All The Small Things... ...Toughness vs. Mental Toughness

As I sit here with my second unfulfilled elk archery tag in as many years, I am forced to reflect on my experience.  I can only focus on one thing.  

Was I tough enough?


O.k. that stings a bit to say out loud.  However I began to reflect on a conversation over a fire back in July.  As a trainer I advocated for the ability to train mental toughness.  Can you train mental toughness?  I believed, Yes.  The harder you train; the more confident you become in your ability to overcome all kinds of challenges. You know, Tough.  

Now I digress.  No.

So, yes and no??  Agree to disagree.  I hate when people say that to me, but here we are.

As I sat there during the third week of September high on the Continental Divide, the wind ripped.  My rain-fly flew in the wind like one of those giant car dealership American Flags.  It inflated my bivy sack like a birthday balloon artist trying to make a bicycle.  It blew from every direction including straight down and straight up from the ground.  It blew so hard that my stove wouldn't stay lit.  I shivered slightly under every layer i brought with me and it was 50 degrees out.  I was dry, that's for sure, but man was I miserable.  I sat there with my binoculars raised and patiently waited for the view to change.  I have done this many times before in way worse weather and I've seen elk.  I settled in for a long day of glassing.  I was seemingly prepared and relatively comfortable (not wet and not snowing).  But the wind...

 Why was this time out breaking me down?  I was clearly well-trained and tough enough... ...wasn't I?


On my second trip out in as many weeks, I was prepared for 6 days in the woods.  Plenty of food, right gear, and physically capable of staying.  My loving wife had even stashed a couple small notes in my pack, telling me "I wish you success and fulfillment: I love you: and Good luck."  Why did I walk out of the woods, in the dark after 48 hours? 

I was 110% capable of staying in the wilderness but I made a critical mistake.

Excuse my language, but "I didn't have my shit together."

During my first outing I was energized by the excitement of opening weekend.  Less than Ideal hunting conditions could be ignored just through pure stoke alone.  But this time I was backed up against a wall.  It was my last opportunity to be successful this season.  The temps and precipitation were supposed to be better for hunting, but who can predict the wind.  Throw on top of that, some extra pressure from some horseback aided Muzzle-loaders, and I was jammed.  Jammed into a corner like a rattlesnake with nothing between it and freedom but you.  I lashed out like you would expect any wild animal to do.  Not on the forest though, on Myself.

My brain launched an all out assault on my sub-conscience.  The questions popped in and out like those bad animated action memes in the old Batman TV series.  

POW!! - do you deserve to be here?  

BANG!! - you've got to pay off your student loans.  

ZAP!! - you're out here creating debt instead of absolving yourself of it.

ZING!! - do you even know what elk do when its windy?

BLAMMO!! -  you don't deserve this...

My mind was clouded in chaos.  I was telling myself I would fail and convincing myself I could stay all at the same time..  I couldn't identify one single physical discomfort, but I was beat to death.  

After an evening sitting against an aspen at treeline listening to hunters call hunters, and the wind whip through the trees.  I'd had enough.

And then the crunch of nearby brush I so desperately waited to hear.  

The forest fell silent with the sound of the intrusion.  

And then IT happened.  A squirrel. Right above me.  The grocery store parking lot car alarm of the forest.  Unattended, abusive, unnecessary.  As I heard the bushes crash away into the distance I let a days worth of mental battery out on the pine tree.  I stood up and shook the life out of that poor tree, committed to bring that chattering little creature to the ground. 

It was time to go home.


So now; back to my original thought.

I had realized that being physically prepared and even mentally prepared for physical challenges is only part of the equation.  

I needed better optics.  I had to achieve a more focused head space to truly become mentally tough.  

Sitting there in that thunderous wind, I learned about life-balance.  

You can't escape the problems of the mind no matter how far you walk in nature.  It will force you to deal with them up front and immediately.  I walked out of the woods a motivated, challenged and better individual than when I walked in.  I obviously needed to become a better archer, hunter, stalker, and caller.  However, I also wanted to be a better husband, uncle, brother, and son.     

The solo experience is a gift but use it wisely.  

Never walk into the woods unprepared.  

Be ready to deal with everything.  Even all the small things.


...Fitness & Hunting; This is just the beginning of What I Think...

