Posted on November 13, 2013
This is Part II to conclude Fear-I. To read Part I, click here!
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
How Fear Runs Its Course
On a backpack hunt, the flight response usually creeps up on you on the first night. If thoughts of heading home start drifting through your mind, you better put yourself in check mentally as fast as you can. I can attest to this firsthand because several years ago I found myself heading back a few days early and vowed that I would never let it happen again.
So there I was, camped out at 11,000 feet the day before season and ready to do what I’d been dreaming about for a few months. But as the night drifted on, thoughts consumed my mind—thoughts of my daughter and the fact that I was on the mountain instead of spending time with her.
I knew I couldn’t do anything about this at the time, but the more I tried to stop thinking about it, the worse the guilt would get. At that point, my mental focus spun out of control and anything I had screwed up on in my life came to the forefront of my mind. I kept telling myself, “Keep it together, Aron. This is what you’ve been dreaming about.”
But the horrible feelings wouldn’t leave, and the flight factor started to tear away at me.
The next morning I found myself in decent spirits and high hopes that I would be glassing up game quickly. So I got my pack together, grabbed my spotting scope and headed up the mountain. My thoughts were still drifting back to my daughter, but I hoped to shake this once I got a couple animals in my sight.
After a few short minutes behind the glass, I saw several cows feeding in my direction. With a “list B” cow tag in my pocket, I figured some action would cheer me up (and the fact that I would still have a bull tag left was even better). So I checked the wind, planned a route accordingly and off I went.
I closed the distance quickly and had positioned myself for the lead cow to feed within 30 to 40 yards of my position… And that’s when it happened!
Another hunter came across the valley below and unknowingly blew out every elk on the mountain. This would normally have been a minor set back, but at this moment, my mind wasn’t in a good place, and I dealt with the situation poorly.
I headed back up to camp, packed my things and headed down the mountain, rationalizing that getting back to the city was the best thing for me. But was it? Would those feelings somehow magically disappear the moment I got cell phone service, or would sleeping in a normal bed just bring out all the “rights” I’ve done in life, instead of all the wrongs? I think we all know the answer to those questions—no. Nothing in the world would fix anything weighing so heavily on my mind, and heading back down the trail was not the answer to my problems.
Looking back on this, it’s amazing how quickly I talked myself off the mountain that day and it will always be a reminder that the feeling of failure will far outweigh phone service and a warm bed.
The issues I had faced on this hunt were much different than the group of guys from Nebraska, but in the end our outcomes were the same—we all headed home, defeated. This is more common than you’d think, and it’s amazing how many mental obstacles you will face when heading into the wilderness. Each person will be facing their own inner demons and like the instructor told me so many years ago, you need to harness those feelings and get them under control!
Maintaining Mental Focus
I feel that desire, ambition and the love of hunting can overcome just about any mental obstacle that you will face in the mountains. But when the going gets tough, you need to do a few things to help you along with completing your goal.
The stories I’ve talked about are just a couple examples of what you will face in the wilderness, but those are just a fraction of the difficulties that can occur on a hunt. Here are a few other hurdles I’ve faced on different hunts and what I do now to combat them: lack of animals, bad weather, sleep depravation, food and water depravation, animal encounters (bears and mountain lions), and thoughts of family and loved ones.
I have faced all of these issues at one time or another and the chances of hurdling all of them on a 10-day hunt are better than you think. So here are a few tips to keep yourself on the mountain when your motivation goes south.
*Keep a few photos in your pack of loved ones and pull them out whenever you start to get a little homesick.
*Bring a book or magazine for those days you get stuck in the tent from bad weather. Reading usually puts me to sleep, but that’s a good thing (I need the recovery time).
*Stay as well fed and hydrated as possible. It’s unbelievable how much this will help keep good metal focus.
*You have a better chance of winning the Powerball than getting attacked by a bear or mountain lion, so keep that in mind if you get overwhelmed with worry.
When all else fails, remember what brought you to the mountains to begin with. All of the excitement, anticipation and money spent leading up to the hunt seem easily forgotten when your motivation is low. But, if you make the effort to reflect back on what you’ve put into getting there, you won’t come off the mountain so easy. You won’t get to do this again for another 365 days, and you will be haunted by every one of them if you give up too soon.
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