The yips and barks echoed down through the canyon like music to my ears. After six days of trudging up and over the thickest, nastiest country that New Mexico had to offer I was finally closing in on a potential shot at a mature mountain lion. The pains in my legs and knees that I’d been battling every second of every day for the past week were now in the back of my mind as my mule and I raced towards the saddle where the barks were coming from. All week, I’d rode this mule in fear and agony, but had no choice because this was how mature tom lions were killed here in New Mexico—using hounds and horses and mules.
My New Mexico tom. A hunt that took me way outside my comfort zone.
Every morning I’d cringe knowing that I’d have to saddle up my mule and ride twenty-five to thirty miles in search of a good cat track. I was tense all day and would feel my muscles tighten even further every time we had to go up or down these steep hillsides and ravines. I am an experienced rider, but was totally out of my comfort zone with this type of riding. Knowing that my odds to kill a cat with my bow were significantly improved by these mules, I kept my head in the game despite being completely out of my comfort zone. Finally, I got my opportunity and punched my tag on a beautiful tom. Adapting to these new techniques and mentally accepting that I had to get comfortable being uncomfortable are what led to success.
On the lion hunt, I had to adapt to a host of new conditions, techniques and hardships, but through this experience, I learned that I could get it done when the going gets tough. I like to think of this as “bowhunting outside your zone”. I love adventure and I absolutely love bowhunting, so if you’ve read my work before or listened to a podcast I’ve been on you’ll be familiar with a term I often reference: adventure bowhunting. I won’t take credit for the term, as many others in the community use it as well, but I love it because it sums up the kind of hunt where a person has gone outside their zone. Whether that’s hunting a different area or state, a new species, or using different tactics/techniques, getting outside your comfort zone will make you a better bowhunter. Adapt and overcome is the name of the game on adventure bowhunts and in the end these scenarios and new experiences have made me a far better and more versatile bowhunter. These lessons apply to the mid-westerner or easterner that has yes to hunt the west but they also apply to the mountain hunter that has only ever hunted in their home state or province.
Adapting to and overcoming adversity were critical to success.
Getting Out of Your “Zone” and Why It’s Important
As humans, we’re creatures of habit and rarely welcome change. Patterns and habits form and consume our everyday lives. A routine is a good thing in many aspects of life, but the problem with too much routine is we don’t grow by repeating the same thing over-and-over again. As a bowhunter I strive to be the best damn bowhunter that I can be. I’ll do whatever it takes no matter what. I’m sure there are many readers that feel the same way. But at times we form habits that are hard to break and impair our progress on the path to improvement. Let me explain.
Growing up in Northeast Ohio I was blessed with the opportunity to hunt giant whitetails as a kid that was just learning to bowhunt. I knew the wind was important, but had no clue about thermals and how the landscape dictates their movements. To me, I had the wind down to a science, but every now and again I’d get busted by a whitey for some unknown reason even with the wind in my face. I could never figure out why.
Fast forward to my 2015 New Mexico elk hunt in mid-September. I was on the top of a ridge listening to a huge bull bugle his brains out. The hair still stands up on my neck imagining that frosty morning and those bugles bouncing around those canyons! In my mind, it was going to be a total slam dunk and that bull was a dead bull walking. With the wind in my face I slowly crept down towards a bench that dropped off into a creek bottom where the bull seemed to be headed. Not knowing anything about thermals, how they behave at different times of day, and how they react in the thin mountain air I was dumbfounded when, at eighty yards and closing, the bull completely locked up his brakes, spun around and ran away like a firework had been thrown at his feet. Sinking, early morning thermals had dragged my scent down to him. The sun had yet to rise high enough to warm the air in the canyon so, even with a slight breeze in my face, I’d been busted. Feeling defeated and lost I met up with my buddy and explained what had happened. Midway through my story, even before I got to the part about being busted, he cut me off and said, “Thermals got you, didn’t they?” He knew exactly how these thermals worked and knew where the story was going.
Now back to whitetails. After this elk and thermal lesson, my thoughts on treestands and wind and thermals completely changed, giving me a whole new perspective on how and where to hang stands based on how the thermals may impact their effectiveness. This was a total game changer in my whitetail hunting and it only happened because I left “my zone” and went elk hunting. By trying something new, I elevated my game and broke through a barrier to progress I didn’t even know existed with my whitetail hunting.
My first archery elk, New Mexico 2015. A new environment posed
challenges I would never have encountered back home.
Adapting to the “New”
I believe a lot of good bowhunters are afraid to try something new because they’re afraid of failure. In my opinion, this holds them back. I know a ton of bowhunters that always talk about going on a real-deal “adventure bowhunt” or at least trying something totally different from what they are used too, but never do it. I’ve always wondered, why? Well, I think the “why” is because the thought of adapting to a new style or a new hunting technique is and can be overwhelming. Why leave your home state where you hunt turkeys and deer and are often successful, to go chase an animal you know nothing about or have never hunted? The “why” is because the unknown and the adventure intrigues us as human beings, but this “new” world scares us as well. To me, we’re all missing out if we don’t do new things, see new places, and learn from those experiences but we must accept that with these new experiences will come with failure. This is how we bowhunters can grow into even better bowhunters by learning to adapt and overcome anything thrown in our path.
