Elk Hunting.. The allure of chasing a screaming forest horse had been on my mind for a few years before getting the courage to head west and make my dream a reality. What I didn’t realize was how it would change all aspects of my life, and those who would join me. The physical preparation for going on a 7 day, Do-It-Yourself, backcountry bowhunt in the Colorado high country wasn’t something that this Pennsylvania guy could shy away from. It was going to require a full commitment and lifestyle shift. Thinking about everything that I needed to do was overwhelming at first, but committing to the plan and preparation was something that needed to happen. I had always been someone who liked to work out, so I figured this shouldn’t be too bad… Right? Well, after reaching out to some other people that have been hunting in the Rocky Mountains, I had a change of heart for what I needed to do. I had never been west of the Mississippi, let alone the Rocky Mountains.
The mountains were much bigger than we could’ve ever dreamed of. The weather was unforgiving, to say the least. Working a 45-50 hour per week full time job, I started off by making excuses such as being tired or not having enough time to do everything for this hunt. I needed to shoot every day, research and purchase backpacking gear, study maps of public land areas in a state I’ve never been to, and then find time to get in optimal shape. I was talking myself right into anxiety about my decision to do this caliber of a hunt.
Late nights scouring over maps of the area we were planning to hunt was a regular occurrence for months.
Regularly shooting in the backyard under high stress by incorporating shooting into my workouts and going to 3D shoots were common practice throughout the summer months. Three words can describe how I turned my path around 180 degrees. Commitment, Consistency, and Positivity. I made it a point to get up every morning at 4:30 am to get a workout in, whether it was 15 minutes or an hour depending on what time I needed to be at work. I committed to doing this every morning (this meant putting my phone on the opposite side of the room so I wouldn’t accidentally hit the “snooze” button). By getting up early, I had much more time than I ever thought, and I felt great! This consistent routine allowed me to have time in the evening to do some research and study maps. It wasn’t easy at first, but once I got into the routine, it felt normal. Getting the blood flowing early not only helped me with my physical conditioning, but it helped with my productivity at my day job. While everyone is on their 5th cup of coffee, just trying to stay awake, I felt ready to go and tackle whatever the day had in store. Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t always feel great waking up that early, but keeping a positive mindset and your mind focused on the goal is important. Paying attention to what I was fueling my body with, also had a great impact. Everyone’s body reacts different, but getting the right nutrients in your body greatly improves your mood and reduces stress.
4:30 am workouts aren’t always easy, but the discipline is well worth it when you are racking up vertical feet in the mountains. Without a lot of time to spare, driving to the gym isn’t an option. I created by own home gym with minimal equipment and money spent. Before long, the summer days grew shorter, and my dream was about to become a reality. 27 hours was all that was between me and the trailhead. I spent the next 7 days chasing bugles throughout the mountains in some treacherous terrain. It was tough, and was easy to see why Cam says “It’s All Mental”. The hunt was tougher than anything I’ve ever done, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I kept those three words fresh in my mind when things got tough, and had the experience of a lifetime. I came home with a tag in my pocket, but a smile that couldn’t be wiped off.
Mountain hunting has its share of ups and downs. Keeping a positive attitude through the tough times within a hunt is crucial.
Kurt and I took a needed break on the midday hike out of one dark timber drainages and into the other. Fast forward to this year.. My Dad decided to join me and my brother on his first ever western hunt. After months of us talking about the trip, he wanted to have a similar experience. He was committed to doing everything we were to prepare for this backcountry hunt. Just weeks ago we returned from this trip with memories that will last a lifetime. Without realizing it was happening, we were healthier and created a stronger bond than ever before.
In the spring leading into our hunt, we took regular backpack training hikes and overnight turkey hunting trips to become fluent with our gear, and get in better shape.
Of course we brought along a collapsible fishing pole, where Kurt caught and released a small northern pike.
Weekend hikes throughout the Pennsylvania Wilds led us to places we didn’t know existed close to our homes. If you’ve ever considered doing something out of your comfort zone, and going to a wild place; just do it. If you commit to the experience, stay consistent in your preparation and stay positive through the tough times; you’ll come out a better person in all aspects of your life. In this case, it made our relationship as a family stronger than ever, and I’m grateful for that. Filling a tag is just a bonus to the memories that you’ll have for the rest of your life.
Our first backcountry hunt together was an adventure that has us longing for more.
On the last day of the hunt we ventured over 10 miles from the truck searching for that last chance bull. Although we didn’t hear any bugles, the scenery alone was worth the hike.
Photos and Story by Beau Martonik