The Great Intangible
October 28, 2010
Good Fortune, Bad Fortune, It's Being In The Game That Matters
I'd been anticipating the hunt for a long time. As I pulled into eastern Colorado in mid-November, the whitetail rut was cranking. Having bowhunted the area for the first time a year earlier, I'd encountered numerous big bucks and had actually seen a couple of certain Boone & Crockett contenders. Being new to the area, it seemed however, that I'd always been one step behind the big bucks. By the time that I scouted an area thoroughly, I'd have messed the place up--know what I mean?
Even though we do our best to make and execute smart hunting plans there will always be one factor that we have no control over--luck. We must be happy with our time in the field because the pursuit of perfection only leads to frustration.
Toward the end of the trip, I'd found a spot that oozed with big buck sign and was set up perfectly for bowhunting. Quickly erecting a tree stand in the location, I spent the last two days of my outing there. Sadly enough, I'd missed a good shot at a 150-class 10 pointer on my first day there, and on my last evening, I'd had a 180-plus buck at 25 yards and incredibly, had been unable to get a shot at the monster. Heading home the following day, the frustration and excitement that was pent-up inside me was overwhelming. Having missed out on two encounters with great animals, my cheeks were tight. Having to go home when I knew that I was just getting ready to have things my way, was killing me. And finally, the excitement and anticipation of what I hoped to accomplish in this spot the following year, was killing me too.
Now, 12 months later, I was back and to say that I was pumped would be an understatement. Slipping into my "secret" spot in the twilight of my first morning, I quietly hung a tree stand and climbed aboard. Prepared to stay all day, I was so excited about the potential of my hunt that the top of my head felt as if it might blow off. As daylight flooded onto the area, everything looked as I'd left it a year earlier--primed and ready for action.
By late evening, my excitement level had waned considerably. Having only seen a couple of does and a small buck, I psyched myself up for the task at hand. In my mind, I'd never been so certain that a location would produce a big buck for me, so I mentally conditioned myself to stay the course over the long haul. Climbing down at dusk, I quietly slipped out of the area, with visions of monster bucks still dancing in my head. I was determined to hang-tough this trip.
Incredibly, the next week provided me with good weather and steady winds that allowed me to hunt my spot five days out of seven. Each time I went to my tree stand I was pumped, fully expecting an opportunity at a big buck at any moment. Awesome buck sign littered the area, adding to my anticipation. As the days dragged on however, I was on a slow melt--I was seeing few deer of any size. What was going on here? How could all of my best-laid plans be unraveling before me? I could not find it in my spirit to give up on the spot, so I hunted on.
As my last week of hunting slowly came to a close, my honey-hole had hammered me producing no big buck encounters. Never had I hunted a spot so diligently, or provided so much confidence in a location. I'd done everything by the book, but was coming up empty. Now, with only a couple of days of hunting time left, I had to make a tough decision. Should I go elsewhere, or stay the course? I decided to stick with my original bet.
Without some luck involved in the sport of bowhunting, our pursuit/passion would simply be work. It's the intangibles that we'll never be able to master that impart most of the challenge into our sport. Embrace them, and have fun!
The last morning of my hunt found me once again trudging wearily toward my usual stand location. Climbing aboard as daylight filtered onto the scene, I was mentally and physically drained. It had been a long hard hunt, with nothing to show for my efforts. Hanging my bow on its hanger, I settled in for the long vigil ahead. Soon, I realized that the wind had changed directions in the last few minutes, evidently a weak weather front had moved through the area. Realizing that this new wind direction was unacceptable, I stewed at my predicament. It was primetime of my last day of hunting, and I needed to move to a different hunting location. Now I was really in a bad mood!
Exiting my "hotspot" for the last time, I resigned myself to defeat. Removing the tree stand, I hiked back to my truck, one whipped pup. Deciding that I'd go ahead and head on back to Oklahoma a day early, I headed to camp to gather up my gear. Loading up, I pointed my truck east for the 10 hour drive. Inside, I was being eaten up. Go home now, or stay for the rest of the day, in order to make an evening hunt somewhere? Stopping at a small drive-in, I mulled over my dilemma while stuffing a hamburger down my face. Pig-headed as always, I found myself making the decision to stay and try an evening hunt. Furthermore, I'd try a new area. What the heck; what did I have to lose?
A Desperation Hunt
While driving toward the area, I was seriously questioning my sanity. With absolutely no knowledge of the country I'd be making a real "stab in the dark." Arriving at the area, I grabbed my gear and headed toward the distant river with late evening already upon me. Hurrying along, I wasn't sure of where I was headed. Maybe I'd find a good spot soon? Or, maybe I'd just walk around for a couple of hours, then go back to my truck and hit the road? The farther I walked, the worse my attitude became. Was I having fun yet?
Frustrated beyond belief at myself, I stopped for a short breather. Gazing around the area, a particular cottonwood tree caught my eye. With a nice-sized limb running horizontal to the ground, the tree offered potential for a "natural" stand. Climbing up, I resigned myself to pass the last hour of daylight in my roost. Inside, I fumed at my embarrassing location, and predicament. Never, had I felt like such a fool.
