Can you feel it? The changing season, a shift in the sun’s angle? Nostalgic aromas of ripening vegetation? We’re almost there, almost in the woods.
If you’re like me, you’re already out there, in your mind. Wits sharpening, watching the ground for clues, listening.
The annual ritual of prehunt mediation is upon us. We look like we’re working a job–we go through the motions–but we’re really out there, in the woods, sharpening our Craft–woodscraft, stalkcraft, bowcraft, huntcraft.
As my spirit stretches into the wild landscape, I’m reminded of so many experiences unwritten and nearly forgotten. But the hunter spirit stirs the sediment of the mind into a swirling patchwork of sights, sounds, and smells.
In my next few articles I’m going to reach into murk and materialize some of these experiences. I hope they’ll inspire you to do the same.
The following is my 2016 Idaho deer story as published in Eastmans Bowhunting Journal, Issue 101, May/June 2017:
During the 2015 Utah bowhunt I came across a tremendous 200”+ typical mule deer buck which I called Monsterbuck. At our first meeting, he caught me by surprise. Shaking like a newbie-hunter with buck fever, I promptly sailed an arrow over his back at 50 yards. Later in the season I filmed him at 200 yards on an open hillside. He was in an unstalkable location and surrounded by three other deer, so I let him walk, hoping to get a better opportunity the next day. But he had other plans. Like many big bucks, he immediately changed routine and kept me one step behind him until the season ended.
I promised myself not to obsess over this buck; it’s just too much pressure to bring into the woods. Apparently obsession is not a decision because that amazing buck crept into my mind every day for an entire year! I carried a picture of Monsterbuck around in my planner and reviewed the 2015 video footage often. Needless to say, I went into this year’s bowhunt with high hopes.
About a month before the season opener, I scouted for the Monsterbuck but couldn’t turn him up. No sweat, I thought, he’s a smart buck and will take a little more time to locate. Opening day was hot and dry, but I was brimming with hope and buzzing with energy. I picked up exactly where I left off last year. Right away I spotted a few forked-horns, but no Monsterbuck. I spent the rest of the day ghosting through thick timber and side-hilling steep slopes without rest. I never covered so much vertical ground in one day. I scoured the ground everywhere I went, but couldn’t find a single heavy-footed track. The evening hunt had me staring dejectedly at the same hillsides where the Monsterbuck had lived, but now completely devoid of deer.
And so went the next day, and the next. Eventually I moved camp low and worked upwards. Then north to south, and south to north, but still no Monsterbuck. For two weeks I clambered all over the beautiful and deerless mountains of Northern Utah. Morning, noon, and night I pondered where the Monsterbuck could be hiding, but turned up nothing.
Strangely enough, not only was the Monsterbuck missing, but so were seven other 4×4-or-bigger bucks I’d seen last year. At this point I was ready to take any mature buck, but all I could find were little ones. The best opportunity I had was a little 3-point buck that bounced into an opening at 20 yards and stared at me. I shooed him away and continued my fruitless search for something better.
By the third week I concluded that Monsterbuck had either, a) been killed by a hunter, lion, or poacher or b) had moved to another part of the unit, likely due to increased human pressure in the area. All I knew for sure was that the DWR had issued a bunch more tags for my unit, as evidenced by a notable increase in human traffic in the area. And if there’s one thing big bucks hate more than anything, it’s people pressure.
With less than two weeks left in the season, I was beyond dejected; I was mortified! I love bowhunting than anything, and to see it turn south so quickly was unfathomable. Each night I dreamed I was on the trail of the Monsterbuck, but he always stayed just out of sight. By day, I sat in the woods wondering if I was stuck in a nightmare; that any second I might wake to a more believable reality. Or maybe I was just a lousy hunter. Perhaps I’d just been lucky all these years and had been deluding myself until now. As more days passed, my hunting journal became a dark place in which to vent my frustrations. Something had to change…
Midday, halfway through the third week, while trudging across the empty landscape, it hit me: I had a valid Idaho hunting license left over from my spring bear hunt. I stormed back to camp, threw everything in the truck, and headed to Idaho. Having never actually hunted deer in Idaho, I went home first and collected some maps and some notes I’d gotten from an Idaho Fish & Game officer at the hunting expo.
