March 09, 2023
Around 15 years ago, I saw the writing on the wall that future hunts in far-off places were going to get increasingly tougher to come by due to supply versus demand for tags. Because of this, I started building points and applying for more states across the West and beyond than I’m willing to admit to. Since that time, a lot has changed in the tag game, and although I could go on and on about my ever-growing dislike for point systems and the like, I will save that for another time. Instead, I want to share with you how I am starting to reap the rewards of all my research, time, and money spent when it comes to drawing tags here and there.
As happy as I am that I have reached this point and am getting to hunt more often instead of just banking points, drawing these tags comes with a lot of pressure. The pressure being to not only fill the tag that I have waited so long for, but to fill that tag with an animal worthy of all the resources I’ve spent to acquire said tag.
Before you crucify me for that last statement, let me say that any animal taken deserves reverence for endng its life, but if all I wanted to do was just shoot any animal, I would simply hunt within a few miles of my home here in Idaho where I don’t need preference points or expensive out-of-state license fees. This pressure I feel on these hunts comes from many places: friends, family, acquaintances, the dreaded social media, and largely from myself, to be honest.
Over the past few years, I have tried hard to manage this pressure, and as I age and mature, to put things into perspective. What follows are some of the thoughts and feelings I have gone through in this process.
My Biggest Test
In the spring of 2021, I decided I was going to burn my Wyoming points that I had been building for more than a decade. Wyoming is a state I love to hunt, and drawing an elk tag there has been a dream of mine for a very long time. So, when I finally drew a tag, I knew the hunt should be a very good one, with a better-than-average opportunity to kill a great bull. I also knew that drawing this tag could very possibly be my only hunt in a top Wyoming unit in my lifetime.
The hunt started off amazing, with lots of action. As a matter of fact, the elk were so vocal, there were days I couldn’t even enjoy camp because bulls would start bugling midday and draw me away from my camp chair — and my midday nap.
After passing up a few small and midsized bulls early in the hunt, my buddy Matt called a nice six-point bull right into my lap. As I watched the bull walk by me at 13 yards, I started to have second thoughts about my decision. Deep down though, I knew that wasn’t the bull I came to Wyoming for. Still, for the next several days as the rut continued to heat up and herd bulls became increasingly more difficult to lure away from their harems, my internal strife over passing up that six-point only intensified.
A few days later, my brother and Matt had to head home for work obligations, and I was left alone in Wyoming to chase elk. The next day was bitter cold, and with a fresh blanket of snow on the ground and bulls screaming, it was one of the most magical days of elk hunting I have ever experienced.
As I climbed the mountain through a fresh blanket of snow toward the bugling bulls above me, I noticed the stress was starting to leave me. I called in and passed on a nice, young six-point bull. An hour later, I called-in that same bull and passed him again.
A quarter-mile later, I had several more subpar bulls pass by within bow range, but below me I could hear cows and what I believed to be a big herd bull. I worked in silently toward his bugles and finally found myself looking at him through the underbrush at 60 yards.
I recognized him as the awesome double-sword bull I had been after, and when he went behind a tree, I slithered closer. I knew I was getting close because I could hear him walking around. Suddenly, I jumped a cow and the herd bolted. I stopped the now quartering-away bull at 45 yards, and although I wished this tale ended differently, it didn’t, because I flat blew the shot and the bull and his cows ran off and soon continued with their rutting festivities.
As I sat there in disbelief of what had just happened, I started to take it all in. It had been a beautiful morning with incredible elk hunting, and I had got within bow range of the caliber bull I’d come to Wyoming for. It was right then that I realized that as much as I wanted to kill an elk, I didn’t “have” to kill an elk to consider the hunt a success. Full disclosure here: I have no desire to fall into a group of guys who never shoots anything besides pictures of sunsets. I am lucky to fall into a group who has been on dozens of hunts for elk and other species over the years, and more of them have been successful than unsuccessful. I am not saying this to come across as a braggart, but to inform you that this is coming from a place where I am gaining perspective rather than from the jaded view of a guy who never kills anything. It was just refreshing to realize that was the kind of bull I was after on this hunt, and I wanted to kill one like that or go home empty-handed, knowing I tried my best to fulfill that goal.
