"In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins -- not through strength, but by perseverance,"
--H. Jackson Brown
Cold Minnesota weather almost drove me from the stand early that afternoon in late 2005. Fortunately, I "endeavored to persevere" until the end of legal shooting hours.
Lone Watie (Chief Dan George) utters the immortal words, "Endeavor to persevere," to Josie Wales (Clint Eastwood) in the 1976 classic western, The Outlaw Josie Wales. Although Lone Watie actually conveys these words in mild sarcasm because of the two-faced hypocrisy of the U.S. government, his words ring true. For years, I've resonated with this phrase, and I smile as I can see the wrinkled face and hear the native voice of Chief Dan George as he passionately repeats, "Endeavor to persevere! Endeavor to persevere!"
While many hunts involve obstacles such as challenging terrain, harsh weather, and long days, we often have the most difficulty with the "terrain inside our brain" -- our attitude and outlook. Overcoming pessimistic thinking can be tougher than conquering steep mountains or cold, rainy days. Our ability to maintain a positive outlook is just as important for an afternoon hunt, or the season for the long haul. It can also be important in long-term patience from year to year as you try to take your first animal of a given species.
The Long Afternoon Haul
Just a few days before Christmas, I was feeling anxious about the little time re-maining to fill my Minnesota buck tag. A couple of misses and blown opportunities had me questioning the outcome of the season. I knew some big boys were still lurking around in my usual haunts, but with just a week and a half left, I was beginning to think it might be time to "settle" and just tag out on any buck.
About 2 p.m., much earlier than I usually go out for a cold afternoon hunt, I headed out, figuring I might as well be in my stand as long as possible and hope for the best. With a foot of powdery snow on the ground, temperatures in the low teens, and a slight breeze blowing, I knew holding out until the final bell would be difficult.
The first 21„2 hours were filled with nothing but cold and boredom. By late afternoon, I was chilled through and figured the smart move would be to head for the welcome warmth of home -- I wouldn't see anything this late anyway. Still, something inside told me to hang in there until closing time.
One minute before departure time, I sensed movement behind me and turned to see a deer coming up off the ice of the river. At first I thought it was a doe, but then I saw antlers. As I scrambled to get my bow, the buck came steadily, following a trail that would instantly bring him beneath and in front of me.
As he passed under my stand and began to quarter away at five yards, I drew my recurve and rammed a Bear Razorhead-tipped carbon shaft deep into his spine. The buck peeled over backward and dropped in his tracks. I quickly sent an insurance arrow on its way, and within seconds, the winter woods were deadly silent.
Quickly I descended. After kneeling to admire this magnificent creature, I sat back in the fluffy powder to absorb the starlit night. Thinking back over a long, hard season, I gave thanks to my Maker that I was able to endeavor to persevere.
"Your ability to persist in the face of setbacks and disappointments is vital to all great achievement, and it's always a result of a decision you make. It's not the external environment, it's the internal environment."
-- Brian Tracy
This nice New Year's Day 8-pointer provided a gratifying end to a long and difficult season.
The Long Season Haul
My last two deer seasons, I have not put down a decent buck until very late in the year. Staying focused and passionate about the hunt gets more and more difficult as the temperatures drop, deer numbers decrease, and frustrations and mistakes build up over the long season.
New Year's Day normally marks my passage into the postseason blues, but not this day. Often, the North Dakota season stays open the first full week of January, something a good friend had reminded me of just a couple of weeks earlier. So, with renewed spirits, I headed out to one of my favorite haunts and scooted into my 20-foot treestand.
Like clockwork, at 4:45 p.m., the parade began. I saw shadows emerging from the cover, and soon several deer were meandering my way. Wearing head-to-toe snow camo and surrounded by patches of snow high in the trees, I felt invisible.
Twenty-plus does and fawns passed by. Some big, fat, lead does tempted me briefly, but I held out. My gut hunch told me a good buck might be traveling with these late-season ladies. Five minutes before closing time, my hunch proved correct when a buck wandered into the open. He was a very nice 8-point, especially for this late in the season. It was game time.
