You are tired, mentally broken, and craving the comforts of home. Time and time again, success has teased you, but turned its back at the last second. The quiver on your bow has less arrows than it did when you began your hunt, but your knife is still clean. There is a small part of you that wishes you could fill your tag, just so this would end. Another part of you enjoys the process, welcomes the challenge, and wouldn't have it any other way. Day after day, you wake up in camp well before the sun breaks the horizon, only to return to camp guided by the light of your headlamp. You quickly devour a hot meal. Tomorrow is a new day, but for now you wish to get lost in your dreams.
If you have spent any time on extended hunts — backcountry or not — you may have experienced something similar to what is described above. It is the grind. All of us go through it from time to time; some of us deal with it better than others. Those that can endure it have a chance to fill their tags on the last day. Those that surrender to the grind will never know what could have been.
I admire the hunters that have endured through adversity and are rewarded at the very end. They got to experience their whole hunt, from front to back, and topped it off with a filled tag. It is a complete experience. Of course, simply enduring until the end doesn’t guarantee a filled tag. We are bound to circumstances beyond our control. Circumstances that are not always favorable.
Let’s look at some ways to endure through the grind and stay in the hunt when things aren’t going your way…
A positive attitude and outlook is a common trait among hunters that stick with it through the grind. It seems as if no matter what happens, they have a smile on their face, and are ready for the day. To be with someone like this is inspiring. The opposite is also true. If there is any negativity in camp, it tends to bring everyone down. Negativity will lead you away from the hunt and back towards town, where ease, convenience, and that hot breakfast burrito calls your name. Mindset is a key factor that enables you to stay out there longer and keep trying harder.
And don’t forget that this hunting stuff is supposed to be fun. Always remember that. Know that your hunt can do a complete 180 degree turn in seconds. Boom! Back in business!
Great spirits are going to breed great effort. Plain and simple.
I was six days into an archery mule deer hunt here in Arizona. The days that were behind me were sprinkled with opportunity, but nothing panned out. Most of those days were littered with blown stalks , and some days brought no sightings of deer at all. I began to feel like it wasn't going to happen. This was likely going to be another year with an unfilled archery deer tag.
Everything changed on day six, when I spotted a mature mule deer buck about a mile out. I executed the stalk, sent an arrow, and the rest was history. A few hours before this, I would have never guessed this would have happened. But there I was, standing next to the biggest buck I had ever killed. This hunt is proof that "Persistence Kills" is a true statement.
No matter how much we do something or how much experience we have doing it, our confidence is directly affected by adversity. When things are going good, we feel like a million bucks — like we've got it all figured out. We put the time in with our scouting, found animals, and are doing what is needed to fill our tag. The next day comes, though, and you aren't seeing anything. Now, you might not be feeling so hot. Here's the thing though. Nothing changed. You know how to do this. Stay persistent in the face of adversity and you will be rewarded.
Is it Really a Grind?
When I look back on past hunts that were a grind, sometimes I giggle a bit. There was nothing to laugh at in the moment of difficulty, as I felt like it was a constant repetition of 1 step forward and 2 steps back. But after getting home and thinking through it, I find myself missing the hunt — even missing the difficulty that challenged me. I miss those head-scratching moments when the elk bested me. I laugh at the times where I wanted to quit. I relish the small wins that came from time to time, which would reinvigorate me. When you put it all together, it was a hunt to remember. One filled with tons of lessons, growth, and stories I will tell for many years to come. That's the stuff that doesn't disappear from your freezer over time. So, is it really a grind out there? Or are we too in our own heads to see the big picture at the time? Things might feel difficult to deal with in the moment, but when you look back on it, you will realize that life was pretty good out there "struggling" on a hunt.
Home Life/Mountain Life
Truly being at home when we're at home is incredibly important. What do I mean by that? I am referring to us being at home mentally. Being fully present where we are, and with those we share the moment. Be there for your wife or husband when they need it — and even when they don't. Engaging in life at home not only makes a great imprint on your loved ones, but it helps us mentally as well. At least it does for me.
If I leave on a hunt without doing stuff like this at home, I feel awful. I could have cleaned up a bit or did that yard work my wife has been asking me to do. Those “should have” or “could have” thoughts have a direct effect on my time in the mountains.
Our normal everyday lives are habitual and we are creatures of habit. As you break these habits when you are on a hunt, it can bring on a sense of discomfort. But this disconnect can also be therapeutic. Embrace where you are, wherever you are, whenever you are there. Be at home when you're at home, so that you can be in the mountains when you're in the mountains.
This past year, I drew an archery elk tag in my home state of Arizona. I had a coveted tag to hunt elk in the land of the giants. All glamour aside, it was the toughest hunt I have ever done. Not because of the hunting, but because of the grinding that took place. Between the duration, missed opportunities, and losing a bull, I was feeling pretty darn low as the days of the hunt progressed. While I might have been glum then, today I feel so lucky that I got to go through all of that. It made me stronger and gave me insight into things I never knew. If I've learned anything over my time of hunting, it is this
Grinding is an art and the only way to become a better
artist is to immerse yourself in it when present.
Think of the grind like a learning opportunity. Say to yourself, "I wonder what I'm going to get out of this?" You will prosper in the end, whether your tag is wrapped around an animal or not.
Josh Kirchner is the author of the book, Becoming a Backpack Hunter, as well as 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. When he is not chasing elk, deer, bear, and javelina through the diverse Arizona terrain, he is spending time with his wife, daughter, and two herding dogs.