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Dealing with Failure While Hunting

Dealing with Failure While Hunting

Dealing with Failure While Hunting:
How to Properly Prepare Tag Soup and the Lessons to Pass On

Written by Future of Hunting Team Member, Brandon Gronewald

For anyone that has spent time chasing big game, at some point, they have failed.  I know I have had my fair share of blown opportunities, some being completely my fault and others being attributed to things that are completely out of my control.  Whether that be in the form of a missed shot, being too impatient, making the wrong decision on a route or due to unpredictable wind, we have all experienced some form of failure in the woods.  When this happens we have choices to make. Option A is to dwell on the failure and let it eat away at you to the point of loss of focus and a major morale killer. Option B is to learn from it, shrug it off and venture over the next ridge or up the next drainage and try again.  Far too often I fall into the option A mindset. I allow my failures to impact my hunt. I feel I have done all that I could have to position myself for an opportunity to be successful. I have researched the land, shot my bow, practiced my calling, chosen proper access points and been physically fit to put in long miles in search of my quarry.  With all the preparation comes a set of expected results, to notch a tag and harvest an animal that will feed my family and friends for many months to come. So when all the preparation falls through and you watch your arrow bury into a tree or your bullet sail over the animals back your heart sinks. A prime example of this is my archery elk hunt this year in Idaho.

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For the first 3 days of our trip we had gotten into elk each day.  Cows and bulls were in the area although they were not very receptive to my calling.  The bulls would pop off, I would call and they would go the opposite way, usually at a high rate of speed.  This added another challenge to an already demanding hunt. On day 4 I had chosen to do a recon hike up a trailhead and had plans of meeting my buddies at the top of the ridge for lunch around noon and share what I had seen and compare notes.  The hike started at daylight through the high country sage and eventually transitioned into stands of lodge pole pine and ponderosa. As I gained elevation I came to a spot I recognized along the trail, I had been there before only from the opposite direction.  I looked at my HuntOnX app, got my bearings straight and made a decision to drop down into a creek drainage that lead to a large basin with many small finger ridges. I knew there were bulls in there from an encounter the day prior. As I side hilled through the surprisingly open timber I surveyed my surroundings, intently listening for anything that could be an elk.  In the brisk morning air I heard a faint bugle come from the direction I was headed. Bingo! I snuck closer, making calculated moves from tree to tree hoping to see the elk before it saw me. The bull bugled again, this time much closer and much more distinctly, taking any notion of it being another hunter out of the equation. I moved to one more tree and then I spotted him.  I couldn’t see anything besides his body but he had no idea I was there. Calling had not been working in my favor thus far but sneaking into shooting range with the dry ground and lack of cover wasn’t an option. I decided to roll the dice and threw out 3 soft cow mews. The bull heard this and spun his head and looked at me. Big bull, huge! Immediately I felt the adrenaline rush pulse through my body.  What I had failed to observe were the 7-8 cows that were also with him. I didn’t notice them until they started to move in my direction. They lead him towards my general vicinity and as they moved I moved to try and close the gap, they were not coming to me on a string rather weaving through the trees below me. I reached a spot where I could go no further, the span from my tree to the next was too great and I would’ve most definitely been busted.  I had my arrow knocked and as the bull walked I drew back. Could this actually happen? This was the biggest bull I had ever drawn back on, a 340+ bruiser, and he was well inside my shooting range, some would even call it a chip shot. As he stood there doing what rutting bulls do I settled my 30 yard pin. I had to lean out to avoid a branch but beside that the shot was clear, slightly downhill and slightly quartering away. Deep breath, focus, pick a spot and release….THWACK!  I had just drilled….a trophy lodge pole pine. The level of disappointment I had is indescribable. A few choice words were muttered, I knocked another arrow and tried my best to get another shot to no avail. They were gone. After the dust settled I came to the conclusion that I pulled my bow to the left when I shot. This failure to capitalize was all on me, nobody else, no branch caused the arrow to deflect, no sketchy wind sent my scent to them, it was all on me. Months of planning, 13 hours driven, money spent on an out of state tag and 3 days of putting in 12-14 miles on the mountain all lead up to this one opportunity, which left me reeling in agony for the rest of my trip because I had failed.

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So how does this relate to kids?  My sob story is one that many others have may have experienced while out in the elk woods.  But as a father to a 4.5 year old daughter it is not something she has dealt with. Failure to her is not being able to watch one more episode of My Little Pony before bed time.  As an adult I view this as silly but to her it is important and as someone who wants nothing more than to stimulate an appreciation for the outdoors and the hunting heritage, I try to weave the two.  I want to teach her that failure will happen; in life, work, family and in the outdoors. At some point my children will fail at something they hold close to their heart. When I returned home empty handed, Grace asked me why and said, “Did you catch an elk Daddy?”  I had to explain to her that I did not catch one this trip but that I had missed her, her brother and mom dearly while I was gone for 8 days. She looked at me with an expression of disappointment/confusion and didn’t seem to buy off on my attempt to change the topic which made me laugh.  She had been inundated with this trip throughout our home leading up to my departure. She had helped me pack my gear, get my food ready and even drew me a picture so when I came home with nothing, I could see her saying in her head “What the heck man?!?” Even as an adult I still have to learn to deal with failure, especially while hunting, and tell myself to view the misfortune as a learning opportunity.  As my kids grow older and become more able to tag along with me on hunts I have a responsibility to let them make mistakes and learn how to deal with failing. It will absolutely happen as a new hunter, I think it is inevitable. As individuals who take pride and have a vested interest in expanding the hunting heritage in our youth we have a duty to expose them to all the variables that can and will happen. Hunting can be draining; emotionally, physically and psychologically.  Adding in the potential of coming home empty handed should not add fuel to the fire but rather be viewed as an experience, one that allowed us to be in the outdoors together and see and hear things other may never be exposed to. After I unpacked all my gear and finally showered, Grace came up to me and gave me a hug saying, “It’s okay Dad, I still love you”. The miss on that bull no longer hung over me like an ominous cloud after that.

At the end of the day we hunt for a reason.  It is for the thrill of the chase, to get our kids actively involved, to push ourselves and them beyond our limits, to see what is over the next ridge and to provide.  With that comes the possibility of not being successful. How we react to that and how we teach our kids to react to that is the greatest lesson.

You can follow Brandon on Instagram at @bmginthepnw

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