My first morning in Central Idaho was memorable, not because I saw deer, but because I woke up to a terrible head cold. For the next three days I stumbled around strange mountainsides, sore and coughing while my nose drained continuously onto the dry forest floor. The first unit I visited was a bust—too open and too few deer. The next unit was heavily forested, but full of other hunters and very little game. The third unit was a little more promising, but just as I began to scare up some deer, my truck broke down and I barely made it off the mountain.
The Utah deer hunt soon came to an end, and with only four days left in the Idaho season I headed out for one last attempt. In reviewing my first Idaho adventure, I concluded that the biggest threat to success was people! Going in, I had the common misconception that Idaho was a vast wilderness full of game and opportunity. Not the case. It’s just like Utah: People everywhere, hunting, hiking, camping, and driving ATVs up and down every dirt road. As long as there’s an open road you won’t find a buck anywhere near it. This is why my Utah hunt failed. In order to avoid getting “peopled” again, I broke out my map of the unit and found the one point farthest away from any city, road, or trail. My hunt wouldn’t begin until I covered two miles of steep mountains early the next morning.
It was a rough night. Instead of drifting into peaceful slumber, I lay awake staring at the tent ceiling and thinking about the colossal disappointment the season had become. My unhealthy obsession with the absentee Monsterbuck had transformed a normally magical hunt into a desperate flail across a dreary landscape. I fell asleep counting the innumerable disappointments of the last several weeks.
On September 27th I woke long before the sun and headed up the steep and wooded ridge that separated me from solitude. I trudged like a man possessed, as if fleeing an oppressive regime and longing for new lands. As I approached the ridge top, deer began popping up on the horizon, first some does, then a small band of bucks. I continued on.
The sun finally broke the horizon, splashing light across a blanket of fresh snow splotched with golden aspen leaves. Pines glistened with melting frost as steam rose lazily from dark logs. Birds flitted about. An elk fired up in the canyon below. Deer tracks crisscrossed the forest floor, increasing in number as I went. The woods pulled me forward, upward, effortlessly. I felt like I was coming home after a long hiatus.
Nearer to the top, a group of large buck tracks appeared in the snow. They were fresh and meandering, so I sat on a log and listened. I was ready to take a buck—any old buck. I just wanted to hunt for myself, and for food, with no pressure to succeed, no worries about inches and scores.
A short time later there was a clacking of antlers and scuffle in the forest. I crept closer. Two bucks pushed and shoved each other with occasional flashes of fur and legs visible in the trees. I pulled an arrow and moved closer. Morning thermals began to swirl. Just as I was closing in, a breeze hit me in the back. I froze. Moments later the bucks bounded away, up and over the mountain. Oh well, I was going that direction anyway. It was still a wonderful opportunity.
The sun had been up for some time when I finally crested the ridge and dropped into the thick pines on the shadow side of the mountain. I had officially arrived at the farthest point from the human pile and was brimming with hope. There was really only one good corridor through the tangled briar and pines, and judging by the abundance of game tracks in the area, the deer used this route too.
After traveling a ways, my stomach grumbled. I sat down on a huge deadfall log and snacked on trail mix while pondering these new woods. Eventually I fished out my hunting journal and scribbled a short note about hope and opportunity, the only positive words the book had seen in some time. My contentment was short-lived, however, when a swishing sound erupted in the trees ahead. I whipped around to see antler tips poking slowly through the tangle. In one motion, I snatched up my bow and slid off the backside of the log onto my knees. Smoothly and mechanically I knocked an arrow and clamped my release to the string. I crouched low and stared fixedly ahead like a lion.
Ten yards and closing, the buck’s big, blocky, horse-like head appeared with tall, heavy antlers extending upwards into the canopy. Lazily, he angled down towards the game trail I had just been on. When his head disappeared behind a clump of trees, I drew my bow. He stopped. My heart pounded wildly, my eyes protruded from my skull, glaring through the bowstring. Time slowed down.
The buck remained motionless, hidden behind the trees just a few steps away. Did he hear me draw, I wondered? A minute passes. My muscles start to fatigue and my arms begin to shake. Another minute passes. He knows something isn’t right. I beg my arms to hold, but the bow finally collapses, yanking my trembling arm forward.