From that point on, I enjoyed that hunt immensely. The following day, I got in on another great bull and had my bow drawn and needed him to take one more step, but he winded me and bolted. A couple days later, I snuck in and nearly got a shot at two big bulls as they were in the middle of a huge fight. These encounters kept happening, and I experienced elk hunting like never before. As good as the hunting was, I figured there was no chance I would leave without killing a bull. Still, after 18 days of elk hunting, I left Wyoming without a bull but with a very satisfied feeling for the hunt I had and how I had done. I guess this maturity thing might be getting to me after all.
Social Media Monster
I will be the first to admit that I spend too much time on social media, and hunting season can be a crazy time online. Most of my friends and followers are hunters, and it seems that every time you hit service and check your phone, someone has killed another monster buck or bull.
It’s easy to get caught up in this and start doubting yourself and your skills. Honestly, though, everyone is in a different situation, hunting different areas with different conditions. I have several friends who really struggle with everyone they “know” posting kill pics. I learned a long time ago that going down that rabbit hole isn’t productive. Instead, I just tell them congrats and get back to work on the task at hand.
Money Is Irrelevant
No, I am not a man with deep pockets, but I often hear things like, “That’s an expensive tag, you have to kill one.” To this I say, if you’re worried about the money, you shouldn’t be going on these hunts anyway. Once the tag is bought and I am on the trip, I don’t worry about the money. I refuse to let the money I spent be my motivation for why I “have” to kill an animal. In my opinion, that degrades the entire experience and really misses the point of the adventure. Instead, I focus on enjoying the mountains and the time I get to spend there — both alone and with friends and family.
Let It Go
Take my Wyoming hunt, for example. Once I forgot about the pressure and just started hunting for the bull I wanted instead of being so focused on having to kill an elk, it was just more enjoyable. Being in the middle of animals and coexisting with them is a blast. This happens much more often when you aren’t trying to kill every single bull or buck in bow range. It’s amazing when you are in a herd, and you get to watch how they interact with one another for an extended period of time because you don’t mess it up by firing an arrow.
Another great thing is getting to enjoy the hunting that often comes with hard draws or once-in-a-lifetime tags. In 2019, my brother drew a coveted Utah Henry Mountains bison tag. This is a once-in-a-lifetime draw, meaning even if you don’t kill a bull, this is your only tag. Fortunately, he killed a great bull with two hours to spare on a 10-day hunt, but the whole time we were in awe of just getting to be there, and I felt blessed to be a part of it. If we had been so singularly focused on having to kill a bison, it would have greatly taken away from this amazing experience.
You also often experience much better hunting than you do in OTC or general areas. This allows you to hunt differently and more effectively than you would in areas with high hunting pressure. Use this to your advantage, hunt smart and hard, but enjoy the experience and don’t let the pressure to kill erode your experience.
Now in my early 40s, I am hopefully a long way from riding off into the sunset. I plan to enjoy many more hunts in the future. I tend to hunt alone these days, and I have plenty of time to think about what really drives me and why I do the hunts I do. I swear when I was younger, I learned more about elk on every hunt. Nowadays, it seems I just learn more about myself. I’ve realized that every generation will talk about the “good old days.” I have seen my share of great hunting, and I am thankful for all those experiences.
I also realize that things change and that to continue hunting I have to change my perspective on some things and that the days of unlimited tags, low hunting pressure, and screaming bulls on every ridge likely isn’t coming back. The only time I will probably ever experience this going forward is when I draw these special tags in special places. So, when I do get these opportunities, I can’t let the pressure from outside — and within — spoil my experience. Instead, I am going to live it up, give it my best, and drink up every minute.
The author is an avid hunter who lives in Idaho with his wife and kids.
Author’s Note: My equipment includes a PSE EVO XF bow, Option sight and Quivalizer, Hamskea Epsilon rest, and KUIU clothing and packs.