Every one of us has our breaking point. For most, that breaking point is extended the more times we put ourselves in uncomfortable situations. I can still remember my first time solo backpacking into some semi-remote country (in all reality, I could’ve walked out of there in about two hours), and the first night, it was next to impossible to fall asleep. Now to be fair, this was before cell phones had hit the big time, and to my knowledge, InReach was not up and running, so any contact with the outside world short of getting in my truck and driving home was obsolete. Every negative thought I could have imagined crawled into my mind and lived there all night. It was not so much the boogie man, bears, or crap like that, but more so missing my new wife, wasting time up here when I could have been doing more productive things. I had scheduled five days of scouting for mule deer, and I made it three days before I finally relented to my thoughts and went home. I had convinced myself that I had made the right call the whole ride home, right up until I hit the driveway and saw that life indeed was carrying on without me. Shocker, right? At that time, my breaking point was three days of loneliness and fear of all the “what ifs.”
Since then, I don’t know how many nights I have logged in the mountains and desert running around chasing everything from coyotes to caribou. I have built up my breaking point to more days and focusing on more immediate threats and less unknown or unforeseen threats. Extreme weather situations, limited food or water, or injuries can all accelerate my breaking point and send me packing. I still have thoughts of “what if” creep into my mind from time to time, but I do not dwell on them as much and have realized most of those scenarios I have no control over anyway, so there is no sense in letting that deter me from my goal. Of course, having a way to check in and make sure everything is OK on the home front in the form of InReach and cell phones sure helps put one’s mind at ease.
“Yeah, but did you die?” This is a saying that I just love! There are so many situations on hunting trips where this saying is applicable and warranted, and it will help build up that resistance for packing it up and heading home. It’s amazing how much quality gear we have these days. We can pack enough stuff to survive 90% of all weather that might play out throughout a hunt, and yet at the first sign of snow, cold, or adverse conditions, we are all too ready to pack it in and call it a day. I have fallen victim to this more than once, and realistically, I probably will again, but I have learned way more from sticking it out, staying true to my cause, and trusting my equipment to get me through these conditions than I ever have from calling it a day. The human body is pretty fragile, but it is a lot more capable than most people give it credit for. What I have found is that the most fragile thing on a person’s body is their mind. I have talked myself out of more situations that I know in my heart of hearts my body was capable of handling just because I had not trained my mind yet to endure those types of situations. Over time, I have slowly put myself in enough tough situations and come out the other side that I have overcome a lot of the demons I used to have. Don’t get me wrong, you put me on a cliff or a situation where one slip could mean falling and I wilt like a dandelion, but short of heights and falling, I feel I have a pretty good handle on what I am capable of. This is when I usually reflect on the saying, “Yeah, but did you die?” and I can settle myself down and not dwell on the “what ifs” and move forward.
Fear of failure can be a powerful motivator to stay out in the field when it seems like everything is telling you to get out, but it doesn’t hold a candle to embracing and enjoying the journey. Early on in my hunting career when I started branching out and traveling to foreign locations in pursuit of big game, my biggest motivator was the thought of not completing what I had set out to accomplish. At the start of the hunt, that goal was usually to harvest a certain type of animal. However, my focus would typically shift to just giving it one more day for however many days I could endure, depending on how many game sightings I was having. Reflecting back on these hunts, I could plainly see these were not my happiest hunting memories. Most of the time, I was fighting a mental battle and had to keep telling myself one more ridge or one more day. I am not sure at what point I began just enjoying the time I spent in the field and trying to embrace every little moment regardless of how insignificant it might be to the overall outcome of the hunt, but it completely changed my mindset to a slowed pace and I became more aware of my surroundings. I realized how beneficial this was to my success and how easily it became to get out of bed in the mornings and not worry about what time I got back to camp at night. For the most part now, I find myself wishing for one more day and not fighting to stay one more day.
I still have my breaking point, but for the most part, it is now the last day of the hunt or the last day I can spend on the hunt. I think most hunters who travel outside their comfort zone will experience times when they want to pull the plug and call it a day. Those times in my life were some of the biggest motivators for the next trip. It’s not a bad or weak thing to have these thoughts or succumb to them, and in my case, they eventually helped me develop the security that everything will be alright. Really, the reason I wrote this article is to let others know that whether you are planning your first solo trip, your first out-of-state hunt, or just going for your first overnighter, there will be moments when you want to give up and go home. Ultimately, you have control over the decision you make, and if you just keep making the decision to continue to put yourself out there time and time again, you should eventually get to the point where you’re wishing you had another day to enjoy the outdoors rather than willing yourself to stay for another day.