Looking to completely ruin my day, the buck immediately starts walking again. With all my might, I crank the bow back again. His head appears just five yards away, then his shoulder. My eyes, strained and blurry, fight to settle the pin as it dances all over the place. My release triggers and the arrow flies; it flies clean over the buck’s back and my heart sinks into my stomach.
The buck bounds into the next opening just seven yards away and looks back. Crouching lower I pull another arrow and load it as quickly and smoothly as I can. He’s still there, muscles taut, ready to blast out of my life forever. I can’t watch. My eyes squeeze shut as I draw the bow once more. When the string touches my nose, my eyes flash open. He’s still there and my second arrow is on the way.
Success has taken on a new meaning for me now. Many nights of delicious venison backstraps have passed while trying to figure out how to tell the story of my tall-antlered Idaho buck. Is it a story of a failed Monsterbuck hunt, or is the miraculous success of an incredibly short hunt in new lands? Perhaps neither. I think it’s really a story of self-examination, of finding my true passion again.
As a hunter I’ve come full circle. Long ago I just wanted a deer—any deer—with my bow. It seemed like such an impossible task back then, and sometimes still does. These days are spent tirelessly chasing 200-inch monsters around the hills. But this “trophy hunting” has lost some of its magic. In trying to prove myself, I’ve gradually reduced my greatest passion down to inches and strategy. My once insatiable love for the woods feels more like work now. Perhaps it’s time to hunt for the love of hunting again… We’ll see. All I know for sure is that I keep relearning the same lessons I’ve been learning all along: That success is so much more than just killing a deer. Success really lies in the journey. Success comes from pushing yourself to your physical and spiritual limits, and then letting nature take over from there.
This story, then, is a simple one to tell: One man, one mountain, one morning, and a second chance.
Don’t you just love sitting amongst the pine needles and leaves, amidst the awe-inspiring beauty and peacefulness found only in nature? Don’t you just love how time slows way down while bowhunting on a warm September day? Me too.
But sometimes enough is enough!
If you spend any amount of time afield, you’re going to encounter downtime. Downtime is normally a good thing. But if you’ve been hunting the same mountain for multiple days and not much is going on, then downtime can get downright excruciating.
On a hot August day, when the animals seem to have hunkered down at first light and nothing’s moving; you’re getting low on water and camp is miles away; you’re already sitting in the best possible ambush spot and there’s nowhere to be for the next 8 hours; well, sometimes hunting gets downright boring! Worse yet is when you get rained in or snowed into camp for hours or days on end.
The problem with excessive downtime (aka boredom) is pretty soon your mind gets restless, and restlessness leads to discouragement, or god-forbid, homesickness. You start worrying about home stuff, or work stuff, or what your wife or girlfriend is up to in your extended absence. You start fantasizing about hot showers and sleeping in and mowing the jungle-lawn you’ve abandoned for so long.
This “mind creep” is not good. Mind creep leads to discouragement, and discouragement always threatens your success, or in the very least, your commitment level. When you get discouraged, it’s easy to fabricate any excuse to leave the mountain early. So a good hunter must learn to manage boredom, a skill sometimes referred to as “mental toughness.”
In order to while away hours and hours of downtime afield, I’ve developed multiple ways to stay entertained. Here are some examples the might help you as well:
– Video Games: I hate video games; I mean, who has time for them, right?! But I love poker, so I bought a little video-poker machine that I pack with me almost everywhere I go. Fortunately it’s very lightweight and fun as heck. I remember the first year I had it, it was such a blast that I didn’t even notice the little buck that walked right up on me. Since then I’ve been a little more cautious about becoming sucked in.
Like an ancient Neanderthal, I still have a flip-phone. But I’m aware that most people now carry smartphones with them in the woods. And I’m more than certain that these fancy-phones have an infinite capacity for entertainment value which will help get you through some pretty slow times afield.
– Read a book: Long before video games, many-a-hunters carried books into the field, and some still do. Nothing can kill time (or put you to sleep) like a good book. I always keep a good book or hunting magazine back at camp. Unlike video games, books are quiet, lightweight, and easy to burn in the event of a weather crisis.
