It was a foggy, dreary day in northern Canada, with no promise of the fog lifting soon. I was sitting with an old Indian guide, waiting for it to clear up, hoping to see a moose in the beaver marsh shrouded by the fog. I noted that it was sunny on the slopes above us where there was decent visibility. Where we sat, we couldn't see 10 yards below us because of the fog. I wondered if it might be wise to climb higher and hunt where we could see, but I trusted the guide's wisdom.
We were in no hurry to go anywhere. The moose rut was over, so calling wasn't an option. The strategy was to spot a bull and stalk within shooting range. We passed the time by chatting about moose and hunting in general. At one point, the guide asked me an interesting question.
"What's the most important thing a hunter must have?" he asked. The question came out of the blue. He was serious, and waited for my answer. I thought about it for awhile, and said, " I can think of several things. Do I have to choose just one?"
"Just one," he responded. "It's far more important than all the others."
I thought some more, and rattled off several answers: shooting ability, knowing the behavior of the animal you're hunting, knowing the country, being in good physical condition, being tenacious, and many others that came to mind.
"None of those," he said. "The thing every hunter must have is patience. Everything else you mentioned is true, but in order to be a consistently great hunter, you must be patient."
I thought about that. I couldn't fault his logic. And, so help me, five minutes later the fog thinned and dissipated, and a bull moose appeared within 125 yards. I took that moose home, but I also took something else -- that old man's words of wisdom.
How many times have you blown an opportunity because you were eager to leave, rather than hanging in longer, and then realizing your impatience was a mistake? Perhaps you left your stand too soon, and a silent turkey or bull elk was sneaking in, but you spooked it because you figured you were at your location long enough? Or having the same thing happen because you left your tree stand too early and you startled a nice whitetail buck that was headed in your direction? Those scenarios have happened to me more times than I care to remember. The solution is to make yourself stay longer, but that decision is a judgement call. You end up second guessing yourself.
Other factors come into play that may cause you to leave too early. You can be too hot, too cold, hungry, thirsty, an unnecessary rendezvous with your pals at midday, leaving the woods before shooting light is over because you don't want to walk out in the dark. And so on.
In this photo, Christina Holden and Tim Carlson wait for an elk to show in the Colorado high country. They're dressed warmly, have plenty of food and water, and are prepared to stay until shooting hours are over.
None of us are clairvoyant. We don't know when it's the "right" time to leave. But I've found that since my little quiz with that wise old hunter, my success in the woods has improved considerably.