Mental Battles of Hunting the Backcountry

Mental Battles of Hunting the Backcountry

The upcoming seasons are right around the bend. We have all been shooting our bows relentlessly in preparation for that moment we have been dreaming about all year. That moment when time stands still and the only thing in your mind is the sight of your arrow sailing, at what seems to be the speed of molasses on a cold day, towards your quarry. A lot of us have also been paying attention to our physical fitness. Whether we have been hitting the gym or hitting the trail with our packs loaded, it is imperative that we make sure we are up to the task at hand come hunting season. If we physically cannot get to where the animals are, then we cannot hunt them.

Out of all of this preparation, there is another area though that can be detrimental to a hunt. That is the area that rests between your ears. The mental game of backcountry hunting, and just hunting in general, can really be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The ability to grind through tough situations is going to be what either sends you back up the mountain after that elk, or sends you back to the truck to head home. Let’s take a look at a few bumps in the road that we all might encounter from time to time.

Arizona Landscape

Lack of Animals

One of the biggest discouragements you might face is hunting an area with a lack of game. This might be due to the time of year, hunting pressure, or maybe there has been an increase in predator population in your area. Whatever the case may be, it’s important that you take note of why you think you aren’t seeing anything.  It is one thing to absolutely know that there are animals in an area and you just aren’t seeing them.  It is another for them to just flat out not be there.  Being stubborn can both lead to success and lead to failure in these lights.  Don’t be afraid to pack up and move to another area if you aren’t finding what you are looking for.  I don’t care how many animals you have seen there in the past.  If they aren’t there, then they aren’t there.  Animals are not robots and will do what they please, even if that means leaving your favorite hunting spot.  On the flip side, if you absolutely know animals are there, then you need to be able to tough it out and keep trying.  Maybe, you need to change up your tactics?  Hunt hard all day, go to bed, wake up, and do it again the next day.  If they are there, you will eventually see them.  A hunt without game is like trying to put together a puzzle that is void of a pieces.  Sometimes the pieces are under your coffee table and sometimes they were never in the box to begin with.

Quiet Forest


If you have the luxury of hunting with a partner, then maybe this won’t trouble you that much, but if you solo hunt, then loneliness might be an issue here and there.  Some people have absolutely no trouble not talking to anyone for weeks on end.  I would put myself somewhere in the middle.  I enjoy talking to folks and having human interaction, but also enjoy the solitude that comes with solo hunting.  From time to time I have found myself lonely out there though.  It is more so a loneliness that comes from not seeing my family and friends.  I talk to myself more than most probably do and from an outsider’s prospective, it might look like I was crazy, sitting there having a conversation with myself.  This makes me feel better though.  Every once in a while my wife will slip notes into my backpack for each day of my hunt and it helps with the disconnect.  If you have ever run into me while I was out in the field alone, then I probably took up quite a bit of your time talking your ear off.  Thank you for that.

Alone in the Backcountry


Fear is something I think a lot of folks, especially guys, won’t admit to.  It’s because, “We are big strong men on a backcountry journey to bring meat home for the winter.”  To that, I say rubbish.  It is perfectly natural to be afraid and is nothing to be ashamed of.  Heading miles into the mountains and living out of your backpack with a bow/rifle can be pretty intimidating if you haven’t experienced a whole lot of that.  Our minds can be our own worst enemies and come up with all sorts of unfavorable scenarios.  Every noise you hear outside of your tent at night is definitely a bear!  While walking in the dark, you are for sure going to look up ahead and see a mountain lion crouched and ready to pounce on you.  These thoughts and feelings are totally normal and you shouldn’t let them taint your experience out there.  Look at these moments as opportunities.  They are opportunities to not only grow as a hunter, but grow as a person.  Fear of the unknown is a fear that will live forever, so live with it.

Big Country, Big Sky

Unfavorable Weather

On top of the actual act of hunting and how difficult that can be, weather brings a whole different aspect to it.  It can aid in your hunt or can make conditions quite miserable for the time being.  Note that last part, “the time being.”  I can’t tell you how many times I have pulled out of an area, because of weather, only to realize that everything cleared up the next day.  Yes, it sucks when everything is wet and muddy.  Yes, it sucks if it is cold and windy.  I even hear people complain about when it is just hot out, with no “bad weather.”

Think about this though.  A lot of us have spent the majority of the year preparing for this.  To let all of that hard work and dedication just go down the tubes, because of some unfavorable weather, is just not acceptable to me.  Of course you need to be reasonable when faced with these conditions, as it pertains to your safety.  No hunt is worth your life.  As long as you are being safe though, I say tough it out man!  Get some reliable rain gear, make sure that tent is waterproofed, stay hydrated, and get out there!  You have a tag in your pocket.  Make the most of it, even if that is only memories.

Alone with your Thoughts


All of the things I have mentioned above are things that if you haven’t faced yet in your backcountry travels, you just might face in the future.  They are perfectly natural and some of them are just downright inevitable, like weather.  All are but common issues that I myself have dealt with and other people I have talked to have dealt with.  Just because you face a bit of adversity though, doesn’t mean everything is over.  You’ve worked hard to get where you are, whether you are a mile from your truck or 10 miles from your truck.

Remember all of the time at the range.  Remember the sweat you spilled and the sore muscles from your physical training.  Remember all of the gear testing.  Remember why you are there, and most of all, remember to enjoy your time in the field.

Hear More…

Josh and Mark discuss this article on Episode 49 of the #HuntBackcountry podcast…

Josh Kirchner is the voice behind Dialed in Hunter, a blog that not only documents his own journey, but provides gear reviews, tips/tactics for western hunting, and encourages other hunters to chase and achieve their goals. Josh is a passionate bowhunter that has been hunting with his family since he was a small boy, but for the last three years has been eating, sleeping, and breathing the hunting lifestyle. When he is not chasing elk, deer, bear, and javelina through the diverse Arizona terrain, he is spending time with his wife, two herding dogs, and mischievous cat.  Connect with Josh on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

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