– Sleep: Sleeping in the woods is almost critical. If you’re a bowhunter, chances are you got up at the most ungodly hour. That’s awesome! Success often comes from waking long before first light. But eventually you’re gonna crash. This is good; you need to crash! This is how you recharge your hunting batteries. Getting an hour or two of solid rest in the trees does wonders for mental toughness. It’s also where you get the energy for that grueling, three-hour stalk later in the day.
– Keep a Hunt Journal: This is no joke. The blog you’re reading right now would not be possible without a good, lightweight field journal. I recommend every hunter keeps a hunt journal. You’d be surprised just how often you refer back to it in the future for helpful tips and tidbits about your area.
I actually carry two journals! The linear, pertinent events of the day are kept in one journal, and the other is for nature-induced insights of grandeur. Throughout the monotony of everyday city-life, inspiration is being continuously leached from my soul. But in the woods, God shines forth a veritable fountain of infinite and voluminous inspiration upon my humble carcass! I soak it in and write it down; I can’t get enough. I love writing in the woods. I’d go crazy if I didn’t.
– Practice Ranging Stuff: In my experience, the biggest bucks seem to suddenly appear in front of me with no manners or warning. There’s rarely time to range anything. So a good bowhunter learns to judge distance effectively, and the best way to learn distance is to practice. Whenever my boredom alarm starts ringing, I reach for my rangefinder. Over and over I’ll pick out trees (or whatever), guess the range, and then check it with my laser rangefinder. This excessive practice does wonders for your distance-judging abilities. Besides, if you’re bored it’s probably because you’re sitting there watching a game trail or stuck in a tree stand. And since you need to know the range of several landmarks anyway, you might as well make a game of it, right?
– Make Field Photos: If you hunt long enough and hard enough, eventually you’re gonna THWACK some monstrous monarch of the woods. The whole world will be sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to read your story in some big-name magazine. The problem is that these magazines require multiple, high-quality field photos documenting your adventure. The more photos you have, the greater chance you have of getting published. Therefore, it’s a good idea to make documentary photos throughout your entire trip.
I find that the best times to make photos is during downtime. The possibilities are endless, but here’s a few ideas: a) shoot some scenery, b) shoot some closeups of your equipment juxtaposed with the landscape, c) set the camera’s timer and shoot yourself glassing, stalking, hiking, camping, sleeping, etc., d) take some photos of wildlife or sunsets or bad weather; there’s almost always something to shoot. Even if you don’t end up using the myriad of photos you take during the hunt, you’ll still have plenty of great memories to bring home and share with family and friends. In the end, these photos will become invaluable to you. Long after you’re gone, your legacy will live on, documented in living color.
Being a trophy hunter is serious business, but we must remember that hunting is supposed to be fun too. Hunting is a leisure activity that removes us from our hectic lives and grounds us with the natural universe. Turning downtime into funtime is one of the best ways to keep the spirits up afield. Have fun out there!
My brother, Russell, had some great comments regarding hunting goals. His comments and my reply are worthy of it’s own article.
“Making goals that you really set in your heart and are realistic is critical. My heartfelt goals this year were to help my daughter harvest her first big game animal. She harvested both a buck and an elk. It was awesome. I was perfectly happy with how the season went, even though I did not set any lofty goals for my own hunting, as I was concerned about the time dedication. I did manage to harvest my best buck to date, although that’s not saying much. Gotta really think about my goals this coming year. Might be time to harvest a really decent bull elk.
I think you’ll get it done in Utah this year. But i am curious, which state(s) are you going to add to your schedule that will still allow you the time you need for the Utah general hunt?”
Nate wrote :
Good points, Russ. Here’s some clarification:
Last year I set a goal to shoot a 200″ buck AND help Esther with her limited-entry hunt. Turns out you can’t do both. So really I sabotaged my goal from the start. But that’s okay; I wouldn’t trade Esther’s big bull for any buck! It’s WONDERFUL to help people. There’s nothing more noble than setting a goal to help someone with their goal, especially family.
