By Robert Nuckols

Elk hunting in the mountains is very physical demanding and a mental grind. The body wants to rest and give in so it takes a strong mind to push through that.  I tell everyone that goes elk hunting “you don’t have to beat the mountain, you just have to beat your mind”.

I was listening to a sermon podcast the other day and the speaker was talking about the rigorous Navy Seal training. If someone gives up they have to ring the bell signifying that they’re quitting. And he stated that studies have shown that the people who ring the bell on average have only spent 40% of what their body is capable of. Meaning that the mind gave in to the body that still had juice in the tank. These people certainly wanted to get through the training to become a navy seal but there was a breakdown between “wants” and mental drive. This simply proves the fact that everyone lands at different  places on the “mental toughness scale.”  I think some of this drive we are just born with but there are things that one can do to help move the needle towards the tougher side and help you be more prepared in the elk woods. 


Train hard. The terrain that elk live in is tough. Walking your dog on flat ground in your neighborhood probably won’t get you ready for elk season. Training needs to be a year round thing not just the two weeks or a month before the season. Prepare your body for the battle to come. 

Pick the right team. One of the toughest things is finding hunting partners with the same mental drive and similar goals. You will always struggle with this until you understand and fully grasp the simple fact that everyone is different when it comes to elk hunting. People have different goals and things they want out of a hunt. If you want to spike camp 5 miles in and eat freeze dried meals and your hunting partner wants to truck camp and eat steak, it’s probably not going to go well. Figure these things out before you get to the mountain. The team has to work together like the spokes on a wheel. 

Win as a team. Work together and Celebrate successes as a team. With bow hunting success rates in the 7-8% range, a kill is big deal. When someone in a group of four kills an elk, your group just went 25%, which is more than triple the odds. Don’t be the guy with his lip poked out wishing he was the one who killed.  Celebrate,  your team just won. 

Be the sail, not the anchor. Be the one that helps to motivate the group not drag it down. 

Can’t never could.  It used to make me mad hearing this growing up. But it is so true. A negative outlook will result in a negative outcome. Keep a positive attitude and be unstoppable. 

Technology is a game changer. The mapping apps that we use today are unbelievable. It should be almost impossible to get lost in today’s world. Talk about relieving mental stress. Do your research and pick the best mapping app(s) for your needs. And spend the time learning everything you can about it before you head west. One of the elk we killed this year would not have happened without the use of these tools. I have been elk hunting for nearly 30 years, there is nothing that has changed the game more than technology. 

Pray for the bear. This came from the Kobe Bryant quote. “If you see me in a fight with a bear, you better pray for the bear”.  Simply means I’m tougher than anything that gets thrown my way and nothing is going to stop me from accomplishing my goal. 

Who cut that log? Have you ever been so deep in a canyon or so many miles down that spine ridge and thought you may be the only person that has ever walked in that spot?  Then to look over and see a log that was cut maybe a hundred plus years ago. When I see that, I often wonder who cut that? How did they get here? What kind of saw did they have? What kind of socks and shoes were they wearing? What kind of clothes were they wearing? What did they have to eat? Where did they sleep? Just how tough were they? And here I am complaining that my $400 pair of boots rubbing my little toe a little. Or that my $400 sleeping bag didn’t keep me toasty warm last night. My six pound sleep system is just too heavy. My air mattress is just not comfortable. My jet boil took more than 5 minutes to heat my water………and on and on. The next time you see that old cut log….ask yourself just how tough were those that came before me and what do I really have to complain about? 

Know your limits. Set small accomplishable goals. Don’t set a goal that you are going to pack in 8 miles into the back country, staying 10 days without coming out, when you have never even slept in a tent and never spent more than two days away from your family. You will most likely fail. I tell people that until you have packed out a bull one mile you probably won’t pack one out five miles. Setting smaller goals and achieving them builds precious confidence that is needed in the elk woods. The area that we hunt is very rough terrain. The majority of hunters see or hear a bull in some of those canyons and just flat say “there ain’t no way I’m gonna kill something in there”. Most have never pushed their bodies to really know what they are capable of…..and that just means more elk for me. 

10 pound bass don’t live in every lake.  Do your research and know what your area is capable of producing. You might have the goal of a 340 inch herd bull. Reaching that goal will be no doubt be tough on public land, DIY in Colorado. But that could be the challenge you have set for yourself.  However, the bow success rate on just any legal bull, hunting Colorado public land DIY, is sitting at 7-8%. To kill a 340 inch bull; I don’t know how you would even calculate that success rate but I’m sure it is a dot with several zeros behind it.  With that goal, you have to be mentally prepared for failure. Especially if the area you hunt just doesn’t produce large bulls. Listen, in my opinion, any legal elk harvested on your own with a bow is a success that needs to be celebrated. And another thing…elk meat tastes really good!!!

The Lord blessed me in 2023 with the best elk season that I have ever had. I played a part in helping to fill 4 out of 5 public land bull tags this year. (And some of the best hunts were on the tag that we didn’t fill). And listen, I’m just an old Virginia country boy. So if I can do it… anybody can. Hope these tips help you to be ready for the upcoming season. Keep up the good work and make 2024 the most memorable yet! 

Robert Nuckols is an avid outdoorsman and hunter from Callands, Virginia. He has hunted Colorado, DIY, for 14 seasons.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Dan

    Robert, Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I have a friend along with two of his coworkers that drew elk tags in Wyoming. He works for a big oil company. He grew up here in the west. His two coworkers are from the Midwest and south part of the US. The allure and grandeur of hunting out west got the better of them. Anyway long story short. My friends two coworkers were not ready for the terrain and altitude that elk normally live in. After two days they went home. One had altitude sickness and the other was just flat out exhausted. My friend gave me a call and asked if I could hunt with him. Of course I jumped at the opportunity and two days latter we connected with a bull. I’m in my early 60’s and I am not what I consider great shape, but I try to work out enough through out the year so the I can elk hunt. Elk hunting kicks my butt, but I love doing it.

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