Luck in Hunting

In reviewing my last few stories I realized that the common thread was luck; both good and bad. Luck vs. skill is a constant struggle in hunting, so today I’ve written some of my ideas concerning luck:

Never let someone tell you that hunting is all skill and no luck, including me. It seems that all I write about is acquiring the innumerable skills necessary to be successful in bowhunting, but rarely do I speak of luck. Today I’m speaking strictly of luck.

I had kind of a push-pull type of conversation with a friend not too long ago. He said that hunting had a whole lot to do with luck, which was something he generally lacked. Taken a bit back, I retorted that hunting also has a whole lot to do with skill. He replied, “Yes, but luck is definitely a factor.” I replied, “Yes, it’s true; you have to have some luck on your side, but you need skills too; it’s not a 50/50 split. I’d say it’s closer to 80/20; Sure, a guy is will occasionally stumble into a big buck, but without some decent skills he won’t be consistent from year to year.” We left it at that.

I’m sure you’ve heard all the motivational sayings, such as Stephen Leacock’s, “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” Or Emerson, “Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” These adages imply that there is no luck, just hard work. But hunting is a little different. Hard work doesn’t necessarily guarantee you anything.

First off, you need to remember that there are two kinds of luck: good luck and bad luck. In hunting, there is a lot more bad luck than good luck. This is because of the innumerable variables that are beyond your control in nature. As a result, bowhunting success is generally less than 25%. Therefore a bowhunter must acquire great skills in order to swing the odds in his favor. Occasionally a person will luck into a big buck, but more often than not he’ll luck out.

My primary motivation for this article is reflecting on yet another difficult hunting year and a failed deer hunt. Certainly I had some great opportunities–due mostly to experience and skill–but in the end it was sheer, uncontrollable bad luck that accounted most for my failure. Here’s just one example:

It was just another super-hot, super-dry day in the woods. I quickly realized that still-hunting was a terrible approach because the ground was so dry and loud. Worst of all, the drought-like conditions seemed to irritate the squirrels more than usual. The squirrels are always bad, but the hotter it gets, the more cantankerous they become…just a theory. Anyhoo, I was traveling from one bedding area to another. For once the wind was blowing hard and constant in my face, so I really didn’t have to be quiet. However, the squirrels were ferocious. As soon as I left one squirrel, another would fire up ahead of me. Their constant barking was driving me nuts! It didn’t really matter though, since there were so few deer in the area. I was hunting my 5th choice unit after all, thanks to the living nightmare of not being able to draw a decent tag in my own state, which is quickly becoming a dreary reality, but I digress… So, I was approaching a known bedding area with little hope. A squirrel fired up as soon as I entered the woods, and I thought nothing of it. As I rounded a pine tree, my eyes latched onto a pair of big, floppy ears rotating in the woods. I froze. In the dense tangle sat a big, heavy-horned 4×4, 170-class buck bedded facing away from me at only 30 yards. My dream was about to become a reality! But as I slowly reached for an arrow, another squirrel up ahead suddenly lit up into a full nutty rage. The smart old buck stood instantly and walked into the woods. He paused for a second to look back, then disappeared out of my life forever. Needless to say, I was enraged. I vowed that next year I would go into the woods two weeks before the hunt and kill every single squirrel on the mountain.

It’s easy to blame bad luck for failure, the same way that it’s easy to blame great skills for success. The trap you don’t want to fall into is relying on sheer luck, good or bad. Blaming a bad hunt on bad luck is an excuse to stop trying. Same with blaming success on good luck.

If you had an unlucky year like I did, you must remember that luck changes often. It’s like in poker: some nights you can’t get any cards, and other nights you can’t lose. In hunting you might go five years without bagging a buck, and then suddenly you bag one every year. The point is to never give up.

Today I believe success in hunting is an 80/20 split. An 80/20 split means that you’ll be successful 4 out of 5 years because you’ve acquired the necessary skills. The one year that you fail, you can go ahead and blame on bad luck. With great skills it doesn’t matter how much bad luck you have because when your luck changes, you are going find wonderful and consistent success!

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