My lofty goals are deemed ridiculous by most people; I mean, how can I expect to shoot a 200″+ buck on public land with a general tag?! Am I setting myself up for failure? Am I setting unrealistic goals? NO, because I’ve done it twice already and I know the secret recipe; unfortunately that recipe takes incredible resources, mostly time.
It’s important to realize that in setting a ridiculously high goal you must do something every day to get closer to it: physical training, shooting practice, map study, scouting, scouting, and scouting. Most importantly is to acknowledge your goal every single day. Keep it in the forefront of your mind. Format your mind to focus all possible energy and decisions on your goal, and you’ll find a way to reach it.
As for out-of-state hunts, I only have one in mind: IDAHO. I am a man of big vision and little means; a po’ folks po’ folk. For this reason I refuse to pay into the yuppie system of buying points in multiple western states, especially while Utah has such great bucks, even on publc land/general units. In my opinion the point system is evil. It might seem fair, but it really takes away opportunity from young hunters and new hunters, while catering only to the rich. Many of my archery students ask me how they can get started in hunting. They assume they can just buy a bow and an OTC tag for any game species. Imagine their surprise when I explain they must pay into the system for decades just to draw a decent tag!
I paid into the system for years, earning points for multiple species for my son. Now he has no interest in hunting. Where’s my refund? My wife’s ex-boss’ dad paid into the system for 15 years and finally drew his moose tag. It arrived in the mailbox shortly after he died of old age!
That being said, I need more opportunities, and since Idaho is one of the only states that doesn’t have a draw system, it’s my best chance at getting a tag. Also, Idaho has several general deer hunts that don’t conflict with Utah’s season.
Congrats, Russ, on your biggest mule deer last year and good luck with your big bull goals. Dream big! Remember, elk are EASY!
Actually it wasn’t too horrible, but I sometimes accuse myself of being overly critical. Call me a pessimist, but I’ll argue that although it’s unhealthy to be too self-critical, the only other option is to be overly accepting of mediocrity in which case I would never achieve my lofty goals and instead recede into the apathetic quagmire of an aging inflataperson.
I entered 2015 with one goal: to shoot a 200″+ mule deer buck with a bow. It didn’t happen. I failed for three primary reasons:
– First, because there are so many people in the state of Utah now, I drew my 5th choice general deer unit and right away lost my inspiration.
-Second, I failed to scout my 5th choice unit because of work, and work sucks, and work kept me in the smoggy city when I should have been out scouting for giant bucks.
-Third, I spent half of the general hunt helping my lovely wife with her L.E. elk hunt in Southern Utah where I didn’t even carry a bow.
After all that, I entered the Wasatch extended hunt, where I’ve never even seen a 200″ deer, and failed there too.
So 2016 will be different. I’ve mentioned many times on my blog that SUCCESS IS A DECISION. Last year, while wandering endlessly down empty game trails, an annoying inner voice insisted that success is NOT a decision; that there are simply too many variables working against me, and therefore I can’t make that decision. By the time the season ended, a stronger voice confirmed that success is in fact an easy decision, so long as you are willing to do whatever it takes, which means putting in the time and effort equal to the lofty magnitude of a 200″+ monster muley…and I did not do this.
So, this year I have one resolution and one goal only: a 200″+ mule deer buck with a bow. This year I will make it happen and here’s how:
– I will decline any and every job/work/responsibility that conflicts with my deer hunt.
-Whatever crappy unit I end up drawing, I will scout every single week starting in spring and leading up to the hunt. I’ve always believed that somewhere, in every single general unit in the state, there’s a huge 200″+ buck. If you are willing to put in enough time you will find it.
-And finally, I will hunt out-of-state. The problem with Utah is you only get one tag and that equals one opportunity. I need more opportunities.
That’s all folks. I hope all of you are setting high resolutions and standards for this coming hunting year. Remember, success is always a decision as long as you’re willing to do whatever it takes.
P.S. You can expect much more new blogs and information here in 2016. In 2015 I received tons of hunting related insights and revelations and took tons of notes in the field. All of this will be shared here in 2016.
