It is July, and I am in Las Vegas for a tradeshow. It is nearly 110 degrees outside, but being locked inside an air conditioned convention center, my body is fooled into thinking it is comfortably cool outside. When I hit the doors, the blast furnace dry heat slams into me, the asphalt is sticky and the sun unrelenting. Las Vegas….it is definitely not the mountains of Montana in the fall.
But those mountains are what I am thinking about now; elk hunting, training, shooting, tweaking gear and making the mental and physical switch to hunting mode. I have been shooting the bow fairly regularly, moving over from field points to broadheads, getting the sight dialed in perfectly. I enjoy the Zen-like practice of perfecting my grip, relaxing my release hand, and smoothly triggering the shot. Over and over and over…the repetition and minor adjustments are what make or break it in the field, when that bull of the season steps out, and tests whether or not you are ready.
I am eager to get in the hills and load up a pack with the essentials to scout, put on some hard miles and find a few pockets of elk, make my notes on the map and plot a few points in the GPS. When I can’t get out to scout, I will head out for a hard trail run, pushing to keep the momentum going uphill, pacing myself, imagining what it will be like with a pack on, grinding up steep hillsides off trail, with loose rocks, wet grass and fallen timber. It is as much mental as it is physical for me — I don’t fully believe myself to be a “runner” like some of my friends who are truly mountain running machines. I can put on the miles, but they are hard won. But on occasion, it all falls into place, and the miles feel a bit easier, and my pace improves as I work my way up through the timber, down the narrow dirt trail, and feel the cool mountain air around me. It is easy to feel like elk season has arrived; as I round a bend, I spook a mule deer doe from the trail, and see faint elk tracks meandering off the ridge I am cresting. Resting in the shade, I envision a bull coming in hot to the call, and stopping 30 yards away, near that downed log….the mental game of it kicks in, and keeps me motivated. I don’t even like talking too loud, even on these “training runs”, as it feels too much like early September hunting. It is better to be quiet, move efficiently, and scan the timber constantly. All of it is hunting practice. All of it gets logged as final adjustments before the real season.