Some people seem to have the ability to do a number of things and do them well. These folks are successful in their careers, relationships, hobbies, and seem to be happy and live meaningful lives. Would you consider these people lucky? Along those same lines, why are some sportsmen able to consistently harvest game? I have heard many people say that hunting is 10% skill and 90% luck. After all, you can’t catch fish if they aren’t biting and you can’t shoot an elk in the backcountry if you don’t see any. So when a hunter kills an animal or a fisherman catches a fish is it luck? It’s my belief that I have the ability to make my own luck, and that being lucky or unlucky has a lot to do with how much thought and effort is put towards the task. Growing up, my father always told me “hard work pays off.” Throughout my life, I have carried that thought with me in everything I do. This year I was able to pass that lesson on to my 17-year-old son, Levi, as he took his first elk.
I use pack animals and MRG outdoor gear in the backcountry. My equine partners are almost all formerly “wild” burros that were rescued from BLM lands. For pack animals to become disciplined, hard-working, and obedient, they must be well-trained and conditioned to carry heavy loads on rough trails. Beginning in the spring and throughout the summer, Levi and I spent countless hours and many miles on the trail exposing our burros to every backcountry scenario we could find. After all these training runs into the Rocky Mountain wilderness, not only are the animals trained, but Levi has become well-versed in saddling, loading panniers, tying diamond hitches, and securing mantees over top loads. Working with the burros over the past few months, Levi and I have gotten in good physical shape, and scouted a whole lot of areas we plan to hunt when the season starts. Meanwhile, Levi has also been building his confidence by sighting in his rifle and practicing his shooting skills. All this preparation (With the animals and Levi improving his hunting prowess) has been done so that when the moment of truth arrives, there will be no hesitation.
The moment of truth came in the afternoon on opening day of the 2013 1st rifle elk season. As Levi and I made our way along the side of a steep hill, following 20-30 fresh elk tracks in the snow, we came upon our quarry. As we moved closer, we could see about half a dozen cows feeding in a small meadow below us. I ranged one of the cows who was presenting a good broadside shot at 161 yards. Intending to point out which cow to take, I looked over and Levi already had her in his sights. I whispered, “nice and easy son.” Levi took a deep breath and slowly exhaled as he settled in for his shot. I put my fingers over my ears and waited for him, taking his time to be sure he would take her down. Seconds later the .270 barked and the cow fell where she stood. It was a perfect shot! I was elated as I grabbed him by both shoulders and shook him back and forth. We were both smiling from ear to ear. It was the most exhilarating moment I’ve ever experienced while hunting: watching my son use all the skills I had taught him over the years. Being beside my son as he took his first elk was an almost indescribable experience that neither of us will ever forget.
Hard Work's Value and Luck's Gain
The fact that Levi was able to hike 7 miles into the backcountry with two burros and get close enough to make a perfect shot on an elk was not luck. My father’s words will always ring true; hard work pays off. The payoff is not always immediate nor is it always obvious. Success may not come until after months of preparation. There have been seasons where I did not harvest an animal but the knowledge I gained helped me on my next hunt. Some might call that unlucky, but I know the more I learn and the harder I work, the less the “luck factor” will come into play. And I hope that I have planted that seed in my son so that he will grow to appreciate discipline, knowledge, and training in the outdoors so he will become a responsible, ethical sportsman. More importantly, I hope that Levi learns the value of hard work and has the wisdom to apply what he has learned to be successful in whatever he endeavors to do. After all, sometimes you do get lucky, but the rest of the time you have to create it.
Here’s a short video of our trip: Levi’s First Elk