When I think about my upcoming elk hunt, the visions that flow through mind are of the beautiful high-mountain country, bugling bulls, and ultimately me standing at full-draw, looking past my broadhead-tipped arrow to see an unsuspecting giant bull elk.
It would be odd to think about harvesting anything other than a trophy on a “dream hunt”. But in all likelihood, the most realistic outcome is that I won’t get a chance to send an arrow at a 360″ bull with heavy, dark, ivory tipped antlers.
Expectations can make or break a hunt. There is a balance between letting the expectations of great things fuel our desire and hope during the hard moments of a hunt, and the delicate way in which unrealistic expectations can cause us to miss the realistic opportunity to experience and enjoy the hunt – trophy, or not.
I have never hunted elk. I have never seen, stepped on, or otherwise experienced the area that I am going to be hunting. I have never lived out of a tent for a week at an elevation of more than 10,000′ (although I do have backpacking experience, albeit much closer to sea level). I have never felt the nerves of staring down a wild animal as massive as an adult elk. I have never scouted for elk, read elk sign, or observed the behavior of elk in the wild.
Although I have read countless books and magazines, talked to many experienced elk hunters, and done everything in my power to learn about elk and elk hunting over the past few years, I have never hunted elk. I am inexperienced to say the least, and the odds are stacked against me.
Speaking of odds, the success rate for the unit that I will be hunting in Colorado is in the teens, and that includes hunters that actually know what they are doing. Many archery elk hunters will scout, practice, rely on their years of previous experience, and still come home empty handed.
As one friend has frequently reminded me,
“10% of hunters kill 90% of the elk.”
I am preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. I know that this journey will be long, difficult, frustrating, and amazing. I know that there will likely be moments that I want to give up; times that I will question myself and wonder why I am out there. But, more than all of the challenge and doubt, I know that I can do this and I know that I can be successful. I know that the journey, the adventure, and the perseverance to give it my all is what will really determine if I am successful or not.
And on a very practical level, I am expecting to kill an elk – maybe not a 360″ bull, a 260″ bull, or any bull at all – but an elk. What I am after is an experience, and the chance to pack a couple hundred pounds of boned-out meat off the mountain.
I refuse to pretend that I should set some sort of unrealistic standard on the type of elk that I should “hold out for”. Big antlers, small antlers, no antlers…
I want to begin this trip a dreamer, and end the trip as an elk hunter.
If there is one thing that I don’t want to be caught saying when this trip is over, it is that I “should have, would have, or could have.” No, I want to say that I did. That is my expectation.