As hunters there is a lot of pressure on us to not make mistakes. Both self-imposed ethically and also, the consequences in the age of social media are serious, not just to us, but when one of us screws up, it affects all of us. In spite of that pressure, and perhaps occasionally, because of that pressure, we all make mistakes. Some mistakes are bigger than others and some consequences are bigger than others, but we’re all going to fail at times.
It’s also important to remember to forgive yourself, which is often more difficult than forgiving others.
After my elk hunt this year, I find myself forgiving my friend for not making the same decisions I would have made if roles were reversed. Also, I’m trying to forgive myself for cutting out of my second camp earlier than I should.
Even in forgiving my friend, I feel the need to forgive myself. It was my assumptions and not his words that got me into the mess I was in. He never committed to helping me, he only said I could tag along. I should have known better. I should have set clear expectations with him earlier so I could have made other arrangements. It’s not fair to him to expect him to make the same decisions I would have made.
Mostly though, I need to forgive myself for abandoning my second camp when I did. I let the circumstances of attempting to get to my first camp irrationally influence my decision making regarding the second camp. When all the hunters pulled out and left, when several of them told me the elk were doing the same, I allowed that to justify my fear of being out there alone and decided I too should pack up and leave. I should have stayed there. I should have trusted my ability to survive in the extreme cold. I should have trusted my orienteering skills and my Garmin GPS as a back-up. I should have spent at least a couple days wandering through the woods looking for elk.
After getting stuck on the side of a mountain, miles from the next person the day before, my fear was understandable. However, that fear was something to be conquered, not something to be conquered by. That night was the first night I had ever spent alone camping and it got down to zero that night…
…and I was fine. That should have buoyed my confidence.
This trip also finds me trying to forgive an unknown hunter. While glassing some sagebrush I came across a dead 3x4 mule deer buck. He hadn’t been dead long, there was steam coming from his body cavity and he was still in rigor. The shot placement might have been a bit low, but it wasn’t that bad, he couldn’t have run that far after being shot. However, there he laid, and there was not another hunter around me for twenty miles. If he’d been shot late the night before, he should have been tracked the next morning. If the hunter had come upon him, already chewed up by coyotes, they still should have punched their tag. Maybe this hunter couldn’t find him and did the right thing by punching their tag, but the feeling in my gut is this deer should have been found (you could have pulled your truck within 100 yards of it). However, after a certain point, anger serves no purpose, I am choosing to give this hunter the benefit of the doubt and forgive them.
At the end of the day, forgiveness means you’ve learned a lesson. One you hopefully won’t make again. Whether it is forgiving yourself, or needing to forgive someone else, you’ve walked away from the situation wiser than you were before. This isn’t just good for you, it’s good for all of us.