New species and landscapes will present different challenges and require different methods and techniques that we previously may never have considered. In these situations, the “newness” forces us to consider and often employ skills that may not have been in our wheelhouse. This is growth. A prime example of this was my Montana antelope hunt just a few weeks ago.
I’d never hunted antelope before, and having not grown up with spot and stalk hunting, I was intrigued by bowhunting these animals on public land in Montana. I couldn’t wait to try a new method (spot and stalk) that I wasn’t familiar with. By watching my good buddy Brian Barney execute his own stalks, and help me with some great stalks of my own on the very first day, my eyes were opened to a whole new world of opportunity that I could try when I returned home to hunt turkeys and whitetails. I got to see firsthand how effective this style of hunting can be even in open country by using the natural dips, drainages, and folds in the land to your advantage. I never would have guessed in a million years that stalks like these could be pulled off until I saw it for myself. Now I’m a total believer in a new technique that has added to my bag of bowhunting tricks.
This happened because I left my comfort zone and hunted a new species using new methods and adapted to them. I’m now a much better bowhunter because of this. And all from one hunt! It was a learning curve so steep that I gained more from that one trip than I probably would have in an entire season hunting as I always have. Oh, and antelope tastes darned good! I must add that the buck I killed on my last day of my second trip to Montana was due to an epic stalk that I never would have guessed would work without seeing it done earlier in the season. Accepting, learning from and using the new skills led me to punching my very first antelope ticket.
My first antelope. The lessons and skills I took home elevated my whitetail game.
Fueling the Fire
Bowhunting new animals in new places has certainly stoked my fire and suffice to say that fire is burning hotter than ever! These experiences have taken my love for bowhunting and being in nature to new heights. Growing up I had two seasons to focus on in Ohio, turkeys in the spring and deer in the fall. I absolutely loved both these times of year and couldn’t wait to start chasing these critters around with a bow in my hand, but I needed more. I craved something to hunt in new terrain and at different times of the year because I simply wanted to be bowhunting as much as possible. This burning desire led me to hunts for animals like antelope and mule deer in the late summer and migrating elk in the winter. Now that I’ve opened myself up to hunting outside my comfort zone, it feels like I have something to look forward to nearly every month of the year!
More tags in my pocket and an almost year around endeavor has given me so much more to look forward to and anticipate. I love that when one season ends another one begins and the possibilities are endless with rarely any downtime in between seasons and hunts. This has fueled the fire big time and taken my skills to a level I never would have dreamed possible. Backcountry camping for example is something that I’ve absolutely fallen in love with due to my experiences bowhunting early season mulies and elk. Maybe it’s the solitude that I find from being twelve miles deep in a public land unit somewhere, or it could be the satisfaction that I get from knowing that I survived a solo seven-day hunt, alone. Regardless of the “why”, I absolutely love this backcountry, solo type of bowhunting and look forward to these solo camping trips every year. Adventure bowhunting that takes me outside my comfort zone is the sole reason for this newfound love of backcountry camping and I couldn’t be happier about it. I had no clue what I was missing all these years!
New species, new terrain, and hard lessons eventually led to success.
Adventures Help Us Grow… As a Bowhunter and Person
Bowhunting and writing about this pursuit has provided me with an awesome life thus far in my relatively short twenty-nine years on planet Earth. This passion for adventure and sharing it with others has made me a better person as well as a better bowhunter. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the Northern Lights. I was in Saskatchewan, Canada about as far away from civilization as I could get and absolutely loved it. The green lines dancing across the night sky are an image etched into my memory that I’ll honestly never forget or grow old thinking about. To this day it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever witnessed and I often wonder how many people might never get to experience something like that. I am so grateful for moments like these. Because I’m a bowhunter and left my “zone” to go see new places and experience new things I have gained perspective that I never would have if I’d just stayed stuck in my old habits and routines. This has made me appreciate life and how I live my life in a whole new way.
My dad has often said, “We only get to ride this rodeo of life once, so you better make the most of it”. Honestly, it’s taken me awhile to fully understand this. But while on these trips and hunting new states and new animals I’ve begun to understand and appreciate how great a life I lead and how much I’ve grown. Maybe it’s new sights like the Northern Lights I described, or my first night sleeping in a tent alone thirteen miles deep in the Colorado wilderness on my first muley hunt, or the sounds of turkeys gobbling on the roost before daylight on my first morning in Nebraska. Each of these memorable experiences forced me to sit back and think about how and why I bowhunt, and how I live my life and why I want to live it to the fullest.
As a bowhunter we all want to grow and continue to improve, realistically it’s part of being an ethical hunter in my opinion. Hunts that take you beyond your comfort zone will surely achieve that growth and improvement. Hard hunts that require new skills make us mentally stronger and show us that we’re capable of overcoming adversity. New techniques and styles open-up new worlds of opportunity to add to our bag of tricks. Seeing different places and things make us appreciate “home” and this great planet that we live on. But it also makes us appreciate other parts of the world and things that we’re not accustomed too. All this adds to us not only growing as a bowhunter, but as a person as well.
In short, adventure bowhunting has allowed me to find myself as a person and shown me that I can be a better bowhunter than I ever would have dreamed. It has given me confidence in myself and in my abilities, not only as a bowhunter, but as a man and because of this I want to encourage every one of you to go bowhunt outside your “zone”. I guarantee you’ll be happy you did.