How elk hunts help

Competing on the Bassmaster Elite Series requires a huge level of commitment, energy and discipline. I thrive on this challenge and I live for the competition. But when the season ends, I need to unplug and focus on something that will take my mind off of fishing and allow me to prepare myself for the following year.

In recent years, I have enjoyed going out west and hunting elk. I have hunted a lot with fellow Elite Brandon Palaniuk and my friend Dan, but this year, they drew elk tags for Montana, while I drew a tag for Idaho.

This presented me with a new and engaging opportunity to take the lead on my own elk hunt. I got to share this experience with my best friend, Zach, from Australia, who also drew an Idaho elk tag.

Zach Kronk and I grew up hunting and fishing together, so he flew over, and it was just me and him hunting together. He flew in on the Sept. 10, and he and I hunted every day until Sept. 30.

We had incredible hunts; it was probably one of the most incredible hunting years of my life, even though we didn’t actually get an elk.

The area we hunted is probably one of the toughest hunts in the world. It was giant mountains, steep terrain, thick brush and super-pressured public land.

We averaged about 10 miles a day, but in Idaho, with that steepness, it was like 30 miles anywhere else. Over 20 days, averaging 10 miles a day, I lost 15 pounds by the end of September.

We got in among elk every single day, and we had close opportunities — full draw on big bulls. We had elk within 15 yards every day, but with elk hunting, everything has to be perfect.

You’re basically diving down into the bottoms of these giant mountains, and you’re going 10 miles in 15-hour days for one to two 30-second opportunities or one interaction a day. We had that every single day.

Without Brandon and Dan, it forced me to lead and take charge. It forced me well out of my comfort zone, but it was one of the greatest growth opportunities of my life.

It definitely helped with me with my hunting, but it also boosted my confidence. You’re alone in an area where there’s no cell service, and you push your way through among mountain lions, bears, wolves and big bull moose. We had interactions with all of them.

It’s not for the faint hearted, but that’s what makes it pretty special. Not many can get it done, and that’s what draws me to actually want to do it. That’s what pushes me to grow and learn.

Going back to what I said about unplugging after a demanding tournament season, you want to be enthusiastic and excited about fishing. When we put that much energy and effort into fishing from February through September, it’s really good to put your focus into something else.

That month when I’m hunting elk helps me in so many different ways. When we get back from there, I’m itching to get back out on the water in October and start fishing again.

That’s super important because a lot of guys can suffer from burnout and that’s something I don’t ever want to get to.