Confidence in Elk Hunting: To become a successful Elk Hunter, Confidence is a Skill that must be Learned

Apr 07, 2024

By Zach Bowhay

Confidence is a Skill
For years, I have advocated for the idea that confidence is one of the most crucial things an elk hunter needs to succeed consistently. I’ve talked about this very thing multiple times in articles, podcasts, and when speaking to other hunters. Just this week, though, I was listening to a clip of Mel Robbins speaking, and she said something that struck me, and I knew immediately that I wanted to dive into the topic of confidence further. I’m paraphrasing here, but she said, “People always say that confidence is a character trait when, in fact, confidence is a skill that can be learned.”

For some reason, I always felt like some people are just confident while others aren’t. Looking back at my elk hunting journey, it's easy to see that I wasn’t always the most confident person. Confidence has come from years of practice, experience, and honing the skills necessary to succeed in the elk woods year in and year out. Due to all these things, confidence has grown and become a vital tool in my belt. This, of course, isn’t proprietary to me or anyone else. Every successful elk hunter, or hunter in general who is consistently successful, has confidence as one of their skills. I believe different confidence factors can be honed as well.

Confidence in certain methods

Now in my 40s, I have spent many years calling back and forth to more elk than I can count. It’s safe to say that calling elk is what I feel the most confident about on an elk hunt. Because of this, I spend much of my time elk hunting, leaning into this method. I have called in countless elk to myself and others, leading to plenty of dead elk in my hunting career. Don’t get me wrong, I have also blown my fair share of calling sequences over the years, but the success has been enough to breed confidence in my elk calling.

Over the years, I have killed bulls through other methods, such as sitting over wallows, spotting, and stalking. As I have evolved as an elk hunter and find myself wanting to target bigger bulls, I have found that methods other than calling can sometimes be a better option. Because of this, I am constantly trying these different methods and leaning on them more so I can gain the same confidence in them as I do in calling.

Conversely, I have buddies who are more comfortable with methods other than calling. For example, my friend Nate has killed tons of big bulls, with most of them being stalking or ambushing them near their harems. Nate is a great hunter, though, and recognizes that some situations lend themselves better to calling, so he is admittedly working on his calling to become more confident in that method. Uber successful hunters are constantly working on the skills they use the most and becoming more confident in other skills that can enhance their chances of success.

Confidence to tackle new areas or terrain

Like calling, I spent my youth and early adult years mostly hunting the same areas in my home state of Idaho. Even today, many of my favorite hunts occur in the areas I grew up hunting. These areas aren’t necessarily the best areas I hunt, actually not even close in most cases, but they are the places I feel the most confident that I will succeed. I know that going through the motions and putting my time in will eventually lead to opportunities. I am confident because my time here has proven that doing the right things will equal success.

When I went on my first out-of-state elk to Colorado in 2008, I was anxious, nervous, and not very confident. My buddy Fred and I hunted hard, and halfway through the hunt, we called in a nice six-point bull that I killed at 19 yards. A couple of days later, Fred killed a bull as well. I wouldn’t say I left thinking I had figured out all I needed to hunt far from home, but the successful hunt had built on my skill. Nearly every year over the last fifteen years, I have done at least one out-of-state elk hunt annually. After years of doing this, I go into these hunts with the confidence to get the job done.

Confidence in the moment of truth

This here is the big one! I have always put guys into two categories. There are elk hunters and elk killers. I know plenty of guys who always go hunting and get into plenty of elk. They always seem to be in the elk, around the eld, and get opportunities, but they still only manage to kill a bull once every few years. Then, there are the guys who seem to kill a bull or two every year. These guys in the elk killer group just seem to close the deal at the moment of truth. This is one of the most challenging times to keep it together as an elk hunter. All the time and effort you have put in has led you to this exact moment where you have one chance to make it happen. The guys who consistently do have the utmost confidence at this moment. You know how the old adage goes: 10% of the guys kill 90% of the elk. Well, this moment, I genuinely believe, is what defines who a ten percenter is.

I know for a fact that I am not the best shot, the best caller, or the best hunter on earth. However, when a bull strolls into my life, I have 100% confidence that I can kill that bull at that moment. Of course, it doesn’t always go that way, but I fully believe that success at this moment comes from supreme confidence that you can deliver. If you let one ounce of doubt creep in, you are doomed.

Confidence is earned, not learned

I know I said earlier that confidence is a skill that can be learned. I am not saying it's not, but like most things when it comes to hunting, learning comes from earning. Hunting elk is hard; anyone who says otherwise is wrong. Success rates wouldn’t always be so low on general and over-the-counter hunts if it was easy. You are constantly learning and building on your success through time spent in the woods. When you finally earn that first bull, your journey has just begun. That should give you the confidence to know this can be done. Build on that skill, and you will be on your way to being confident regardless of the situation, and you will be well on your way to being an elk killer.



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