The Unsuccessful Hunter!

Not too long ago I remember a hunt where as I was walking back to my tent I passed a camp with a nice bull hanging in the shade of a tree. Naturally I stopped to “chew the fat” a bit. The man was nonchalant and almost uncaring that he’d tagged this magnificent animal. Just another day in the office for him. Driving out that morning he’d spied the bull in a field near the road. “Simply a matter of stepping out to the fence and dropping him. About like every year. Probably won’t even bother to hunt next year.” I just walked away. Sad that this man totally missed the point. So I say to you, “Woe to the hunter who is always successful!” I know a few, and you know them as well. Perhaps you yourself even fit the description. The guy who fills his tag every year. The hunter who fairly oozes success. You always hear his story. “Yea, I just stepped out of the truck and there he was. Almost fell into the bed!” Or, “I was just sitting at camp and the dang thing walked right in.  Almost stepped on me!” I for one, would rather be unsuccessful and know the glory of nature than have one animal give itself to me, because this is the experience at its best and is the whole reason I hunt.    

I have camped in the woods and on the grasslands. I have spent endless hours fishing. And I can’t count the hours spent hiking or rock hounding. Yet, none of these activities brings you as close to nature as a single morning of unsuccessful hunting. Don’t get me wrong. A morning of successful hunting definitely has its points, but ‘hunting’ is the key word. Judge the success of the experience not the outcome.

Had I been successful one morning I would never have seen coyote pups playing and learning to stalk each other, oblivious to the fact I sat near. I would have never seen a cinnamon bear cub backlit by the sun, its guard hairs shimmering in the light rimming his outline in silver. Had I been successful on another hunt I would have missed the bachelor herd of mule deer. Seven total standing together, antlers looking so much like a pole patch. I was hunting elk that morning by the way. Had I been successful hunting I would have never been privy to the mating calls of a couple of love sick porcupines. (One of them almost ran me over in its hurry to get to is intended!)  I would have never seen an albino Pronghorn nor seen the harvest moon rise when I was deep in the forest and far far from camp. Had I tagged early I would have missed a night under a full moon watching bull elk spar in a meadow, their challenges echoing up and down the valley. 

Unsuccessful hunting taught me where a bull keeps himself cool when it’s warm, and when he rises to forage in the afternoon. I now know the gray squirrel isn’t just scolding me but the bull as well. You know you are succeeding when the same gray squirrel sits on your log calmly dismembering a pinecone as you watch over a wallow.  

To be unsuccessful means to learn. Each unsuccessful experience in the field teaches me more and shows me more than the experience before. 

So, after all this rambling what do I really mean? Hunting. Really hunting! It means totally immersing yourself into the natural world. I have personally never known any other activity that so completely requires all of your senses working in tandem, bent towards a single outcome. A wise man once told me, “Hunt as if your next meal depended on it!” This is why just being out there doesn’t cut it. Experience it on this level even once and you will see nature as only a privileged few ever have. And if you experience the perfection even once, you’ll be hooked for life. Successful or not.