With my mind on far away places, in a matter of only a few short minutes, my senses were slammed back to reality. Spotting movement in the distant brush, I was shocked to the core of my being at the sight of a massive buck striding onto the scene. I instantly freaked-out, and now remember little of the next few seconds. They went something like this: Grab bow, watch buck stroll by at 10 yards, shoot buck.
Walking up to the huge buck a few minutes later, I was in shock. Before me, lay the largest-antlered buck I'd ever bowkilled. I'd gone from the pit of despair, to the p
eak of excitement in a flash. Folding to my knees, I thanked God for the miracle that lay at my feet because I'd done nothing to deserve him. There'd been no scouting, no plans, and no hope. Smiling at the reality of my situation, I accepted my awesome prize.
We control most of our destiny, but not all of it because outside factors constantly influence us. The secret to becoming a savvy outdoorsman lies in the art of learning to manage all of these influences to the best of our advantage.
What's Luck Got To Do With It?
I've related this detailed story in hopes of highlighting the great intangible that we all face as archery hunters--pure luck. No matter how good we are, no matter how hard we hunt, we can never completely control our destiny. For a passionate hunter, this is a hard truth to accept, because we all desperately desire to master the art of our pursuit and we constantly strive to totally control our hunting destiny. We want success; we want things to go our way. All of this is good and natural. It's what makes us the outdoorsmen that we are; always trying to be better. But must we accept the fact that there's something at work out there that's much bigger than us?
So how much of a role does luck really play in our hunts? Is there really even anything such as luck or fate? Follow along with me as I make my best attempt to convey my opinion on this matter. And, oh yeah, be sure to remember that old saying that relates to the following lines, "opinions are like you-know-what's, everybody's got one!
To Each His Own
Generally speaking, when it comes to luck, there are two different lines of thinking regarding the matter. Some say that there is no such thing as luck, that all things that happen to us are a result of our own actions. Others say that we do what we can to control the situations of our life, then other things happen to us which we have absolutely zero control over. Now it may sound wish-washy on my part, but I actually believe that the truth of the matter may lie in a fine combination of both philosophies. Let's take a look at our lives as archery hunters and see if we can reach some common ground on the way that this thing we call "luck" plays a role in our hunting time.
It's a fact that we clearly control all our own actions each time we go into the field. We make decisions, which translate into actions, which translates into results. When the results that we obtain from this process sometimes depart from "normal," we often say that we've been the victims of good or bad luck. In reality, whenever we suffer consequences that are a result of our own actions, luck hasn't been involved at all. If you fall out of your tree, would you say that you had "bad luck" that day? If you find an excellent hunting spot while scouting one day, would you say that you were "lucky?" I think it would be safe to say that luck really wasn't involved at all.
As we start to delve into the realm of what most people call pure luck, we must involve the actions of other people and/or things. When we go afield, we're never in our own little isolated world. We can make good decisions, make good actions, and still have bad results due to the influence of factors that are out of our reach. Or we can make bad decisions, apply bad actions, and still get lucky. People, animals, weather, etc., all have influences on the outcome of our hunt. This considered, I think it's safe to say that we must accept the fact that blind-staggering luck plays a constant role in our bowhunting endeavors. And believe me, the reality of this truth has always been a point of contention within me. I don't want to admit that pure luck plays a role in my success because I want to "do it all on my own." I want to do every aspect of the hunt correctly and earn the reward for my efforts. The satisfaction that comes from accomplishing this type of perfect hunt is the thrill that drives me.
At the end of the day, it's all about how we played the game. Good, bad, pure or even the absence of luck aside, it's all about the enjoyment of the sport we love.
On the flip side, I've walked up to many animals that I harvested through little ability of my own. Later when asked to relate the events of such a hunt, I've often followed my tale with the old line, "I'll take luck anytime." Inside my heart however, this was anything but the truth because I've never been a big fan of pure luck. For me, I guess that it all boils down to this: The kill isn't worth much if it wasn't preceeded by a long, hard and well-executed hunt. Do you know what I mean?
Bowhunting for big game is an imperfect art at best. No one has ever devised a foolproof formula for 100-percent success, and this is as it should be. If all happenstance were taken from our pursuit, what would be the challenge? Though we sometimes curse luck, it's the spice that attracts.
Certainly, it's natural to want to master the art of the hunt, but with this comes the need to accept the fact that there are and will always be, forces at work that are outside our control. As a man of Faith, it's my choice to believe that someone is spinning this rock around that's much bigger than me, and He does as He pleases. Furthermore, He must have a great sense of humor because He often turns my best-laid hunting plans into real sideshows.
Somewhere in the middle of all of my trials, tribulations and outdoor adventures, I usually spot that old "luck" factor floating around in all the mess. Right then and there, I stop and realize one thing that's certain--whatever will be, will be. Then I take a deep breath, smile, and realize that I'm really lucky just to be in the game!