What are you really good at? How did you achieve that current level? How many times did you fail, come up short, or feel defeated? Was a coach as a youngster that pushed you to try or encouraged you to “dust yourself off and get back at it” involved along the way? Do you tend to keep pushing when it gets tough or are you susceptible to the weight of defeat or failure looming in your path?
I have been a life long competitive athlete. Since my youngest memories as a little boy playing Baseball, Football, racing dirt bikes, or just plain challenging someone to a foot race. “Bet I can beat you to that rock!!”
When I was in third grade I started playing little league football and I loved it. I’ve always been a very physical person so as a kid knowing I could hit someone at a full sprint was an exciting notion. I also played baseball through my youth and adolescence - It was one of my favorites actually. I was a southpaw pitcher and first baseman.
I was introduced to archery by my dad when I was very little. His friend had a “Proline XG 100” that he wanted to give me so I could start shooting and it was LEFT HANDED - score! The issue was that I was so small and the bow was too much for me to draw...so I practiced day in and day out pulling a few of my dad's old bows until one evening before going to bed, I did it! It was the best day of my life. Until my dad cranked it up and said” okay here you go”, and I couldn’t pull it again. Weeks of trying gave me the strength and form I needed to get the job done. I obsessed over it. Finally, I could pull my own bow back and it was time to start shooting.
There was an archery shop with an indoor range to 20 yards about 40 minutes from my house. They started a youth league and my dad signed me and my little brother up. We went every Saturday and shot for an hour or so. It was some of the best memories I have as a kid. I got pretty good, then I got really good! I was winning tournaments and shootouts left and right. I loved it.
My dad always bow hunted. He was a very hard worker, the first one awake in the morning and didn’t complain when it was 15 below zero. He was relentless with his drive to fill our freezer every year and you know what, he did exactly that. I grew up in the frigid state of Michigan were winter is unforgiving and will suck the life out of you. We had a 17-acre field about 5 miles from my house that butted up against a large parcel of protected area that we hunted. My dad always hunted from a tree stand that seemed to be 100 feet in the air! He told me the deer can smell many times better than we can and we are smelly. We needed to be up high so they wouldn’t know we were there. So of course, I had to build a tree stand.
I gathered wood and nails, cable and screws, a drill, hammer, and eventually a few band-aids, and got busy. I made that tree stand so sturdy that I would be able to dance on it. The bad part was, it was all wood and weighed about 16 tons... The walk from where we had to park at our field to where I would hang this sweet new stand seemed like 38 miles all uphill when in reality it was about 400 yards at the most. That stand was heavy. I hung the stand by nailing boards into the tree I chose and got that thing a towering 10-12 feet at least!
The years went by and I shot my bow every day. All I wanted to do was shoot it. I hunted and shot many deer with it, I just loved it. I took the best care of it, never scratched it. Always stayed on top of waxing the strings and making sure she was ready to go. Whitetail deer were the only animal I bow hunted and I was darn good at it.
Now it’s time to fast forward....a long way forward. I move to Oregon and have an opportunity to go Elk hunting. I’m told it’s an athletes sport and that Elk like to live in the places that are difficult for people to get to and around. I’m friggin in! Now let’s rewind the tape just a little. I played Semi-Pro football as a starting wide receiver and defensive end for a highly respected and nationally ranked team in Michigan for a few years before I moved. I also trained, taught, and competed in Brazilian Jiujitsu and Mixed Martial Arts for over a decade. I have been in battles with some of the toughest men from many states and different countries while competing in both. On top of all this, I’ve been a fitness professional for now going on 16 years. I got this Elk hunting thing in the bag, so I thought.
Knowing what I knew about myself, and NOT knowing much about “elevation” and how it effects the body, I had a harsh reality. This is HARD! I was raised to be a humble person and to get after whatever it was my sites were set on. The first hunt I went on was a 3-week test of endurance and mental toughness in Northeast Oregon. Day after day, mile after mile I hiked without a clue of what I was doing. I watched my two buddies and tried to learn as much as I could. We got up at 3:45am, hopped in the pickup, drove about 10 miles, and then had a 2-mile hike to get to the spot that we would hunt. Walking out through that giant meadow I could hear the sound of crashing antlers, screaming monsters that could even be a smaller version of Godzilla! There were 6-7 different bulls screaming their guts out over and over again for the entire 2-mile pitch black hike. I was Elk hunting!!
Day 5 or 6 of getting up early in the extreme cold and going all day long as hard as possible added up very quickly for me. I was not conditioned for it. No experience in the backcountry, nor in elevation. Day 7 brought a memory that will forever be burnt into my mind. I had a chat with an old-timer at an abandoned lodge down the mountain. For $5 you could take a nice hot shower, so I stood there waiting for my turn when he asked me” any luck up there?” I said “no sir, but I’m new and I’m learning as much as I can,” he said, “let me share my secret with you that I was taught when I was young and in great shape like you. You gotta run with the herd son”. I knew I heard him correctly but I didn’t hear him correctly... “run with the herd?” “That’s right” he replied. “Get out there and find a herd of cows. Sneak in really early so it’s dark and be sure to come in down wind. Get as close as you can by carrying your bow on your head so it’s breaks up your profile. We are the only predators that have an upper body and head this shape. It’s easy for animals to pick us out” -I took it all in. I also took in the beer smell that poured off of him the entire time and seemed to disqualify his knowledge at first. I’ve never been one to want to reinvent the wheel so I made a mental note. “Once they spook and start running, you run with them! You’ll just be another set of hooves and as long as you stay out of their wind and carry your bow as I said, they will lead you right up the hill to the bull your chasing.”
