Every year, thousands and thousands of elk hunters will take to the mountains with big dreams and lofty aspirations of putting their tag on the bull of a lifetime. Some will succeed with this endeavor, but sadly, the majority will fail. The harsh reality of elk hunting is that the majority of hunters do fail according to the statistics. Sure, every year we hear about a new hunter who arrows a monster bull on their first hunt ever. This situation is generally the exception and not the rule regarding the sport we love. You see, failing is a part of the hunting learning curve. Some learn from failure quicker than others and realize their dreams a little sooner. Some new elk hunters are fortunate enough to have a mentor to teach them the ropes and help them avoid some of the more avoidable common mistakes we make. Regardless of your mentor or specific situation, at least a portion of that learning curve is going to be felt on one of those amazing September mornings.
Personally, I didn’t have any sort of an elk hunting mentor until I was 15 years old. Somehow I managed to arrow a couple elk prior to that, but the end result of my preparation (or lack there of) was failure. I got better and better at learning from my failures and have become a decent elk hunter over the years. I failed so many times while elk hunting that learning from my mistakes was the only direction I could go!
Often times, what separates success from failure is what we’ve done with our past failures. Did we learn from that failed experience or did we pass it off as something that was out of our control? I’ve come to the conclusion that EVERYTHING in the woods happens for a reason. Animals react a certain way, the wind does specific things related to topography, bird sound off for reasons, etc. Point being, if we are observant of our surroundings and pay attention to the smallest of details, we can learn and minimize our failures.
Paying attention to detail in specific situations is crucial. What are elk doing when they approach the call? What are elk doing when they approach the call and a decoy is present? How are elk using the wind to their advantage while feeding? How are elk using the wind when they are bedded? Does the moon have an actual effect on game movement and why? All of these questions have answers that apply to the majority of encounters. Many people fail to pay attention to these details which drastically prolongs their learning curve and failed experiences.
In reality, a consistently successful elk hunter must often be able to process tons of information in a matter of moments. Where do I set up? What route will give me best wind advantage in case it doesn’t go as planned? How close is too close? He’s taking his cows and going! What do I do? Many of these answers simply come from failing on previous outings.
I’ll never forget the first bull I ever called in myself. It was a beautiful black antlered 5 point Roosevelt bull. I set up so well that I couldn’t even get a shot at that guy when he got within bow range. I sure was hidden well though. Lesson learned by failing again!
Issues as simple as our “mindset” can make or break an elk hunt. We often forget exactly how hard elk hunting can be. We have an easy time remembering all those wonderful moments where everything came together just right. Heck, we generally have photos and such in our homes to remind us of that memorable moment. What we don’t keep in those same places is how many times we failed to realize those successes. It’s very easy after a couple hard days of chasing elk through the mountains, or calling into empty drainage after empty drainage, for your mind to start talking you out of what you know needs to be done to make it happen. You know what I’m talking about! Not knocking an arrow prior to blowing on that cow call. Not getting set up at all prior to sending out a locator bugle. Taking the easier route even though the wind isn’t right or you may be more visible. It happens to all of us, but it doesn’t help our odds much. Being mentally tough and staying that way throughout a long grueling hunt is very tough to do. We all have families, friends, and jobs that are counting on us and those are just a few more things that can weigh on our conscious when times get tough. Although tough to do, clearing your mind of any potential distractions while on a hunt can be priceless when it comes to the end result.
In the end, failing at some point is inevitable. I always keep score with the elk. If an elk burns me, yep, elk 1 – Jody 0. The beauty of this game is I only have to score once to win. Keeping a rather even score over time comes from accepting your mistakes and making sure you learn from them. Good luck out there!