by BWB Team Member Matt Breton
Two of our three horses took off down the trail, leaving us miles back in the Colorado wilderness. Darkness was approaching after a long first day of hunting. There had been a number of mistakes that led to this point, but rehashing those would only make things worse. The decision was made to start hiking out. A couple of hours later the trail was lost. With fading hope of getting out that night to a warm meal in camp, the three of us decided to spend the night in the woods. We were under-prepared for a night out, but had the basics. The fire got started, we got what was left of our food in our bellies and re-hydrated. I curled up in my space blanket and actually got a few hours of sleep. Out the next morning in just a few hours, back to camp to rest and refuel; we hunted later that afternoon no worse for wear. Some things went well, others did not. Lessons learned and experience gained.
I was lucky enough to sit in on a couple of Hal’s seminars this winter. As he laid out the BWB System for folks, the primary limiting factor he identified that kept people from hunting in the Big Woods was fear. He also noted repeatedly that success came from confidence. I've found this to be true as I expand my outdoor experiences.
So how do we resolve fear and gain confidence? I believe that fear is reduced through a combination of experience, preparation and trust.
Experience can come in many forms, both in and out of the deer woods. Every time you start a fire, create a shelter, or get turned around and find your way out, you gain experience that will help you in the next circumstance. I remember being 15 years old and starting to venture out on my own more and more. We always hunted to a clear cut near our camp, but rarely beyond. One snowy day, I followed some tracks across the cut and out the other side. After a while, it started to snow more and I got nervous about getting back to camp. A mild sense of panic developed. This was before the days of the GPS, so all I had was my compass, my boots and my brain. I knew where a main road was, so I cut toward that and eventually ended up getting a ride back to camp. My father and uncles were glad to see me. At that point I came to realize that as long as I knew what direction ‘out’ was, I’d get there eventually. My perspective on being lost shifted and was not something I particularly worried about anymore. Even now, I know if my GPS fails, I’ll get out eventually.
My night in the woods in Colorado has resolved a lot of the fear I had related to being out in the woods after dark. Having been through it once, the unknowns in the situation have been reduced and I can focus on those things that need to happen rather than being worried.
Many of you know that I like to train a lot in preparation for hunting. In addition to the obvious physical benefits, this training does a couple of other things. With the many miles I put on, I know how quick I can cover ground in the woods. In the season when I take a GPS reading on how far away the truck is late in the afternoon, I know just about how long it will take to get there and whether or not I can stay on the buck. I also hike in the boots I wear on a hunt, so I know if they are as waterproof as advertised or if they create blisters. Other aspects of preparation should include sighting in your rifle, testing out your water purifier and learning how to run a come-along. Tailor your preparation to your hunt. Take a couple horse lessons if you’re headed west on a horseback hunt; you won’t be an expert, but you’ll be a lot more comfortable. All of this preparation is the way to control as many variables as possible for yourself, so that you can persist against the uncontrolled variables out there, like the buck, the terrain and the weather.
Training will improve your physical and mental toughness as well. Beating yourself up a little in training will help you learn to get comfortable being uncomfortable. When you’ve hiked 12 miles in the rain in training, finding the stamina to go 3 miles back to the truck doesn’t seem so challenging. Getting through a morning training run while feeling hungry makes missing a meal in the woods in the fall something I’m ready for. For me, preparing my body and gear for the hunt gives me a sense of confidence moving about the woods. This sort of knowledge and preparation will allow you to focus solely on the buck track in front of you rather than worrying about a bunch of other things.
You need to learn to use and trust in your basic gear. Carry things that you know will work. It really doesn’t matter what someone else says, you should try stuff out. Play with that compass and map until you know how to get where you want, then learn your GPS forward and backward. Know that your matches will light a fire in the rain by getting outside in a storm at home. Wear your wool clothes and spend a night on the lawn with just a space blanket. Educate yourself on the best set of tire chains for your vehicle and learn how to put them on.
You should learn to develop a healthy respect for the things that can wrong out there and educate yourself on how to handle them. As you encounter challenges, you’ll learn you can handle tough situations and come out the other side. Dad and I were in Wyoming hunting elk and mule deer. We’d prepared to the best of our abilities and covered as many variables as we could. The one major unknown was an encounter with a grizzly bear.
After a week that saw several stressful bear encounters with our experienced guides, we had a large amount of respect for those awesome animals, but also much more confidence in our ability to handle that situation. Trusting yourself to remain calm and do the right thing goes a long way to reduce your fear. Think through the situations that scare you the most and develop a plan by educating yourself and rehearsing your response. This works for a truck breaking down 20 miles back on an untraveled road, your buddy breaking his ankle or a grizzly bear claiming your elk.
Confidence grows through graded exposure, by gradually trying things out in progressively challenging ways. The more you think, plan and prepare, the smaller the fear response will be. Doing a lot of this stuff just once will give you the confidence you need in your system and basic skills to get further back in the big woods to chase down the buck of your dreams. Once the worry goes away, you can focus on the specific skills needed to get out there to track your buck down.
(Please consult a physician before starting any exercise program or changing your eating habits)
Feel free to email me at email@example.com if you have questions or thoughts.