The buck slowly continued on course and then stopped broadside at 16 yards. Tree branches blocked his vitals. As I shifted my position slightly to get a clear shot, does bolted in every direction. The buck hopped 10 yards and stopped to assess the situation. My heart sank.
After a couple of tense minutes, the deer calmed down. No harm done. The buck resumed his intended route toward a couple of does, and when he turned broadside at 20 yards, I drew my longbow and released.
I heard the magical thunk of arrow hitting flesh, and as he ran off, I could see that arrow placement and penetration were good. Carefully, I climbed down to check out the area of impact and instantly found bright blood, a very good sign. Still, I decided to back off until morning to make sure my hit was good.
At dawn, I took my best tracking partner, my 16-year-old daughter, Karina, to recover the deer. The blood trail proved to be one of the easiest we've ever followed, and within minutes, Karina was shouting that she'd found the deer.
I was elated with this superb 8-point buck. The hundreds of hours on stand over a four-month-long season of ups and downs had finally paid off. Once again, I had chosen to endeavor to persevere, and the reward lay before me.
"I've missed over 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost over 300 games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot... and missed. I've failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." -- Michael J
I find these words refreshing and reassuring. They remind me that even the great ones, like Michael, get great because they learn from and overcome their failures. Similarly, we bowhunters must accept our failures and grow from them. When we make mistakes -- move at the wrong time, miss easy shots, lose a deer -- we can choose one of two roads. The easy road is the self-condemning route on which we replay our mistakes repeatedly and sink into a sullen, depressed mood. We may even think about quitting for the season, or hanging up our bows for good. I know -- I've been there. But what do we gain from that? That road just stymies personal growth and forward progress.
I "endeavored to persevere" for seven long elk seasons before reaping the reward -- this Colorado 6x6.
The higher road is the path of objectivity and determination. It requires that we not only accept our mistakes, but that we analyze them, learn from them, and vow to do better next time. It requires that we get back in the game and endeavor to persevere. It may be the more difficult route, but it is also the far more admirable and satisfying.
The Long Year-to-Year Haul
For many years, this flatlander had dreamed of putting down a big elk. On my first elk hunt, I had one of the most memorable experiences of my life but did not kill an elk. Little did I anticipate that it would take me seven years to realize my goal. It was a long and sometimes trying haul, but I endeavored to persevere, and, finally, in September 2006, in a deep Colorado canyon, I found myself kneeling behind a big pine tree, just six yards from a gorgeous bull. Unfortunately for me, with the pine tree covering his vitals, we were locked in a classic standoff. My hunting partner, John Flaherty, was uphill 50 yards away, cow-chirping to divert the bull's attention. If the bull were to step forward, I would have a "gimme" shot, but he stood his ground behind the tree, suspecting something was amiss. Finally, he scrutinized me with one eye and probably noticed the vibration of my trembling body.
Instantly, he bolted uphill. Instinctive-ly I stood and stepped to the side of the tree. At 25 yards, the elk paused to look back, quartering away. Without conscious thought, I drew my 62-pound recurve and released. The arrow flew true, and my gut told me the high road had brought me home.
After a brief blood trail, I stood over my first elk, a gorgeous 6x6. A strange mix of euphoria and disbelief overcame me, and I had a hard time holding back tears as I recalled seven years of attempts, missteps, almosts, and failures that finally led to this moment. Endeavor to persevere was never more appropriate than at this time. My heart goes out to beginning bowhunters who are slugging it out, trying to make things happen for their first animal; and to those who've been bow-hunting for a long time but just can't seem to connect. The discouragement can cause some to walk away from this great sport.
What a tragedy! We veteran bow-hunters need to open up and be honest in helping beginners to understand the full picture of what it takes to succeed in bowhunting. I want to shout, "Don't let your failures get you down -- you'll get there. Endeavor to persevere!" The author is Director of Youth Ministries at his church. He makes his home in Moorhead, Minnesota.