Hiking up a mountain is more difficult on your engine, but hiking down is really tough on your brakes. With this in mind, it shouldn’t be a
surprise that many dread the descent just as much, if not more, than getting to the top. Sure, there’s the promise of pizza, beer, a doughnut, steak, anything but Mountain House, to get back to the truck, car or plane – but that doesn’t mean it’s particularly fun.
With a good hunt comes good memories that can fuel a hunter, and it’s
amazing how the body can calibrate.
It can gauge the distance remaining, measure the energy stores and make it happen. In the face of sudden change, recalibration can take a little while and can lead to illogical, irrational and irritating whining or decision making. The body is likely capable, but it’s the brain that can get in the way.
There might be a buck, bull or billy that is just one ridge over, or just down in that bowl. You feel like you need to make the move now. Your body can get you over or down there, but is your brain right enough to get your body back?
THE SAME PAGE
Two weeks before I started my teaching career, my mentor teacher asked if I had any questions. I replied, “I don’t know enough to know what to ask.” It was true; I had never student-taught, so without being in the
classroom I had no idea what to expect, nor did I know what needed clarity. The same goes with hunting. The more you hunt, the more you establish a hunting program. How you prepare. What you take. How you handle adversity and the amount of risk you tolerate.
Then there are the specific logistics pertaining to the quarry. You’ve hunted the alpine, but have you been on an unfamiliar mountain in fog? You’ve been cold, but have you been cold and wet? You’ve hunted bear in Washington, but that’s not Alaska. Same goes for deer, etc., and even for a new hunting buddy.
Often you don’t know how this new buddy will pan out because a hunt is
more complex than who gets first shot at the first shooter critter.
You can be great friends off the mountain, but what happens when your buddy trips on a root? Do you say, “You OK?” every time? Or just when it looks bad?
Your buddy is packing out a huge bear he shot with his bow. His pack is
heavy. He is out of shape. Do you say, “Hey, you’re almost there! Doing great!” on the pack out, even though he’s putting you on schedule to reach the dock four hours after the sun sets? Do you walk ahead to pull him, or walk behind?
Some people don’t want encouragement. They just want to be left alone. They don’t think it’s funny to play the Rocky theme song to motivate.
Others need it. These sorts of things ruin hunts. Along with attitude,
communication is important. The plan was to meet at the back of the muskeg and decide what to do from there. You don’t have radios. You don’t have cell service. You’re back at where you pointed to on the map. It’s a half-hour after you planned to meet. What’s the move? Assume your buddy is on a deer? Assume he is lost? Wait? Search? Or just assume he’ll meet you back at camp if you don’t hear a shot?
You’re 1,000 yards from the road, crashing through thick brush. You take
a left to check a game trail that might be easier. Your buddy follows one to the right. The forest and a creek conspire to swallow all other sounds. Before you know it, you’re separated. Do you backtrack and assume he or she will too? Or just continue to the road, hoping your
buddy does too?
Being on the same page is of vital importance. It’s best to know who you
are hunting with before you agree to the hunt, especially if you’re just along for the experience and to help pack meat. Are you a valued asset to the program who will earn some of the take, or just a sucker tricked into sharing the burden?
THE MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENT
Trust is at the core of the hunting buddy. Trust first that the buddy is in shape enough mentally and physically to execute the hunt. I know that the dudes I hunt with can keep it together because they have proven to take it seriously.
They appreciate that ordinary day hunts can turn into overnighters. They
are in shape, have the same ethics and aren’t just driven by foolish bravado. They all would walk away before putting the program at risk.
You also owe it to whoever you are hunting with to do and be the same.
Prove you can do the smart thing, not the risky thing. Few people want to hunt with a loose cannon. A good buddy will take care of you should something happen, but making foolish decisions puts you both at risk. That’s selfish.
THE FINAL PUSH
The knees are done. Muddy soil giving way beneath your boots has become
old. Branches to the face is passing over into something more than annoying. The monotony of a trail or old logging road, or lack of both; everything plays you and your hunting buddies. Remember that the whole thing was a choice and is much better than the alternative – stagnancy. You know as soon as you get back to the truck you’ll be happy you endured it all, especially if you have fresh backstrap for the grill.
If you need to, take your time. Stop for a drink of water and some Sour Patch Kids and get your head right. Your mindset makes all the difference. AmSJ
Editor’s note: Ketchikan-based Jeff Lund is the author of Going Home, a memoir about hunting and fishing in Alaska. Get it at amazon.com.