A dim glow slowly creeps over the eastern horizon as you make your way up through the soft tundra and around the jagged rocks. Ten minutes earlier you passed the last remaining trees willing to fight for enough oxygen to survive. Although the distant sunrise is fighting to light up the east-facing slopes the ever darkening clouds you have ascended into have other plans. Hours prior and several hundred feet lower the sky was clear and star filled as you slung your pack over your shoulders, grabbed your bow, and started your climb towards the high drainage you had watched a group of elk grazing in the prior morning. That clear starry sky has since been painted over by a sinister blanket of angry, cold, fast moving darkness that has engulfed you and most of the mountains. The surprise storm seems to have made the sun change its mind as you again switch on your headlamp in an effort to see a little further into the darkness. It is eerily calm as you stand on the ridge with gray clouds and ghostly fog move around you. You know it’s time to descend and you turn back towards timber line when suddenly your body feels tingly and alive with what feels like a full body covering of static. The quiet and calculated steps you would normally take while hunting quickly give way to long, crashing strides towards a lower place where you aren’t the most likely lightning rod. The storm immediately goes from a quiet, fogged over horror movie-like setting to all out chaos as thunder begins to crack from all directions, rain comes pouring down, and hail begins to pelt you in the face. Luckily you reach timber line shortly after hell broke loose and you are able to find some cover from the abuse Mother Nature is inflicting on the mountain amongst the brush and some downed timber with quite a few taller trees around you. “Luckily” is a loosely used term as there is really nothing lucky about your location or situation, but it’s far more comforting than feeling electrified and waiting to be lit up by a lightning strike! As you huddle in your rain gear and listen to the elements pounding on you and everything around you, all you can think about is the goal at hand. You have been in the mountains for several days, have endured high winds, heat, cold, rain, steep climbs, nasty down-climbs, and countless miles, and stopping now never crosses your mind. After an hour of punishing the mountainside with rain, hail, freezing rain, and the occasional blinding flash of lightning, the storm tires and breaks up. You shed your drenched rain gear and proceed with your mission to punch the tag you have waited all year to take into the backcountry.
Whether you hunt the unpredictable high country of the Rockies, the unforgiving plains of the Midwest, or anywhere the other 90% aren’t willing to hunt because it’s too thick, too dark, too cold, too hard, or too far to hunt, you have likely been in similar situations as I described above. You have probably been in these trying situations so many times that they really don’t seem like “situations” any more, even though they may be terrifying and life altering to most sane people. I have been through the exact situation described above on more than one occasion and many others that might deter others. Hunters, or most hunters, get into trying situations all the time. When faced with extreme cold, extreme heat, high wind, rain, snow, or treacherous and extreme terrain; we still push on. While these “situations” may be a challenge to overcome physically, the mental challenge(s) presented are sometimes tougher to conquer and, for some, simply defeating. Hunting (real hunting, not road hunting with beers in the cupholders) is challenging, mentally and physically. The true pinnacle of hunting is in the doing, and to reach that level we have to possess something the other 90% lack; drive. If you are not driven you will never find that spiritual connection to hunting nor will you ever feel what it truly is to be a hunter.
Many things may drive hunters to train at a higher level, research more, practice more, push further, and work harder. Some people simply like to challenge themselves, some people are afraid of failing, some people are trophy hunters, some crave the journey and the doing, and some may want the recognition in a quest for fame. The reasons are infinite and sometimes you may find the drive for one more set or one more mile and not even know exactly what is motivating you, but it is a fire and desire to push on. You and I may or may not agree with some hunters’ motivation or goals but, if they are successful and reach their goals, there is no denying they have something in them pushing them to get to those goals. If you can find and harness the things that make you push through one more set in the gym, run one more set of stairs, go to the range when its 5 degrees, and go deeper into the backcountry, you will set yourself apart from the other 90%. Find what drives you and get out there. September is coming and there is no offseason.
“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.” -Vince Lombardi