Hello Zenbowhunter blog readers. Today marks my 100th blog post. After a year and a half in the making, my little archery/hunting blog is still going strong thanks to you, my loyal readers. My sincere hope is that everyone has enjoyed at least some of my articles and posts. I truly believe there’s something here for everyone, not just hunters.
One of my greatest passions in life is seeking self-improvement through archery. Archery is an individual sport, which means each person learns and grows at his own pace. There is no competition or pressure to succeed, except from yourself. Most people find archery (and bowhunting) to be a wonderful, meditative way to achieve clarity and peace and even Zen. After all, Zen-through-archery has been taught in Japan for a thousand years. My goal in this blog is to help you succeed in both Zen-archery and in life. Once a person achieves ‘Zen’, he realizes he can do anything he puts his mind to.
On a personal hunting note, we are now entering the peak of the mule deer rut in Utah. This means the biggest bucks will be climbing out of the high mountains to participate in the annual mating ritual. For those of you that still have an unused archery tag, it’s going to be an exciting (and COLD) month. Maybe I’ll see you in the hills.
Best of luck in your own endeavors, and may the Zen-force be with you!
I didn’t shoot the photo above, I borrowed it from the Utah DWR. HOWEVER, it’s the perfect image to capture what goes on in my mind 25 hours a day, 8 days a week, 366 days a year.
The Utah archery hunt (bowhunt) opens this Saturday! After that, I have 4 weeks to accomplish the one thing I dream about continually. In this informal article I’d like to talk goals and priorities and how they relate to life and hunting.
Each bowhunt I go through the same process: A grand, ritualistic prehunt meditation consumes my whole being. My mind has been reformatted. Time has expanded to include the present, past and future simultaneously. I am already in the woods. For the last couple weeks, in every facet of my life, I have become useless. My soul is set upon a nearly impossible goal that consumes every minute of my day. My phone rings, people talk, I talk, I walk around, but it is all background noise. I cannot focus on anything but the glorious task before me. This is my birthright.
As the hunt nears, I also become overly hopeful. Last year my goal was to shoot my third 200+ inch deer in five years. I hunted harder and for more days than ever before, and I never did see a 200″ deer. The best I saw was a 180″. Half-way through the season I started to realize that ANY big four-point was the best a bowhunter could hope for these days, particularly because there just aren’t many big bucks left. Thanks to greater and greater human expansion into Utah’s winter range, not to mention a whole new onslaught of statewide poaching and highway casualties, fewer and fewer bucks live to maturity. So the odds of success are always declining. Does this mean I set the bar lower? The answer is maybe. When that deer steps out, I’ll decide. This has been on my mind since last season ended.
Professionally, as a photographer, archery instructor, taxidermist, and writer, this was the busiest year of my life. I worked every single day in July, mostly out in the hot sun, some days 10 hours without a break. As busy-ness began to wind down, I was discussing work with an associate of mine. He reminded me that, hey, at least the money is good, right? I said: “You know, the only reason I work so hard is so I can take off and go bowhunting. Bowhunting is all I care about. Every single thing I do, the reason I even get up in the morning, is so I can go bowhunting. Everything else is secondary. When my wife asked me to marry her, I tried to warn her. And she married me anyway. (ha-ha). I know what my priority in life is.”
There’s a saying: People like what they are good at (and people despise what they are bad at.) A couple years ago I had an epiphany: I’m good at lots of things (archery, photography, music, taxidermy, etc.). BUT, I am great at only one thing: Bowhunting. I didn’t choose it; it chose me.
Many years ago I stunk at hunting, so I would only commit three or four days to it. Nowadays I commit several weeks, mostly because I realize that quality bucks take a lot of time, skill, and yes, even luck. And the best way to be successful and lucky is to be in the field, not at home, not at work, not golfing, etc. I know my top priority and I’m sticking with it.
