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Joe Martino: Woods and waters with Joe Martino

Stay in the game to punch a tag

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In a world of those looking for instant gratification, participation trophies or to be an “influencer,” it’s nice to know that there are still some things where none of these apply.

Those who hunt solely seeking attention or looking for sponsorships, etc. not only miss the boat, but they likely won’t be in it for long; and for good reason. Hunting is much more personal than that. Forget the fan-boys and wannabe’s, to be a truly successful hunter, you must possess a much deeper drive and desire than all of that fluffy stuff. You better be gritty and love it to the point that you enjoy all of the setbacks and roller-coasters of emotions that come with it. If you don’t, or if you are just looking for attention, do yourself – and the rest of us a favor – and just quit. But you probably will anyway.

A game animal isn’t going to walk up and sacrifice itself to you, you have to work your tail off for just the slightest possibility that you may get a shot. For this reason, those who are simply looking for glory or attention will end up sorely disappointed. If you can’t suck it up, get pummeled by defeat and come back for more, then move on sissy. If, however, you can take it on the chin and deal with humility, then this is a story for you.

If you don’t love it, you won’t go days with no sleep, wake up exhausted on a bitterly cold morning or push yourself to keep hiking when your lungs and legs are begging you to stop. But even so, there are still those out there who have the money or the means to pay a guide or the like a chunk of dough for deluxe accommodations and scouted private ranch elk.

Then there are those simply armed with knowledge, experience gained from years of failures and the tenacity, stubbornness and grit who are just too damned determined to stop. This is one of those stories.

The recent elk hunt I just literally rolled in the driveway from is a perfect example. Joined by my son, Nicholas, and a couple buddies, it was one for the books. A do-it-yourself hunt that we do every year in the mountains of Colorado. It shows why perseverance and persistence can’t be trumped sometimes.

After a week of busting our humps and numerous close-calls on bulls, we just couldn’t get them where we needed them to be. On our last evening there, one of my buddies shot a bull over a water hole and we worked through the night packing him out, hitting the hay around 1:30 a.m.

The rest of us originally planned to hunt for a couple hours the next morning before packing up, but as it came time to get up, all of us except for Nicholas decided to sleep in a little and get some rest before finishing our packing and making the long drive home.

Nicholas got up and hit the mountains. In the middle of our packing, he came down the mountain, excited and breathing heavily. “I just shot one!,” he screeched as the rest of us were in a bit of disbelief. “He’s a nice bull and he’s one of two bulls I saw this morning!”

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Early in the morning, he called a small bull into a clearing 100 yards from his position in a thick patch of brush. Once the bull left, he hustled his way over behind a brush pile close to where the bull had come down. He immediately began hearing a cow and another bull bugling.

He left his pack at camp, and his bugle with it, having only a cow call to try to sweet-talk the elk down the mountain. He just kept with the cow-talk and waited patiently as the two elk kept getting closer.

The brush he was hiding behind was tall – probably about 6 ft. in height –but it was the only cover he had in that clearing - so he was hoping that they would come all the way down and that one of them would step into view, looking for the cow they thought was talking to them. He was going to shoot whichever elk gave him an opportunity.

When he heard the cow mew, followed by the bellow of the bull’s roaring bugle at fifty yards, he just held tight. A few minutes later, he saw a rack over the brush pile coming around the left side. He drew his Mission Ballistic bow and waited for the bull to step into view. And he did. But as soon as his head cleared the brush, he was standing a mere fifteen yards away – and looking right at Nicholas! Nicholas stayed at full draw and hoped. The bull turned and took a few steps to the left, and his vitals cleared the brush, Nicholas sent the arrow on its way.

Even amidst all the chaos, he remembered to turn his Tactacam on prior to the bull coming into view.

The bull ran 75 yards up the mountain before running out of air from the perfect double-lung shot and collapsing.

He went to an area close to camp that he had been saying all week he wanted to hunt, but the rest of us kept wanting to go to other areas in search of elk. When he got the chance to go where he wanted, he made it count.

In a week full of all of us trying to strategically set up to outwit bulls as they tried to circle downwind before coming in and having absolutely no luck, Nicholas did it alone. He stayed focused and determined and didn’t let the ticking clock deter him one bit. He knew the odds, slim as they were, but didn’t care. He loves it. He’s sick for it. This is why he tagged that trophy bull. Period. No other reason.

In my own life, every achievement, every significant accomplishment that I have ever achieved overcome has come only after a blow to the chin. Hunting, as in life, will not just hand over its rewards to you. They need to be earned, bled for, sacrificed for and respected. Sure, sometimes a hunter lucks out and tags a hammer on the first day of the hunt, that’s part of it too, but for more consistent success, there is no shortcut. You have to tough it out.

Just like growing old, hunting isn’t for wussies. Stick it out and quit whining. You just might end up filling a tag.