Defining Success: Scoring on a Hunt is Great But It’s Not What the Adventure is Solely About

Posted on June 12, 2014

Bow And Arrow Hunting - STICK

When I was 13 years old my dad made me an offer. If I saved up enough money ($100) working over the summer and kept my grades up he would let me take a week off school and go on an out-of-state bowhunting trip. We would be hunting in Pennsylvania with a bunch of my dad’s friends. Forty years later I can still remember so many details of that hunt.
In this column I’d like to offer some thoughts on what makes up a good or bad hunting trip and discuss some of the things that factor in.

FILL THAT TAG MENTALITY

On that first hunting trip I shot a doe after several misses. In fact my dad shot a spike on the same morning making the occasion even more memorable. I can honestly say that the trip would have been great even if I hadn’t filled my tag. One of the other guys in the camp (I’ll call him Larry) got more and more depressed as each day went by with other guys getting deer and him not. When I shot my deer he would barely speak to me and acted like he was mad. I didn’t understand because everyone else in camp, successful or not, offered sincere congratulations. I ended up learning Larry was just jealous and it was nothing personal. At the time I thought it was strange for a grown man to act like that but now I realize there are people like that and it is better not to go hunting with them. Thankfully, Larry shot a nice little buck at the end of the hunt and immediately transformed back into a nice guy for the trip home.
In Larry’s defense, I think it was more important to be successful when I was younger also, though I have always celebrated my hunting buds successes as it made the hunt more enjoyable for me. After years of hunts with traditional equipment believe me I’ve come home without an animal more than a few times. Archery and especially traditional archery can limit our success by the nature of our equipment compared to hunters using firearms. Having to get close, draw undetected, etc., can raise the difficulty bar. But when archery is your passion it makes success sweeter. In short, many of us have been on super hunts that didn’t end with a punched tag.

HEALTH

Ever go on a hunt and lay in your bunk after the first day asking yourself, “Why didn’t I get in better shape?” It isn’t as much fun when you are stiff and sore; even worse if you are holding up the show or unable to do your fair share.
We need to be realistic about the hunts that we choose to go on and mare sure we are as physically prepared as we can be.
Sometimes bad things happen during a hunt also. Getting the flu or beaver fever can cost you a few days. Injuries can even occur during hunts. We have to be extra careful (should be anyway) with knives and broadheads as cuts aren’t uncommon. The worst thing that’s happened to me is a nasty ankle sprain that happened packing out a caribou. I was in constant pain the rest of the hunt and not back to normal for a year. Always step carefully and even more so with a load. The bottom line is hunting trips are more fun when we are in shape and injury free.

WEATHER

Imagine spending thousands of dollars on a remote hunt up north and spending a good portion of it waiting for fog to clear. It happens all the time. Disappointment sure but getting mad or upset won’t change the weather. Depending on if you are stuck in a tent on the side of a mountain or at a lodge you can use the time wisely. A good book is handy in the tent and getting extra rest so you can hunt extra hard when the weather clears is always smart. Double checking gear and discussing hunting strategy with your buds or guide can pay off later also.
I’ve been on hunts where rain put a damper on things. For example on a waterhole antelope hunt, plan B may be stalking or moving to a funnel or fence crossing. Always bring quality rain gear and a plan B on hunting trips and try to keep a good attitude because the weather is out of your control.

GUIDES AND OUTFILLERS – GOOD AND BAD

If you want to hunt in Canada you must use the services of a guide. Even some species in the US require out of state hunters to use a guide. Many international hunts require or just make good sense to hire guides. I’ve been on quite a few guided hunts from awesome to awful. Good guides are friendly and organized and professional. They have gear that is in good shape and properly cared for. They know the country, the animals and when to back off and let the experienced bowhunter close in. Good guides make you a better hunter and add to the quality of the experience.
Bad guides lack in one or more of the areas mentioned above and there are some real idiots out there waiting to take your hard earned money. All you can do is check references and go with your gut feeling as things can change year to year.
Some guided hunts will find you in camp with other hunters. This can lead to some long lasting friendships or occasionally having to put up with a jerk for a week. On several hunts I’ve been on the entire camp was booked by our group of friends and that’s always fun and eliminates surprises.

PICTURES

I’ve never came home from a hunt and thought, “Wow, I wish I hadn’t taken so many pictures.” I have kicked myself for not taking nearly enough though. It is easy to get caught up in the hunting and just blow off the picture taking. In the end though, pictures are one of the best things from a hunt when you make it home. With the small pocket sized digital cameras today there is no excuse for not having it with us and taking a little time to capture memories.

ANTICIPATION & PLANNING

Planning and anticipating are a big part of hunting trips. Putting gear lists together, studying maps, making arrows, shooting practice, etc. all add to the experience. I’ve been on hunts with a couple guys that actually enjoyed that part more than the hunt itself. It was like a letdown for them when we actually made it to camp.
Some of my all time favorite hunts took place in Montana camping with my dad and other friends. The planning, travel, hunting all day and hanging out around the fire at night were some of my best days afield even though we didn’t fill many tags.
Shooting a huge ol’ trophy animal is really great, but it doesn’t make you a better person, spouse, parent or friend. It won’t change the world for the better or put you closer to heaven.
I’ve come to realize the real trophies from a hunting trip are experiencing the animals large and small and the habitat. The opportunity to watch the rising sun wash over a valley you’ve never seen and just take in God’s creation. The friendships forged; often for a lifetime. When you decide that the real trophy of a hunting trip is just “being there” you will find some good even on the hunts where everything seemed to go wrong.
“After years of hunts … believe me I’ve come home without an animal more than a few times.”
“Shooting a … trophy animal is really great, but it doesn’t make you a better person…”

Bow And Arrow Hunting - STICK
Sunset. Hunting hard all day and returning to camp with a beautiful sunset lighting the way is definitely success.

Bow And Arrow Hunting - STICK
The author on his first hunting trip in Pennsylvania with his father in 1973.

Bow And Arrow Hunting - STICK
Friends. The author takes a break with Tom Moleski, one of his best hunting buds, in British Columbia.

Text and Photos by Denny Sturgis Jr.

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