When expectations collide with reality.
The reality of hunting is that we will not fill every tag every time. This seems like an obvious statement bordering on the absurd. However, we approach the next hunt with a particular eagerness and expectation of being able to bring home the big one. Yet, reality sets in on the long trip home with an unfilled license is sobering. Hope turns into disappointment as questions and second guesses grow.
Glory tags have earned their status because they are rare and usually reserve a quality of game unheard of elsewhere. The Kaibab mule deer, Henry Mountains bison, and Montana bighorn sheep are just fantasies for 99% of hunters. They are sought after by dedicated hunters who may never draw the tag in their lifetime. Yet, just having the opportunity will compel them to apply year after year.
So when I drew my Montana Missouri River Break Rifle Elk permit, I felt an elation I knew others never would. What took me a decade and half of points still was still a mere 3% chance to draw. I approached the hunt with diligent research that left me feeling confident and hunting. Honestly, I expected to do more shopping than hunting.
I made my way to Eastern Montana a couple of days before the season to scout and confirm the choice of my areas to hunt. I saw less bulls than I expected, but I also saw no other hunters, save one. An older gentleman knocked on my camper door asking if he could use my phone. His ancient flip phone had no service, but my smartphone had three of five bars. His buddy was overdue to arrive and my guest didn’t know when he would arrive. A quick call to him and his wife allayed any fears that any malady had found him. He had overshot his turn by sixty miles and would be coming in shortly. The crisis cooling, we turned to our reason for being there and he thanked me profusely by sharing all of his research as well. While none of it was news to me, it was still a gesture that showed the gratitude of his thanks.
I wish I could say that there was some kind of karmic help from letting him use my phone. And at the risk of spoiling the story I'll tell you the punchline: I did not come home with a bull. My ten days of hunting where trimmed early on by three days of snow and rain. This area of Montana is renowned
for its gumbo. This is when the local clay containing bentonite swells and adheres like cement. Tires become slick as mud fills tread making them seem bald. I erred on the side of prudence and the hope that other hunters would do the same by sitting out opening weekend. I later learned that while most did, a dozen other camps sprung up around my neighborhood and at least four bulls were taken including one that I had previously marked. What followed were several days of glassing, hiking, talking with other hunters, and desperate phone calls to biologists to make sure they really had surveyed elk in my unit. In the end, my decision to end the hunt and return home came slowly but surely.
Sometimes, this is just how it is.
Dealing with disappointment is something all hunters become intimately acquainted with. What we do next determines our mettle. If difficulty is met with determination and resilience, we know that eventually the outcome will change to our favor. This is what oldtimers called “grit.” Here are my thoughts on not letting the glory lost overcome the next glory to be found.
Adjust your expectations.
My thinking that a bull would be easy or common allowed me to ease up. When I didn't find the bulls I was looking for, I should have made a mental adjustment. Or at least consider what might be wrong with my approach. Instead, frustration built and likely clouded my thinking.
Don’t linger on your disappointment.
It happens, but the negative focus is self-affirming. It will grow if left unchecked. Consider the source of your disappointment, how it might be corrected, then take action.
Allow time to reflect.
This can be done immediately in the field, back at camp, or wait until you arrive back home. This is an intentional recalling of the event for you to analyze it. Time and distance can help bring into perspective elements that were obscured while it was fresh.
Get back at it.
Improvise. Adapt. Overcome. I still have time this season to go back, although I am unsure I will have the time. However, I knew as soon as I got back home, unpacked, and sat down with my favorite beverage, I wanted to do it again. To quote Jimmy Dugan, “The hard is what makes it great.”
It can be easy to lose sight of the big picture when a glory tag finally lands in your hand. The real treasure is the hunt and pursuit of something you otherwise would never know. As Francis Drake said,
“There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.”