Tag Archives: success

Share Your Hunting Stories Here!

Nate-New

Recently I addressed some frustrations that today’s hunters have to deal with thanks to exponential population growth coupled with decreasing wildlife and habitat. What it boils down to is less hunting opportunity for everyone and ever-increasing competition afield.

For many years I’ve joked with fellow hunters about being “duded” while hunting or even during a stalk. My brother, Russell, wrote a story about his 2015 rifle hunt which perfectly illustrates my point. His exciting and insightful story will be published here on tomorrow’s blog.

By the way, each year many hunters write great stories which are never published in big-name magazines, and are therefore rarely heard. If you have a great hunting story that you’d like to share with the world, then email it to me and I’d be more than happy to share it here on the ZenBowhunter blog.

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!

Secret Bowhunting Tip #1: Weight is Everything

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Be prepared. – Boy Scout Motto

Be prepared, not OVER-prepared. – My Motto

In this article I’m going to address weight issues. I’m not talking about body fat; if that’s an issue then it’s a personal problem. No, today I’m talking about unnecessary items we carry into the field, and which are most likely hampering our success.

Utah offers a great opportunity for bowhunters who still have unused archery tags at the end of the general season. It’s called the Wasatch Extended Archery Hunt. The “extended hunt” runs from the middle of September clear through the middle of December, and encompassing the entire Wasatch Front, and even the entire deer rut. I usually see more giant bucks during the extended hunt than the whole general season and scouting trips combined. The biggest downside to the extended hunt—particularly in November and December—is the steepness of the terrain coupled with deep snow and cold weather.

In late November, 2012, I hunted the extended hunt for a few days alone. There’s always a little apprehension when venturing into those steep and freezing mountains alone. No one knows ever knows exactly where I’ll end up, including myself. To feel safer that year, I brought tons of extra gear including extra clothing, food, water, hand warmers, boots, and even some reading materials for when I got bored. In other words I over-packed, and that was a big mistake. Instead of taking three hours to drag my sled up to camp, it took five and I didn’t get to bed until 1:00 am. For the duration of the trip, my legs cramped, I blew through my water, ate more food, and had to rest more frequently. Although it was warmer than previous years, I was more tired and miserable. Miraculously I arrowed a nice buck two days later, but with so much new weight, I had to leave half my gear on the mountain and return the next day to retrieve it. Not fun!

In 2013 I returned to the same spot alone, only this time I brought my brain. Before the trip I went over the list of junk I hauled up the mountain last year and then crossed out almost half of it. Most of that ‘extra stuff’ served only to make me feel safer and had no real use for hunting. Some of the items included extra food, extra water (I could just filter water as I went and /or eat snow), extra boots, a pillow, books, propane, extra knives, hand warmers, utensils, batteries, archery tools, a handgun, extra flashlights, lighters, etc. I also noticed that my big, leather hunting belt weighed twice as much as my skinny “church belt,” so I wore that one instead.  I even cut the tags off my clothes and the handle off my toothbrush. All in all, I probably removed 30% of my pack weight, and man did it pay off. I got up the mountain in record time, ate less, and covered more ground than ever before. You’d be surprised at how difficult it is to be quiet while carrying a heavy day pack. In the end, I didn’t miss any of the junk I left home. Well, at first I did miss my handgun once I learned there was an active cougar den with kittens only 300 yards of my tent!

For most people, it’s hard to believe that such small items matter that much. But in truth, these items have a compounding effect. You never know which erroneous item will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Weight is especially  a negative factor when hunting in snow. More than anything else, a pair of heavy boots will fatigue you in the snow. For years I had two boot options for various weather conditions. One pair is a heavy, high-top, insulated cold-weather boot, and the other is a lightweight, breathable, un-insulated stalker-style boot. In 20I3 I stopped using the heavy boots altogether. What I found was the heavy boots always got too hot, primarily because of the amount of steep terrain I was covering. They were also noisy and very heavy compared to my stalker boots. Now, the stalker boots weighed only half as much (similar to tennis shoes),  but there were two minor drawbacks. First, my feet always got cold when I wasn’t moving, and second, they had minimal traction-tread. To counteract the cold, I simply wore two layers of wool socks. As for traction, I simply used a pair of lightweight ice cleats which worked wonders in the snow.

The next time you return from a grueling backcountry bowhunt, empty everything in your backpack onto the living room floor, and then make a list of everything you didn’t use. Is there still a tag on your tent? Why did you pack it into the woods? Were you going to eat it? Is there half a tube of toothpaste left in your toiletries pocket? Why did you pack extra paste?

Weight is everything; that’s what I learned in 2013. And surprise, surprise, fear is your worst enemy. Fear is why we over-pack. The more afraid we are of the mountain, the more extra stuff we cram in our packs; you know, just in case… And then there’s the great gear paradox:  the more we fear failure, the more hunting gear we carry around in our daypacks. Bowhunters, heed my plead:  You are the predator, not the crap on your back. You are too be feared, not the mountain. All that extra weight is an anchor keeping you from your goal. Pack light. Don’t be your own worst enemy. Be prepared, not over-prepared.

Click here for my Secret Bowhunting Tip #2: Success is a Decision