“Chase The Mountain” is a metaphor for pursuing your dreams. Sometimes our dreams seem as big as an un-climbable mountain, it can seem that it will never be a reality.
For me, my “mountain” is actual mountains… all over the west and the animals that reside within them. When you see a mountain from a distance, it looks like a solid formidable mass, but the closer you get you can see detailed paths, trails, and proof that others have gone before you. Even a small animal trail, with the brush and grass slightly trampled down, sets a path before you, and gives you a boost of confidence and intrigue to start the journey yourself.
Montana has always been the pinnacle of my Western dreams. When I imagine the West I think of the open range, snowy mountain peaks, and fast moving streams. Montana is a paradise for the adventurer, and the hunter alike. Although Montana has always been at the top of my list, I honestly never planned on going because of the challenges. If you think about the drive time (30 Hours from Nashville), and overall logistics, Montana didn’t feel realistic.
Colorado has always been the state that I have researched (hunted once) and been most interested in realistically. It’s a state that I have some connection to, as I have family that’s hunted there multiple times. It’s much easier to plan for, tags are over the counter, and honestly overall it seems far less intimidating than Montana.
Yet in 2015, as I was making my plans to hunt CO, something happened. A connection with a few friends, and one of them living in Montana, not to mention the fact that I had airline cash practically fall into my lap, was all it took to convince me Montana would be my next western destination.
Now that I knew where I was going, I had to draw a tag. Elk would normally have been my answer, but after some research, it didn’t seem as plausible to get the meat home if I was successful. Mule Deer has always interested me, and has been number two on my dream hunts. I sent my application off, and I was ecstatic when I drew successfully.
THE FIRST FEW DAYS
I have hunted in the mountains before, and at a time when I was in decent shape. From past experience, I knew that I would need to be in good physical condition, and prepare my body accordingly. It took the entire year to get my out-of-shape body back into order, so if you are planning on going on a mountain hunt – start preparing now! The first day as always was the worst physically. Getting your lungs and breathing adjusted to higher altitudes with less oxygen is always a transition.
Day one was also a reality check. The reality was the mule deer were not going to play by my rules. Unfortunately, they are not around every corner like I had dreamed of for the past 10 months. Going in I thought I would be wading through smaller bucks in order to get to the big ones – WRONG!
Mule deer have a different disposition than whitetails. A whitetail in the southeast will bolt on the notion that you are after him/her, and they will alert you with a flick of their white tail. Muley’s, on the other hand, have the confidence of Muhammed Ali. They believe in the ability to stay hidden by waiting you out. So the first few days it took some time adjusting to their habits and learning how to spot them in the sagebrush.
The next few days also brought drastic weather changes. We went from walking in one layer of clothing to being covered with 6-8” of snow at high altitudes. The snowfall was both a curse and a blessing. Up until this point, we were hunting high altitudes and pushing deep.
The idea before our hunt was too out work and go deeper than the majority of hunters around us. We also believed that going high and remote was the key to finding a mature mule deer buck. Unfortunately, the weather kept us from accomplishing our goals and on the 4th day of the hunt, the snow also caused a major gear failure. My boots were not able to hold up to the snowfall and they began to leak, which then proceeded to soak my feet and make me completely miserable.
For the first time on this trip, or even during the planning process, I began to face negativity and defeat from within. Physical pain and freezing wet feet have a tendency to do that to a person. The negativity started to breed and thoughts of giving up started to creep in. This might be my second “failed” western hunt, and I might be returning in defeat with no meat to show for all of my hard work and planning. Thomas Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at making the light bulb, when asked about this Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention of 1,000 steps”. The only way failure would beat us, is if we let it. Fortunately for me, my hunting partner never had one hint of negativity, and failing by quitting was not an option.
After suffering for too long and trying to tough it out, we finally made the decision to drive to a local store and find some new boots! That decision changed everything. First, it was a real morale boost to have dry comfortable feet again, and second, we happened across some intel from a local, of where to direct our hunting efforts next.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
We were down to only two days left of the hunt, and although it felt like we were in the 4th quarter I could tell that we were different hunters than when we first began. Throughout the hunt, we had played by all of the rules, from watching the wind to hunting where we knew the deer should typically be, but at this point in the hunt, our confidence was heightened. Everything we had planned for, all the workouts, all of the research, this was it.
We walked and glassed for hours – every second felt like we were getting closer to the end. All bets were off, and any legal buck was fair game. The anxiety and pressure began to weigh heavy. We pressed forward, we spotted over 30 muley’s, but no bucks. Suddenly, my hunting partner Chris spotted a buck bedded in some sage brush.
During that moment all the confidence that I had gained in 20 years of hunting began to slip. For the first time in years, I began to experience anxiety before the shot. It gripped me like a bad dream. One solid year of planning and working to get to this moment all hinged on me making it count, until the gun leaped.
We knelt down and thanked God for such an animal, and the food it would provide for our families. It was easy to remember why we do this. Hunting is more than just killing, it’s more than just a sport. It’s being one with nature in a way that God intended. Hearing, seeing, feeling, and tasting His creation is beyond words. Realizing my dreams and partaking in these adventures is where my passion is at.