During GearJunkie’s 2020 hunting season, Nicole Qualtieri repeated the following words: Hunt your own hunt.
I earned my first strips as an outdoor woman in the summer of 2014, When I set out – spontaneously and perhaps somberly – to hike a northern section of the Continental Divide Trail on my own. In the 150 miles I’ve covered on this trip, I’ve met some venerable powerwalkers from border to border. And I’ve collected a few tips along the way that will continue to serve me.
“Hike your own hike” is a mantra any long-distance hiker will parrots anytime on the trail or in the distance. My original goal was to hike from Yellowstone to the glacier, but in the end I had to adjust the distances due to knee problems. In the end, I found the shorter sprints around the mountains more enjoyable than the long ones anyway. I adjusted expectations and, in short, it worked. I hiked my own hike.
With two consecutive fall hunting seasons difficult for a variety of reasons, I came back with a twist on this beloved mantra. “Hunt your own hunt” almost unconsciously swam through my thread of thought.
2 seasons of change with new joints in between
My first 3 mile hike after knee replacement, September 2020
Last fall, those knee problems were completely blown up. My beloved solo hunts seemed to stall in the wind as I pondered the reality of shooting and then unpacked myself. I went with friends, helped when they signed out, but unfortunately it wasn’t my year.
I ended up with a bowl of day soup, an empty freezer, and blinding pain in my knees. I went back to my doctor complaining about the end of two of the joints we rely on the most and he agreed to a solution.
In 2020 I swapped both knees for new ones. For the sake of clarity, I’m 36. I’m getting a little under the wire for this procedure. But it has already changed my life. Advanced osteoarthritis stood between me and anything I enjoyed doing. The first knee went under in January, the second was delayed by 5 weeks due to COVID, and I turned it off in late May.
The setback weighed deeply on my summer recovery plan. But by archery season I was able to hike 3 miles and gain a little altitude with the bow in hand. However, the realism abounds. And even if I had gotten a shot, unboxing would have been out of the question.
The duality of success
This year there were two competing ideas for success: the noticeable success of notched labels and meat in the freezer and the success of simply being able to move, enjoy, see, hunt. The Emersonic iron chain of trusting myself resounded in this specific spectrum of success: I could have both types, albeit in cans.
That year, I nicked my first fork jack label and dragged the dollar about 1,000 yards back to the truck on a $ 16 kids’ sled I bought at Murdoch’s. I also started getting my mountain legs back. I walked to ridges where I could glass. And I went to places full of opportunity that for one reason or another I decided not to shoot. Many were in places where I was still thinking about the pack.
When I was in physiotherapy, my PT and I discovered that I had set many unconscious limits on my body out of protectionism. I discovered many more of these limits as I moved through sage and hills. And I started navigating a new and whole physical self.
Doubt, persistence, payoff
My success with the pronghorn came after 8 days of feeling missed opportunities, whether it was an untenable shooting range, critters crossing private land, or some unknown thing – hello, coyotes with dangen – that caused a stir as I stalked in.
The weather was hot and hit for a week in early November in the mid-70s. I hadn’t showered for days, I camped in my pickup truck, my young knees were sore, the rut was not yet activated. Nothing felt good or right. And COVID had usually devastated ours large and communal deer camp. I just didn’t enjoy the hunt. I felt the pressure of last year’s day soup season and had 2 days left to chase pronghorn.
My friend Sam and I hunted together for a day; We had some close calls. I was ready to give up the antelope efforts to focus on Mule deer. Sam – in all her zen optimism – said I should move on. Still I waffled.
The next day we went to hunt deer. When we got to the place, I looked at her and said, “I think I’m going to hunt pronghorn.” She gave me a knowing look and we exchanged happy words. We parted ways on our own hunting adventures.
A few hours later, My money was down. The Pronghorn season ended less than 36 hours later.
For the first time since operations with my hunting partner Butch Cassidy in November 2020 on the way to the ridge line
I still had tags to fill and the time to shorten. The next weekend I climbed a ridge line in a rocky bend in the mountains, clad in tall sage, and at the highest point came across a large group of Do’s and a few small bucks. They were in a pocket hidden in the countryside. At 130 meters I watched them, they watched me. They relaxed, sat down, and grazed.
There are some moments when I really feel like the hunter I set out to do. These are the moments when I study scenery, look at the timing, think about where I would go if I were a deer, and go in that direction. It was one of those moments. I had hunted and succeeded.
Could I close the deal? That was the biggest question I had ever asked of my legs. In terms of shooting, I was able to close the deal at this distance without any problems, but I wasn’t sure if unpacking from this position was the best idea. It was a decent drop in elevation and more than a mile back to the truck; I would probably have to come back here for the second round of meat packaging. My new legs didn’t seem ready for it. I put my gun down, leaned back, and took stock.
I watched each deer climb the horizon and fall down, then climb the rest of the ridge and sit for a while. The herd disappeared in other parts of the country. I could see two orange dots far below me on an old two lane track. I walked up a high ridge path covered with deer and elk droppings. “They come here for the view too,” I thought. I sat down, put my new knees to my chest and watched this wise world for a while.
Finally chasing my own hunt
It’s been almost a month since the general big game season in Montana ended, and I can’t say the disappointment never caught up with me. I really wanted to break away from the physical and mental struggles of this strange year and find new kinds of success around every corner.
My own self-confidence knows that the former competitive athlete finds it difficult to distinguish a tangible success from the immaterial. I was a “Winning isn’t everything; To win is the only thing a player needs. Some days I still am. It’s a mentality that both serves and destroys. It inspires me to push harder; it scourges me when things go wrong
Long-distance hiking pushed against that mentality, and it pushed it hard against it. The finishing became a win. Adjusting my expectations became a different kind of gain. I’ve learned to focus on my own hike.
When I hunt there comes all of these inner struggles and lessons that come with the hip belt on my hunting backpack. And any hunt is not so different from those long and arduous hikes. Step by step everyone chases their own opportunity for something new, every possible shot is measured by a few questions: Am I ready physically, emotionally and in my own human mind? Is that a good and ethical shot for me? And is that the right animal?
I share some recordings for inexplicable reasons and others for reasons that are easy to explain, and I did both this year. This was a detriment to my freezer and my internal notions of legitimate success. The chastisement of the athlete in me met the sensitivity of what could be the better, kinder, and more informed part of my ever-learning human nature.
In a year of uncertain and physical recovery, I still managed to hunt my own hunt. Success in full.