For 12 days we'd been hunting daylight to dark. My hunting partner, Bowhunter Publisher Jeff Waring, had taken a five-point elk on the 11th day, and we had spent from sunrise until midnight of the 12th day packing out his bull.
That gave me one last morning to kill an elk, but after the previous long days, I hardly felt like climbing another mountain in the dark. Besides, if I could not kill an elk in 12 days, what made me think I could kill one the last morning?
Still, one thing was for sure — I could not kill one in camp. So, well before daylight, I grudgingly rolled out of my sleeping bag and followed the beam of my headlamp up the mountain.
By daylight, I was virtually running through the woods, bugling, frantic to locate an elk. At first the woods were silent, but about 9 a.m. a bull responded to my pleadings.
Moving his way, I came to a wallow. Maybe the bull was heading here? I thought. Quickly I hid in a clump of trees and bugled angrily. The bull responded instantly, and seconds later he thundered to the far side of the wallow and skidded to a halt 15 yards away.
It all happened so fast I had no time to think. I simply drew and shot. Did that really happen? Earlier it had seemed implausible at best, but why? I had followed a cardinal rule of bowhunting — never say die — and as sound principles often do, it had paid off in the end.
If you watched the 2017 Super Bowl, you saw "never say die" defined. Late in the third quarter, the New England Patriots trailed the Atlanta Falcons 28 to 3. No team had ever come back from more than a 10-point deficit to win a Super Bowl. The Patriots were dead. Yet at the end of regulation they tied the score at 28, and won in overtime 34-28. That seemed impossible, but it happened for one reason — the Patriots' never-say-die attitude.
That principle translates directly to bowhunting. Good skills and equipment will carry you only so far. It's often attitude that determines the outcome, and no attitude has greater bearing than never say die. I have seen it demonstrated time and again.
A few years ago in Oregon, my friends Shay Mann and Jeremy Johnson and I had been chasing elk hard for two weeks. Jeremy had killed a bull, but Shay and I had not. While Jeremy hunted with me, Shay spiked out by himself for several days. On his last day, Shay met us at base camp at about noon. He was visibly tired, and he was disgruntled from missing a bull the day before.
As he slumped into a folding chair and ate an energy bar, he seemed done. After all, this was his last afternoon, he was depleted, and the weather was hot. Why not call it a day?
But about 2 p.m., Shay said, "I've got a couple of hours left. You guys want to go with me?" It seemed crazy, but at 3 p.m. the three of us marched up the trail under a blazing sun, and we'd gone no more than two miles when we heard a bull bugle. Where did he come from?
With the late-afternoon breeze shifting up and down, we sat in the shade across the canyon from the bull, listening and watching to pinpoint his location.
By 5 p.m., the wind was drifting steadily downhill and we had a pretty good idea of where to find the bull, so we went to the bottom of the canyon, crossed the creek, and hiked up below the elk. Shay and I blinded-in out front, and Jeremy started calling behind us. Some minutes later, a six-point bull strode down the ridge and walked right into one of Shay's arrows. With less than an hour of daylight left in his hunt, Shay was tying his tag on a beautiful 6x6 bull.
Most obviously, a never-say-die attitude buys you maximum hunting time, and the longer you hunt, the luckier you'll get. But time also buys you knowledge. After all, the longer you hunt an area, the more you'll understand the animals there.
That proved valuable for me in Kansas. Early in the hunt, I spotted a very large whitetail buck and tried for nine days to kill him. But he always stayed one step ahead of me, and by the last day of my 10-day hunt, the buck was still roaming the prairie.
So, the last morning I sat down to think. Where had I seen the buck? Which direction was he traveling? Where were his latest scrapes and rubs? Pulling nine days worth of observations together, I decided the best place for a last-afternoon stand would be a creekbottom leading from the open prairie to an overgrown bedding site.
The creek had no trees big enough for a treestand, but refusing to say die, I tied some thick tamarisk trees together and crammed a treestand among the branches, 10 feet off the ground. It was a pathetic setup, but it was in the right place. Never say die!
At 3 p.m. on the last afternoon of my hunt, I climbed into that stand, and at 4 p.m., with one hour remaining, I saw a buck coming. It was the big one I'd been chasing for 10 days.
He walked straight at my stand until he got a whiff of the scent wick I'd placed upwind of my position. Raising his nose, he turned broadside, 17 yards from my stand. The arrow hit perfectly, and I recovered the great 10-pointer just after dark. Never say die!
While time and knowledge often explain last-minute success, focus and concentration might be even more powerful. When the pressure is on, you simply bear down and function at your highest level. Have you ever noticed how football teams trailing in the fourth quarter suddenly become unstoppable? Do you think the Atlanta Falcons noticed that in the Super Bowl? Quarterback Tom Brady could not miss, and the Falcons could not stop him. The whole Patriots team seemed to rise in focus and determination. They would not say die. And they did not.
Ditto in bowhunting. In the late 1990s, after many years of applying, I finally drew a Wyoming moose tag. Since this was my first chance to take a Shiras moose, I badly wanted to fill that tag.
But after two trips to Wyoming and 17 days of hunting, I was still empty-handed — and feeling defeated. In mid-October, I had a block of four days for one last hurrah, so on October 14 I drove back to Wyoming for the third time. But I HAD to be home for work by October 19, so I gave myself until noon on October 18. If I did not have a moose by then, the hunt was over. Period!
For the first three days, things looked bleak. I simply could not find a moose. Still, with a rare tag in my pocket, I was not about to give up, and with almost frantic drive on October 18, I rolled out at 4 a.m. and started hiking. By daybreak, I was glassing a swampy riverbottom and listening for grunting bulls. Nothing. Time was ticking away. Never say die!
I picked up the pace, almost running along a bluff above the broad riverbottom, trying to inspect every cranny of the bottomland. Finally, at 10 a.m., I spotted a bull following a cow across the swampy bottom. Driven to win this one, I scrambled down the bluff to reach the swampy bottom and splashed at a dead run through shallow water to get in front of the moose.
Crouching behind a tree, I waited until the moose were within 30 yards, and then I grunted like a bull. The moose stopped and stared, and then the bull headed my way. At 20 yards, he stopped to thrash a willow. Knowing my whole season rested on this moment, I dug deep to focus and placed a perfect arrow through his chest.
I looked at my watch — 11 a.m. After 21 days of hunting, I beat the cutoff by an hour. No sweat. You don't need a lot of time if you never say die.