my arrow from both of his lungs.
I have always said that “Well, even though I didn’t shoot anything, I still had a successful hunt.” I found that I said this more to please people and convince them that I wasn’t some cold blooded killer who loved killing innocent animals. Now just because you don’t kill an animal on a hunt doesn’t mean you are truly unsuccessful. However, if every hunter were to be completely honest, he would tell you that tag soup leaves a sour taste that lingers for a long time after the hunt. Is there really anything that is worse than this feeling? I say yes.
Hunting can be a controversial topic. I believe this has led to misconceptions on what the actual definition of hunting is. I do not go out to “harvest” a deer or “collect” meat when I go hunting. To put it bluntly, I go out to kill whatever I am chasing. I have found myself almost downplaying the true meaning of hunting to appease other people’s ideas of what “hunting” is so that they don’t get offended. Now there are some parts of a hunt that should not be shared and one should be cautious on being too gruesome in describing details. With this in mind, I have used the term “harvest” before in explaining to people my taking of a trophy buck, but I really didn’t harvest that buck. Crops are harvested, not deer. When you say, “I killed this (insert animal)”, you can come across as a variety of different characters to different people you decided to share your story with. I believe as hunters we have to find the “right story” to tell to people to educate them on “yes, did kill this animal, and here is why…”
The situation couldn’t have been more perfect. I had snuck into the oak mont along our creek here in West Texas. Crawling into a west wind, I had spotted a 4.5-year-old 7 point chasing a doe about 100 yards away. He soon lost the doe and started walking away defeated. I saw the opportunity presented and acted. The doe had walked behind me, and I knew that nothing would get this buck madder than if another buck showed up to steal his girl. I rattle my antlers briefly, and just like that he is making a bee line right to me. Everything came together perfectly. He stepped out and presented me a 20-yard frontal shot. (A shot I am very comfortable in making) But I screwed it up. I had held my bow for over 1.5 minutes and in the process had lost some mental focus in shot placement. I had focused so hard on holding back my string that I had let my mind shift to the pain in my muscles instead of focusing on the buck. The result: A low non-lethal shot. I tracked this deer for 600 yards and came to the conclusion that he would live on, and he did as I would see him later on in the season healthy as can be.
There is not a feeling that hurts more than wounding an animal. Both my elk encounter and the buck encounter are learning experiences, and both leave a sour taste in my mouth. I truly only failed at one though. My goal every time I go out to hunt is to kill my prey. When I am presented with the opportunity to make a kill and fail, I feel sick. The animal deserves to be killed in the fastest way possible by whatever means of weaponry you are using. The sight and sound of a wounded animal is one that is never forgotten. I have had to “finish off” deer with my knife and nothing about doing that is enjoyable. I have sat beside a bull elk as breathed his last breath. I don’t know how to describe it but the look I see in the animal as it breathes its last few breathes can rightly change a man. All of a sudden I go from being a killer to being almost apologetic for the pain I have caused. Killing an animal is whole lot easier mentally when they run off and die in the brush or drop in their tracks.
Now I sound like I am getting emotional and overthinking this whole hunting thing, and you are right. When you make a life goal, you want to accomplish it with 100% success. All the time and effort you put into preparing for the opportunity to succeed builds your emotional ties to the subject. When you come down to it, an animal dying in not graceful or majestic. Killing is killing. You are taking the life of animal that God has put on this planet. With this responsibility, you have to find what you perceive as your personal ethics. For me, as hard as it is to go into hand to hand combat to kill a wounded animal, it is what I believe the animal rightly deserves.
Killing an animal isn’t everything to me though. There have been many times where I have passed on a mature animal just because I didn’t feel like killing it. Sometimes I find more joy in getting close and then sneaking out without my quarry ever knowing I was there. My first year of archery elk hunting, I passed up many bulls that would have been suitable “first bulls”. Frankly, I didn’t want to kill. It seemed that everyone wanted me to kill something to prove myself as the “Almighty Hunter”, and I did think about this in every encounter as I walked the line of life and death. But I had a goal I had set and was going to do everything in my power to accomplish that goal, and not give in to what the outside world wanted me to do.
I guess what I am trying to accomplish in writing all of these thoughts down is this. Being a hunter means you have taken up the responsibilities that come with killing an animal. Practicing, having the right equipment, taking ethical shots, honing your tracking skills, and meat care are all parts that you should try to learn and advance in. The animal deserves your best effort as a hunter. When you do wound an animal and lose it (if you hunt long enough you will wound one and either lose it or have to track it a long ways and anyone who says they haven’t had this happen after so many years of hunting is probably lying), learn from that experience. Yes, it sucks. Yes, it makes you question rather you should go hunting again. Visualize your mistake. Make the appropriate adjustments so that the next time you are presented with the opportunity to kill; you make it happen.
As for me, I still think about all the animals that outsmarted me and the ones that got away with my arrow. Every time I shoot my bow, I visualize these situations in hopes of bettering my skills both physically and mentally. But no matter how much I practice, I will lose at least one animal in my next 50+years of hunting. Sometimes stuff happens. As a hunter though, I don’t want to be judged on how many “trophies” I have taken or lost. I want to be judged on how I reacted in times of great obstacles. Rather that be passing up an animal because the shot isn’t 100% there, having to follow a blood trail on a bad shot or having to finish off an animal because it is suffering, I want my actions to show what I truly am. Even though I am a killer, I find respect and admiration in the animals I hunt. I am blessed to of acquired skills that help me run through the mountains and walk across the brush country, and I will use these skills in a way that is ethical in the field of hunting.
Onward to face the greatest challenge I go
Not knowing what my future will hold
Ignoring all cautions, I have been told
Over the next ridge I go
Off into the darkness I see no light
Yet I quicken my pace and increase my stride
I look into my past and leave my pride
For going over the next ridge will give me new light
Never knowing when my journey will end
I fight until my dying breath
To reach my goal until I am finally laid to rest
So then over the next ridge I will go, as a new journey begins
The previous day has just ended but you have just begun
For the battle to win the day is half as easy as the battle at dark
You topped the ridge, disregarded fear, for you have left your mark
But night sneaks up on you, captures you, and tells you your only way out is to run
But you will not run, for daylight brings new adventures
As the light shines in, you once again are greeted by the obstacle
The early morning climb leaves you exhausted as you crest the mountain standing tall
The sound of a distant bugle leads the way to wherever you dare to venture
The long days that have prepared you to run
For one second there is chaos and the next, stillness
For the woods have given up its treasure and the herd is one less
Silence is upon the mountains as a new challenge has begun