I'LL SET UP HERE
It’s 3am as I drive into the empty parking lot. I grab my pack, decoy and gun. I lock my doors and put my keys in my pack. I turn my headlamp on, take a deep breath and start walking. I have a four mile hike to the roost. The first half mile is easy, it’s a little uphill but on a dirt road. Its’ cold out, I can see my breath. I reach a small stream, cross it and carry on. I walk across a field and catch a glimpse of wild horses with my headlamp. I make it to a creek crossing, find a fallen log and cross. Midway through the maze of buck brush I stop. I get that feeling that I’m not alone and have to re-gather myself. I take a deep breath and carry on. I reach a second creek crossing. I’m halfway there now. I carry on using the creek as my path. I check my watch, its 4am. There are signs of the daylight but it’s not yet light enough to ditch my headlamp. I carry on. I get to my final creek crossing, STOP! A gobble? They’ve never been this far down the creek to roost! Check my watch, 4:30. Change of plan, I’ll set up here…….
HE IS AT 15 YARDS
I set up my decoy and sit down under a big oak tree. I’m worried that I accidently got in too close to these turkeys. I’m right. They pitch out behind me and slowly move away. I’m angry with myself for walking in so carelessly. As I start to make a plan to get in front of these turkeys, I hear another gobble from up the creek. I let out a yelp and he instantly responds. He closes the distance in a matter of minutes. I yelp again. Before I know it he is at 15 yards. I shoot. As the tom flops on the ground, an instant burst of excitement and satisfaction rushes over me. Public land and solo, you can’t beat that. I pack up my things and start the long hike back. It’s 8am as I walk in to the empty parking lot.
I'M NOT ANTISOCIAL
Often times, either on TV or in person, I hear people talk about the comradery and friendships that can be created while hunting in a party or with a hunting partner. While I would never disagree with that, I can honestly say that my latest hunting adventures haven’t ended in a bond or companionship with another hunter. The reason for this is because I’ve become what some would call a “solo hunter”.
I’m not antisocial and, no, I’m not the Scrooge of the hunting woods. I am, however, a man who enjoys the solitude and time for reflection that a mountain top, miles from any road, can offer. Hunting allows me time to find myself, to ponder life and to clear my head. Hunting tests my toughness, my resiliency and my ability to make good decisions. Hunting offers me opportunities to succeed and it helps me learn to cope with failure. But most importantly, while I’m hunting, I don’t have to answer to anyone! I relish the idea that the end result of the hunt will always lie squarely on my shoulders. If I want to sit on a hilltop for six hours or walk until my quads cramp, I can do so with only one person to credit or to blame. Myself.
But this story isn’t as much about WHY I’m a solo hunter but rather about HOW I became a solo hunter. I, along with all other modern day hunters, didn’t just naturally emerge as a solo hunter. Nobody just magically loads a weapon and harvests an animal without some type of guidance from another hunter. My becoming of a solo hunter happened over a span of 26 years of hunting and four major transitions of my expertise.
HOW I BECAME A SOLO HNTR
As I just said, all hunters are a product of some type of mentor. For me, that person was my dad. I began going on hunts with my dad when I was just 5 years old. I can still remember my first hunt as a spectator, laying under a burlap sack against a barbwire fence on an afternoon goose hunt. A perfect way to introduce a kid to the sport of hunting. 5 years later, when I had my first opportunity to actually participate in a hunt, my dad made sure that I understood that hunting takes hard work, patience and persistence. All skills that I’m still struggling to perfect in my mid-thirties. My point is, the lessons and opportunities that my dad gave me as a kid are the reasons why I can walk away from my truck at 3 am in the pitch black, alone, with only a pack and a gun and feel completely safe and in control of the hunt.
My dad and I would continue to be each other’s hunting partners for the next twenty four years. Although at some point, around 16 years old, I became way more passionate and obsessed over hunting than he was. We still hunted most weekends together but I was more committed and willing to spend much more time in the duck blind than he was. This would mark my first transition to becoming a solo hunter.
I can remember the first few hunts I did on my own. At that time they were no big deal. Mainly because I was hunting a wildlife area that I was very familiar with and a species that was all I had ever hunted. I remember bringing home 5 drake mallards from one of my first solo hunts and my dad’s reaction was somewhere between being very proud and being shocked that I did it on my own. From then on we worked together as equals on our hunting adventures. The decisions of our hunting locations, how to set up our decoys and how much we should or shouldn’t call had become a collaboration.
That collaborative partnership lasted for about 7 years, at which point I went through a second transition. For lack of a better way to describe it, I guess you can say that I took over as the alpha in our hunting partnership. It was a natural transition and my dad was content in letting it happen. I would scout, decide our locations and determine our decoy spreads. I had my own gear, my own dog, my own lease and I was fully committed to a lifestyle of hunting. Although I may have seemed obsessed at times, he continued to humor me and join me on all of my adventures. I’m happy to say that this phase provided me with some of my best hunting experiences and memories I will hold on to forever.
The third transition happened almost simultaneous to the second. At this point in my life I had developed a desire to hunt other species. My dad and I had hunted primarily waterfowl with some upland birds sprinkled in. Now I had become interested in hunting turkeys and big game but didn’t know where to start. It was at this time I was fortunate enough to meet one of my best friends to date, Joe Croteau. Joe is a diehard turkey hunter and a fantastic deer hunter. He has been a great influence in my hunting lifestyle and has taught me so much about the sport of hunting and the conservation behind it. Joe took me on my first turkey hunt and introduced me to big game hunting. Not long after that I met my good buddy Jim McDonald. Jim is the owner and outfitter of Rawhide West Outfitters, a pig hunting guide service based in Northern California. I worked for Jim at Rawhide West for a little over a year. Jim was also with me when I harvested my first pig and deer. The mentorship that these two guys provided me over the past 7 years has helped me expand my hunting knowledge and expertise significantly. I credit Joe and Jim for helping me grow from a one dimensional hunter to an all-around hunter.
The fourth and final transition took place just under two years ago when I moved from my hometown in Northern California to Southeast Washington. Desperate to not skip a beat in my hunting adventures, I have spent the last 18 months studying Washington public land for waterfowl, turkeys, deer, bear and elk. I have spent more time in the woods by myself in the last two years than I have in the previous 24 combined. So far I have had minimal success but my knowledge gained has kept it from feeling like failure. Aside from learning about the surrounding area and the animals that inhabit it, being a solo hunter, has taught me to slow down and enjoy the entire process. I now understand that the preparation, the hunt, the harvest and the meal are all linked as one. I have a greater respect for the animals that I pursue. I respect the life they live and bounty that they provide.
Although there are times when I still feel like a toddler learning to walk, I know that this transition has been the most important for me. I have become my own mentor, my own guide and my number one resource. I have embarked on a hunting journey unlike anything I have ever experienced. I am confident that I will emerge from this journey a new hunter, a better hunter, a solo hunter.
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