Set a Hunting Goal and Stick to it

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Set a Hunting Goal and Stick to it

20 years ago, I had never taken what I consider to be a really big mule deer.  I had done enough wildlife photography of park deer and winter range bucks to know one when I saw one, but until the year 2000 had never been fortunate enough to walk upon a real whopper.  I felt like I had done the right things and hunted the right places and still, this hunting goal eluded me.

That all changed one Saturday in early November 2000.  I was hunting with Dave Schulgen and his 11-year-old son Josh.  I was executing a fairly simple one-man drive of an aspen patch in hopes of pushing a buck past Dave and Josh when a huge bodied mature buck busted out of the bottom of this grove of aspens and bounded across a small sagebrush opening.  

I was sky-lined above the buck and dropped into a prone position for the shot.  I’m convinced the buck saw me out of his peripheral vision and when I disappeared off the skyline, he stopped to get a quick fix on me before changing directions.  That split second of indecision on his part was the moment I completed this unrecognized quest on my part and literally fulfilled a dream and achieved the hunting goal of taking a huge mule deer.  

That moment and the days and months that followed were all times, that I reflected on the success of that deer hunt with gratitude and pride.  With the obvious acknowledgment that there was some serious dumb luck involved in that moment, there is also the simple fact that I was there because of desire, drive, and some accumulated knowledge from the school of hard knocks feasting on tag soup while enrolled.

On that day back in 2000, I had fulfilled a dream and achieved a hunting goal.  There wasn’t a conscious realization of the moment in my mind back then, but now looking back I can see how important that year was for me.  A month to the day prior, I had taken a bighorn ram after experiencing the most physical and mentally challenging month of my life trying to find a mature ram in the sky-scraping peaks of Colorado’s Sangre De Cristo mountains.

The reward system in my brain was stimulated and in turn, I acknowledged and developed both the desire and need to be challenged when hunting.  I wanted to strive for exceptional animals but didn’t quite comprehend what sort of sacrifices it would take to have consistent success.  The process was humbling and there were far more unfilled tags than successful endings.  One thing I do know is that this journey has given me a feeling of wanting to share why I think a hunting goal is important.

Let me first say that I do not feel that a hunting goal is simply looking for exceptional trophy class animals.  Some may allow the mindset to develop but I do feel that there is far more than inches of antlers measured when it comes to goal setting.

There is a broadly accepted premise in reference to goal setting that allows for an easily articulated path towards understanding the “what's and whys” of goals.  The mnemonic acronym S-M-A-R-T is used and breaks down as follows.

S-Specific goals that are defined in fairly precise terms.

M-Measurable so that an element of progress and work towards said goal is able to be tracked.

A-Attainable goals are realistic, not simply “pie in the sky” statements that are ridiculous on-premise.

R-Relevant to your interests, desires, and dreams and fits within your social and financial capabilities

T-Time-bound goals set a boundary for achievement and realization of the goal and eliminate the open-endedness time frame that derails a realistic plan.

It doesn’t take a psych major to have a realistic understanding of how important these SMART goals are towards reaching the goal-setting process.  This structured process is especially important when it comes to hunting for those who have aspirations and wishes.  For some hunters, chasing a Marco Polo ram on the rooftop of Asia in the Pamir Mountains might be their dream, while for others, simply taking their first big game animal is that wish.  To say one is bigger than the other is not fair or realistic.  Dreams, wishes, and goals are individual to that person even if many people have the same aspirations.

I feel that goal setting is incredibly important in life and in hunting success.  For the goal-oriented person, this process is unconscious and comes to that person with ease.  There is automaticity to the process of goal setting that these people hardly have to acknowledge.  These people excel and seem to move from one goal to the next without trouble and are often the overachievers admired for their success by the people that know them. For those unfamiliar with the process of goal setting and also those that lack a natural ability to set and achieve goals, this idea can be paralyzing.

There is an excellent and apparent step to take if this isn’t an easy process and it’s quite simple.  Write it down.  While this seems obvious and perhaps trivial it is an important first step in turning a wish into a goal.  The written word provides an instant sense of accountability.  From that first step, you can begin to develop the plan and framework to realizing that goal and those would be helped by also writing them down.  Think of building a house on your own.  You don’t just go to the bank with an idea and ask for a big chunk of money.  You must plan, get your estimates, and cover all the prerequisites needed to ensure you are organized and devoted to the completion of a project to an outside lending source.  This is the beginning of the accountability process.  The difference is that you are accountable to yourself.

The same goes for the dream of taking a big mature mule deer on public land.  A real simple and obvious approach is to apply for the best unit in every Western state and hope someday you draw.  This approach is very common and, in my opinion, also very flawed.  You are starting the process by wishing you would draw a tag in one of these units with a disregard for the obvious mathematical draw odds stacked against you.  Realistically, you will never in your lifetime draw one of these tags, but your hopes are pinned on this tag being your pathway to a monster buck.  

There is also the idea that in order to apply for these tags, you are giving up the opportunity to hunt more often and develop your skills and hunting ability in the process.  We live in an incredible age of information and in just the last two weeks, I have seen “how-to” articles from clothing and boot manufacturers in their mass email blasts with tips and tactics for mule deer hunting.  This is second-hand information that is learned in a simple manner.  The best lessons for a hunter come from years of failure and success in the field and if you forgo those teachable moments in hope of pipe dream type draw tags, you’re missing out.

I never had the hunting goal of getting the Grand Slam of North American wild sheep when I was younger.  It seemed out of touch and too unreasonable and also, I had not been bitten by the sheep bug at that time.  When I drew my desert sheep license here in Colorado just four years after taking a bighorn, the idea manifested into a wish.  I was able to take a dall sheep just three years after that, but it would take 11 more before I would get a stone sheep and realize the manifestation of the completion of this goal that had gone from an idea to a wish, and finally to a completed goal.

a hunting goal lead Mike to take this beautiful Stone Sheep.

There is an often-used cliché that comes to mind when I look back at my almost 3-decade quest for a Grand Slam.  That is, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”  It’s so often quoted and used in what seems like totally cheesy inspirational posters and such that we might easily dismiss these powerful words.  For my Grand Slam, I traveled thousands of miles, backpacked in the most incredible landscapes in North America for weeks.  I endured extreme weather, psychological challenges, and the sadness and the disappointment of unsuccessful trips.   The financial strain in this journey added to the challenge of achieving this goal and was a serious undertaking.  To this day, I haven’t registered my realized goal with the Grand Slam club which is evidence in my mind that it really was about the journey when I reflect back.

Goals matter.

They will be individual and they will be yours but to strive for something that holds meaning to you is an admirable journey and goal.  Settling can be acceptable but more importantly, falling short only to rally and try again for that goal might be far more rewarding when you look back on your own goal quest.  There are no words that are more inspirational for this goal setting than those of the revered President Theodore Roosevelt.  They have been printed here in Western Hunter before but deserve a read again.  I and many others hold this passage in high regard and consider it almost like a mantra for life and success.

The Man in the Arena

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming, but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.


Mike Duplan

Mike is one of the most accomplished western big game hunters of his era. Additionally, he is an extremely well-respected outdoor writer and wildlife photographer. His writing and photos have graced the pages of many hunting publications over the past two decades. Without question, Mike’s frequent contributions to Western Hunter raise the quality of the magazine. Mike resides in Colorado and has a deep passion for Mule Deer and sheep hunting.

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