A Hard Conversation

When old age makes it impossible to hunt as hard as you once did, it’s time to ask: “What can I do to keep the fire burning?”

A Hard Conversation

Nobody likes to have unpleasant conversations. Doesn’t matter if it’s your kids, your co-workers, your neighbors; to paraphrase Rodney King of the 1992 Los Angeles riots fame, “Can’t we all get along?” That’s tough to do when you have hard conversations.   

The hardest conversations, though, are those you must have with yourself. These are self-reflective, and the topics usually change as you get older. Young bucks ask themselves, “Why didn’t I get promoted?”, “Why won’t she go out with me?”, things like that. At some point in everyone’s life there will be a day when they look in the mirror and, out of the blue, ask about their life, “Is this as good as it’s going to get for me?” When you can’t handle the answer is when a midlife crisis often erupts.

About a year ago I was forced to have the hardest conversation with myself I’ve ever had, a least in terms of hunting. It was one that had been coming on for some time, creeping into my subconscious like a cat, slow but steady, until it pounced and could no longer be ignored. When the reality struck I had to take a long hike and sit on a favorite rock overlooking some of my favorite wild country, so I could think without distraction.

I drove my side-by-side up a rugged Arizona mountain trail in the dark, parked, then climbed to the top, arriving at the crest as the day was just beginning to break light. It was a special occasion, so I had tiny flask of my favorite small-batch bourbon in my pack. I splashed two fingers into my cup, and as I watched the sun illuminate the eastern sky, I took a sip and reached some clarity.

For those of you who have followed my writing over the years — thank you — you know how much I love mountain hunting. Since I made my first solo backpack trip into the majestic 10,000-foot-plus high Sierra Nevada mountains of California as a high schooler in the late 1960s, the high country, with its rugged beauty and unforgiving nature, has always fascinated me. For decades I backpacked into the high country of the West, including my 15 years as an Alaskan resident — often alone, sometimes with a trusted friend — to fish and hunt and just live in awe of God’s power and grandeur.

The author loves mountain hunting. He shot this elk in the high elevations of Arizona.

The climb this day wasn’t much as these things go, a thousand feet or so on a 60-degree slope, with the usual Southwestern loose rolling rocks to keep things interesting. I pushed it and was more winded when I reached the summit than I thought I should have been. I think that was the trigger that made me have the hard chat with myself that I had been putting off for the last couple years.

“Bob,” I said to myself between sips, “I know this is difficult for you. But the truth is, there are mountains that are too high for you anymore, and mountain hunts that are too tough for you to handle by yourself, any more.”

There. I’d looked in the mirror and had the “Is this as good as it’s going to get for me?” conversation. Honestly, it freaked me out a little.

And why wouldn’t it? At 66 years of age, having that chat is admitting that more of my life is behind me than out in front. And that leads to all sorts of reflecting that has little to do with bowhunting. All that aside, I suddenly got some clarity about myself and how I wanted to spend the rest of my hunting life. And it’s all good.

For example, I have spent my life making time to keep my fitness level reasonably high. That’s laid a base for good health in my later years as well as the ability to keep hunting hard in all but the most extreme circumstances, when I now know I’ll have to swallow some pride and have some young buck carry some of my stuff in the higher, tougher country. Past injuries also play a part in my inability to go it alone any more, but the satisfying thing for me is most of those injuries were sustained while doing “crazy man stuff” hunting tough game in rough country.

The question now is, in lieu of the rush of solo mountain hunting, what can I do to keep the fire burning? That’s pretty simple. Think about wounded warriors. (Click here to learn about one group called Hope For The Warriors that is making a big difference in the lives of veterans and their families.) Wow — hang with some of them and you’ll never, ever complain about anything again. How about kids with cancer or other debilitating diseases? So I look to those who have had it much tougher than I ever had as inspiration.

I also realize it’s time to pass the torch, to share some of the knowledge I’ve gained over the decades with others. Sure, I still want some trigger time, but while I’ve always strived to be helpful, in a nutshell it’s not all about me anymore.

So going forward I’ll get my rush not from being the strongest, fastest guy up the mountain, or the guy who shoots the biggest buck, bull, bear or ram, but instead from helping those who will truly appreciate the hunt, and life, and all of God’s gifts. Veterans, family and the young are high on my priority list. 

I’ve been blessed beyond my wildest childhood dreams. How about you? Have you had a similar hard conversation with yourself? Please drop me a note at editor@grandviewoutdoors.com and share it with me.

Top image by John Hafner


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