shooting the breeze elk pic

The author enjoys a rare first-day success.

As I stood looking down at the biggest bull elk I have ever taken, I felt… sad? Or was it disappointment? Definitely not the excitement I had expected.

It had taken me four years to draw the tag. This was going to be the year. I exercised, planned and scouted. From past experience I knew it could be a tough hunt, and had been preparing myself mentally to push through to the bitter end to ensure success.

The week before the season, a good buddy offered to go with me and suggested an area I was unfamiliar with. Within an hour of first light we had spotted a herd of about 15 elk feeding. After a quick mile-long stalk we were in a good position.

Two quick shots, and my hunt was over.

I had waited years, taken the whole week off work, was mentally ready for the long game and I was done by 9 a.m. opening day. Now what do I do? I’m sure my buddy thought I was crazy to be just a little sad to be done so soon.

My sadness didn’t last very long, though. I reminded myself of the many past hunts in which I hunted day after day in rain, snow, and heat without success. In fact, the very next month I helped out on a seven-day elk hunt in which we didn’t see a single shootable elk.

Hunting is a huge emotional rollercoaster. Feelings of utter defeat can change to the euphoria of success in a matter of seconds when the animal that has been eluding you is suddenly spotted and cleanly taken. Excitement and success can turn to gut-wrenching nausea when you miss, or worse, wound an animal.

Feelings are also often mixed. I always have a little sadness mixed in with my happiness when I take an animal. Having experienced all of these emotions, I wasn’t surprised at all with the hodgepodge of feelings flooding over me when I took my opening day bull. The two-mile pack out gave me plenty of time to get it all figured out.

So, what is the best way to end a hunt? Get it done early to avoid all the stress? Have success late so you can savor the hunting experience? I love the whole hunting experience, so I prefer to spend some time out in the pursuit. However, after five days of hard hunting, I am usually mentally burned out and need a break if we are not seeing success.

In my mind, the perfect hunt would be one where you were fairly confident of success. You saw enough game to maintain your excitement, but you needed three or four days to make it all come together.

I have come close on a couple hunts, but never quite had that perfect hunt. Guess I will just have to keep trying.

Rod Carpenter is a husband, father and huntin’ fool.

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