Fear- Part I

Posted on November 7, 2013

Part I of two. Make sure you check back next week for Part II!

The Mental Side

The power of the mind can be amazing, but if your focus is on things like fear rather than success, you can kiss your hunt goodbye. Here are some tips to help you stay in the game, despite a troubled mind.

By Aron Synder

The wilderness can be rugged and unforgiving, but with the right mental focus you can accomplish anything.

The wilderness can be rugged and unforgiving, but with the right mental focus you can accomplish anything.


Several years ago I found myself sitting at a desk going through my second session of court-ordered anger management. The class was going into its third hour and I was paying less attention this time than I had the first (probably why I was attending a second time). But, somewhere in the middle of that third hour a new instructor came in and started talking about something that caught my attention.

The instructor was covering the “fight or flight” response of a human when faced with a stressful or dangerous situation—basically how one deals with fear. When broken down, the moral to his story was simple. You’re going to have one of two initial reactions: 1. Come out guns blazing and both fists swinging (the fight response). 2. You run like a schoolgirl scared to death (flight).

The instructor’s job was to help each person understand his or her own specific reaction and then harness that reaction to turn it into a positive outcome (instead of a third session of anger management). Now this subject may not seem like it has anything to do with wilderness bowhunting, but when you simplify things, you only have two choices when heading into the backcountry—complete your goal and stay for the entire trip, or talk yourself out of the hunt and head back early.

Each year hundreds of bowhunters head west with the hopes and dreams of tagging a big bull or buck on a multiday wilderness hunt. They’ve spent thousands of dollars on tags, gear and fuel, trained in the gym, lost weight and got as prepared as they could for the great adventure ahead. In reality, it’s always easier to visualize the ideal hunting adventure sitting on the couch. Unfortunately, many underestimate the physical and mental rigors of wilderness hunting and often talk themselves into cutting the hunt short.

Most hunters won’t head down the mountain early because of a specific incident that has made them fearful; but, the general concept behind the “fight or flight” response will eventually get the best of them.

On a serious wilderness hunt, the flight response usually creeps up on you after the first couple days. It doesn’t jump out and grab most people, but it’s the mix of reasons why they shouldn’t be in the wilderness in the first place. These feeling usually start for a few reasons and by the time you’ve talked yourself out of the hunt, you will feel (at the time anyway) that it’s 100 percent justified.

Case in Point

A couple years ago I exchanged several emails with a group of guys from Nebraska that were planning their first trip into the Colorado high country. They had questions about gear, physical fitness and the area they planned to hunt. I answered these questions to the best of my ability and gave them as much advice as I could. But, more than anything, I wanted to warn them that backpack hunting is tough and that they should start preparing mentally.

Well, the flight response hit hard two days into the 10-day hunt, and they headed back seven days early. The problem? They packed too much gear, didn’t prepare enough physically and the mental toughness that’s needed to complete a 10-day hunt was flat out nonexistent. So when the first lightning storm blew over their bivy camp, all three started to rationalize that heading back down the mountain was the safest thing to do. In actuality, they took the easy way out (flight) instead of toughing their way through the hunt (fight) and making the best out of things. Now it wasn’t that they were scared to death, and from phone conversations we had several days after the hunt I couldn’t get one real reason out of them for leaving early.

I asked questions like, “Did someone get hurt?”

The response was, “Nope, everybody was fine.”

“You guys just crap out physically?”

The response? “We were tired after hiking in, but we could have kept going if we needed to.”

“Did you just not see any animals?”

“No, it wasn’t that…we had a cow and calf run in front of us when we where hiking in and glassed up elk the first day.”

“Did you get altitude sickness?”

Response: “Does breathing hard count? No, we felt all right, but it was harder to breath up their then we anticipated and we didn’t need half the stuff we brought.”

I asked, “Were you homesick?”

“Yeah, and we just weren’t ready for the mental and physical challenge of the hunt. I can’t really describe the feeling, but you were right—it was much tougher than we expected,” they would say.

So to make a long story short, they left because they were homesick, tired and mentally/physically drained. The lesson they learned from this hunt was priceless, but they each spent close to $1,500 each on a 3-day hiking trip into the Colorado Rocky Mountains!

In the grand scheme of things, it would have been best for them to focus on what they were doing right, instead of what was going wrong. To start off, they were in one of the most beautiful wilderness areas the Colorado has to offer. They had each other to talk to for motivation and any day in the field is better than a day at work, right? But, three men with poor attitudes talking each other out of finishing the hunt isn’t going to accomplish anything worthwhile.


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