A few days went by and I saw that herd of cows he spoke of but didn’t even consider such a ridiculous idea. “run with the herd” okay pal, I’ll get right on it. So after about 3-4 times of blowing this giant herd of cows out, I figured what the hell. I got in really early. Pitch black except for the stars, the cows, and me. I snuck in and couldn’t believe it. I’m in the herd. Now what? I have no idea how long I sat there. Felt like 20 minutes or so. How will I get them to spook and not know I’m not a cow? I grabbed a rock and tossed it. Nothing. I found a stick right next to me and threw it even further. Still nothing. I even hit one of the cows with a small rock, I heard it hit her with a deep “thud”. Nothing....how is this supposed to work? Just then a pack of Coyotes sparked up and the stampede was on!!! We ran, and ran, and ran, and kept running all the way up a massive ridge line over deadfall and stumps the whole way. Of course, I was the last one up the hill, but I made it undetected. I got to the top and went through the same tight funnel that all the other animals went through and once I stopped to catch my breath I looked to my left. Behind a pine tree was a GIANT Bull! It was the herd bull and I had never seen anything like it.
What went through my mind next I have no recollection of. I lost time. When I came to I was at full draw on the biggest animal I had seen outside of a zoo and he had no idea I was there. He was walking right at me. He stopped behind a small jack pine about 10-12 yards away and bugled right in my face. My ears were ringing, my knees were shaking, I almost hit the deck. I’m still at full draw and have no idea what I’m gonna do. I’ve harvested a few dozen deer with my bow but I’ve never had an 800 lb monster with baseball bats growing out of his head screaming at me from 25 feet away. He turned and walked off keeping that little pine between me and his vitals. I was an Elk hunter!
The rest of that hunt I worked my tail off to recreate that scenario and I failed every time. Not even close. Fast forward 4 years and I’ve studied Elk and all their behavior trying to give myself the best foot forward. I buy my tags and hike a few hundred miles every year trying to seal the deal. I have yet to do so. I’ve chatted with and studied people like Corey Jacobson who’s now a 10 time Elk calling world champion. I’ve spent countless hours blowing on a reed trying to mimic all the calf, cow, and bull sounds. I’ve asked all my successful hunting friends to get any wisdom possible to finally punch that tag. Year after year I try to best to finally harvest an Elk. Year after year I fail to do so. How could this be? I've been successful at literally everything I’ve ever done. And then that word “humble” comes back to mind. Is this a lesson? Am I supposed to pay some kind of dues? I can’t think of anyone who works harder for it. Why can’t I get it done?
I write this story sitting on a mountainside at 6200 ft of Elevation only about 12 miles from the spot where it all began for me. I’ve covered dozens of miles here for the last week and have had several very close calls. Still, haven’t gotten it done. We were lucky enough to travel to Idaho for the first time hunting Elk there this year 3 weeks prior to me sitting on this mountain writing this. We hiked a total of 100.89 miles all at an altitude of 7800 feet or greater. Again, several close calls but no tags punched.
As I look down at my dusty boots, my left pant leg that’s still covered in mud from the accidental knee deep step into a bog, I think about the 5.49-mile chase I put on a big bull since this morning. At what point did he stop believing I was an Elk? When was the gig up? He was at the top and I was 649 vertical feet below. I chased him non stop for hours. Calling to him and he screamed back at me. It was epic. Until it wasn’t.
There I was, 2 days left. 2 days to finally get the job done. I get up at 4:45, make a small amount of food and a big cup of coffee. Stay on the move all day until the sun goes down and recap what I might be able to do better tomorrow. What am I good at? Sometimes I wonder. Time to time I think of what it will take for me to get this endless job done. To keep my mental strength at a high level so I can continue on. We are all great at many things. We will be tested along the way as well. What defines us and our character is how we handle both the good and the bad that will be presented. It’s going to take courage and strength to not only face those failures, to admit to them, but to keep that head raised high and know we will always have another shot!
I challenge you to look inside and take time to reflect on the different experiences you have faced and how you have defined your character in the past. I would also like to invite you to take a new look at the possible failures you have experienced and return to those moments to take a second look at a few things.
1) Did you use that failure to learn a lesson?
2) Was your failure or success on accident?
3) If you could go back and do it again how would you do it differently? Would you change anything?
The last thing I would like to ask you is to send me a personal email telling me about this account(s) and how you felt that it defined your character. I want to know if, and what, you learned from the event and if the experience changed you.
Below is my personal email and I look forward to hearing about your experience or adventure!