I also know a whole lot of very unsuccessful hunters, many whom are close family and friends. Most of them say that I’m lucky and they’re not. Maybe they’re right, but I’ll tell you right now: while I’m alone in the woods from Tuesday through Friday, or trudging five miles up some frozen canyon in three feet of snow, those people are sitting at work or in front of the television, waiting for me to get lucky. And then I stumble into some unsuspecting giant…
Long story short, trophy hunting isn’t for everyone. Most people would be happy with any deer, or at least some sort of annual consistency, some two-point for the pot, or whatever. But they can’t even accomplish that because they put other priorities ahead of hunting. They have loftier goals that have nothing to do with deer and sleeping in the woods. And that’s fine. Family first, faith first, work first, T.V., golf, meetings, music, photos, friends, fun, guns… I understand! I think that’s great. I believe everyone get’s ONE THING. One big thing that they’re GREAT at. That’s what life is about: finding that one thing! That is your big purpose for living! But don’t expect a deer too, because in the deer woods it’s all or nothing. You either commit to the task 100%, loooooong before the season opener, or fail. Hit or miss. The season blows in and out, haphazardly.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then maybe this blog can’t help you. Because this blog is about one thing: Successful trophy bowhunting. I truly believe that success in hunting is a decision. That anyone can set a lofty hunting goal and accomplish it year after year. You just have to put in the time, but most importantly, be open to new information. When I was just starting out as a photographer, I made a conscious effort to learn only from the greatest photographers and study only their methods. Yes, there were tons of ‘good’ photographers offering advice, but great photography can only be learned from the greats!
I don’t know that I am a great hunter. But I do believe in the method I stumbled upon, that I followed, and that has led to unimaginable success. I also believe that the greatest teacher is the woods itself. I know there is a natural law and how to follow it. I know how a mountain lion hunts and how it must survive by successfully taking a deer every nine days of the year. I watch predators hunt and learn from them. They are the ‘greats’ of the hunting world! And finally, I believe that the roadmap to success is fully integrated into the text of this blog. I’ve left nothing out. I don’t know how much more I can offer, but I will keep trying.
While hunting last December, I found this tree eating a No Trespassing sign.
This photo suggests a more accurate perspective of time. On a short scale, life is long and we are in control. On a longer scale, we exist in an insignificant, tiny sliver of time. In a hundred years you and everyone you know will be gone.
Mostly, this photo reminds me of who is really in charge. If mankind were to disappear, there would be no trace of his existence within a thousand years, or maybe less! Nature will take it all back in a relatively short period of time.
I’m not depressed about all this. On the contrary, it gives me a more positive outlook: It’s this fragility and shortness of life that gives life such great value! When we forget this seemingly obscure truth, then we focus our life’s energies on things that aren’t important…like television and political correctness.
Fortunately, we are nature ourselves! It is my opinion–and hope–that as long Nature exists, so will we, in one form or another. The gift of consciousness is infinite.
It’s hard to believe it was only a year ago that this giant, 200-inch monster muley stepped out in front of me at 20 yards. It’s even harder to believe how easy that hunt was! Now, how in tarnation can I expect that to happen every year?
After an incredibly difficult season this year, I have two words to say: WHO CARES!? I spent many, many days afield, marveled at God’s natural splendor, and came out with a rejuvenated spirit…many times. And at the end of the season, with hopes and dreams dashed, I still get to come home to a loving wife, a room full of magnificent mule deer trophies, and countless memories of amazing hunts.
A couple years after getting the infamous Droptine Buck, I remember telling my brother Russell that failed hunts don’t bother me anymore because at the end of the day I can go home, take the Droptine mount off the wall, and snuggle with it in bed. Russ got a kick out of that.
What really happens is I hobble downstairs on sore feet, cramping legs, and with a broken ego and weary back. I slowly look up from the floor and stare at these magnificent creatures. If their glassy eyes could see my face, they’d see a man with many more questions than answers. A minute later, solemnity fades and I force a smile. I think these masters of the woods deserve appreciation, and I think I deserve some satisfaction, even amidst failure.
Anyway, failure is relative. I failed to meet my goal this year, but in the final hour I still brought home some sacred meat for the family. Guy Eastman once wrote that if you fail to harvest a deer, it’s okay. It just makes the ones you get that much more special. These words of wisdom have stuck with me, and I want to believe it’s true.
With only a week left in the extended hunt, I saw the looming clouds of failure building. Then I remembered Superbuck and asked myself, “How long is a trophy good for?” It seems a buck like that can keep a man going for a few years, at least.
This year, I will rest on my laurels. I think I’ve earned it.