Ok, so now you've heard about how how easy it is to become a hunter. It's  Not really that easy.  Its a lot harder than it seems.  Hunting takes education and dedication.  You have to be enthralled with maps, weather, elevation, and All wildlife.  You'll never look at a field of birds the same, or a deer walking across the road the same ever again.  Everything becomes a study.  It is a study of movement.  Where are they coming from?  Where are they headed?  How did they end up right here, right now at this moment.  A flock of geese landing on a golf course pond is a joy to watch as they cup and commit to the landing.  If only you had a blind there at that moment.  If only.

Ok, thats the part I'm going to focus on.  The "If only" moment.  There are a lot of things we can control, or think we're in control of, and a few things we can't control.  The more work you put in during the off season, the more of these variables you begin to control.  Until that final moment when something unexpected happens.    

The best thing we can do is be as ready as possible for anything.

I am a trainer so I am going to focus on Fitness.  I am going to wrap it in Realtree and blaze orange and give it back to you so you can relate to it, understand it and use it to make your hunt and your lifetime last forever. 

The fitness industry is the same as the wilderness we hunt.  It is vast and varying and ever-changing.  There is a wide variety of wildlife and each one is uniquely successful.  (I bet you never walk around the gym thinking about the other people as wildlife but it's kinda funny.)

So, here's my point.  It all works and it all doesn't work.  Each one of us is slightly different from the next.  You have to find out what works for you and your body and your goals.  That's the hard part.  How do you filter through all the madness?  

Let me help you.  


The first place to start is with a credible resource base and a good guide.  The same thing you would do on a new hunt in a new territory.

It's like this;  

You don't just walk into the woods and copy the guy on the ridgeline (although some do try).  He's up there for a reason.  He chose to be there at that exact time because he put his time in.  He was educated and dedicated and he knows he will be successful.  

You can do the same as you prepare your body.  Take the time to educate yourself.  Then dedicate yourself to your goals.  I am here to help you sort out some of the details as they relate to your body being ready to perform in the wilderness.  You, too, will be successful, and you will know why and how you got to that point at that exact moment.  

Keep this in mind as you ponder the idea of getting into better shape.  

"Fitness and Hunting is a Lethal Combination." - Shaun

...About a Shotgun Wedding and a Stain on My Shirt...

August 12, 2012

My wedding day.

A day I will never forget.

Everything was perfect.

My wife was breathtaking.

We had planned everything and it was all going smoothly.  We had talked about our future so many times over the last 2 years of engagement that I had a pretty good mental image of the next 60+ years of my life.  I felt more prepared for this moment than anything I had ever done in my entire life.  

I was pro.  I was so pro that I told other people I was pro.  I had a great relationship, great family, great friends, and a great place.

Oh the place!  It was perfect!  I had been to this place many times before; walking the dogs and even having an anniversary dinner on a small cliff band overlooking the shoreline.  It was the perfect spot to get hitched.

All 190+ relatives and guests took their seats on the shoreline as I prepared to walk down the aisle.  My fiance was going to come to shore on a boat to the spot where we were going to say our vows.  It was perfect!

I began to walk down the aisle to the familiar '80s ballad by Europe, "The Final Countdown".  (Did I mention how cool my wife is?) Anyway, that's when I blacked out.  Just kidding, but seriously, the night was amazing.  Everything had gone as planned.

I woke up in the morning and was so excited to be married!  And I even had a plan for the next 60+ years of perfect.  I had all the confidence of a man with a lethal combination of zero experience and zero fear of failure.

And then IT happened.

I hadn't planned for IT.

I didn't even see IT coming.

I opened a card from my old college buddies.  One of them was even one of my groomsman.  It read these fateful words.  Words that could only be uttered by someone who knows what drives you to do the craziest things you've ever done in your life.  It read simply, "Congratulations, Your Off Season just became an On Season".

As a passionate mountain biker and skier, that left only one true season in the High Rockies.

Autumn, the infamous dead season of the resort towns of the Rocky Mountains.

I again thought, "what the hell are they talking about?"  How could this be my "On Season"?

The card was attached to a Weatherby SA-08 12ga. Shotgun.  

All 364 days of the year that followed my wedding and the previously planned 60+ years of marital bliss went out the window.

On August 11, 2012 my life changed forever.  Everything I thought I knew about life: gone.  Every bit of experience I had; didn't matter.  Every single last bit of planning 60+ years of life changed that instant.

I was given the greatest gift of a lifetime.

I became a hunter.