Suddenly I was alone and felt very lonely, almost fearful. That was a strange sensation for me because I have always liked hunting alone. The shock of solitude may have resulted from the remote location, recent grizzly sightings, and my isolation from immediate help. But it probably also stemmed from recent circumstances. Since the advent of Bowhunter Magazine TV fours years ago, I had not been on a single hunt without a cameraman and other companions.
On this latest expedition in Alaska, Bowhunter Publisher Jeff Waring, cameraman Mike Malley, and I had just spent 10 days together. Jeff had shot a great moose, and Mike had shot a lot of great video. Then Jeff and Mike went home.
I could not do that with a valid moose tag in my pack, I elected to stay another six days, and that’s why I was now alone. I had a wall tent, wood stove, cot, sleeping bag, food, endless miles in Alaskan wilderness to roam — and no one to share it with.
Facing that empty feeling, I would have to adjust mentally to the downsides of hunting alone, starting with the lack of social interaction. Silence may be golden, but it can also be menacing. We’re all used to trading ideas, thoughts, and feelings with others. Isolation eliminated the sharing of fears and concerns, joys and excitement, encouragement and support.
What about dangerous animals? Jeff, Mike, and I had seen several grizzlies. The bears had caused no problems, but their presence always had us looking over our shoulders; solitude only magnified my uneasiness. What about injury? Traipsing miles of mountains, I could fall off a cliff, stumble in the dark, or step in a hole, any of which could produce a broken arm, shattered leg — or worse. What about hypothermia! I would be wading creeks, probably in the rain. At some point I could get soaked, igniting the potential for hypothermia. Without help, a hypothermic person quickly becomes helpless and perishes.
In Alaska, these are not imaginary threats; they are all very real. In the company of other hunters, the threats seem small; aid and support are close at hand. For a person alone, the potential danger seems overwhelming, and even small threats grow into large fears. My first night alone in that tent was very quiet — and very long.
The next morning, with no companions to motivate or goad me, I had to dig deeper than normal to get moving. And as I started up the creek trail, I was unusually edgy, jumping at the slightest leaf rustle or twig snap. Was that a bird? Was it a bear?
That routine continued through the morning as I reached the head of the creek and climbed through the brush to the top of a ridge, where I sat to glass for moose. Now, in mid-September, the birch and aspen leaves blazed golden across the mountainsides, forming beautiful patterns, among the dark spruce. As the afternoon wore on, my attention began to swing from my aloneness to the beauty of the mountains, the quiet, and the hunting potential.
With each passing day, my comfort level increased, and the reasons I’ve always liked hunting alone began to resurface. While hunting with others, I focus primarily on my companions; the hunt has a social element. That’s not bad, just reality. When hunting alone, I focus on the sights, sounds and smells, and I develop a deeper awareness and appreciation for my surroundings.
And I hunt better, I become more observant for sign, glass longer and more intently, hike farther, and plan strategies geared to my own abilities. While hunting alone I don’t always kill game, but I always hunt my best.
Perhaps most compelling, my motives are pure. I don’t have to impress anyone or meet someone else’s expectations. With no one to encourage or discourage me, share responsibility, or help make decisions, I find out my true colors: Can I really handle fears and dangers by myself? Am I truly ardent about hunting, or is my ardency just a show for others? Am I genuinely self-sufficient, or do I need support? Are my motives and ethics really pure? It’s easy to fool other people, but not so easy to fool myself. Isolation exposes my true nature. It makes me honest.
For the next six days, I hunted by myself. Yes, I missed Jeff and Mike; we’d shared good times. But as the days passed, my comfort level grew, my senses sharpened, and I hunted my best. I did not kill a moose, but I gained much. Those six days alone gave me opportunity to explore not only new country but also myself, and what I found was not all bad. Packing up the last day to head home, I felt very sad. I wanted to stay. Yes, I love hunting with friends, but even more I love hunting alone.