By Mark Kenyon

I grew up in West Michigan as a young man on a steady diet of college basketball gospel served on a platter via legendary Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo. And later during my days actually at MSU this trend continued, as  my roommate was a manager for the basketball team and I often got first hand accounts of the lessons taught by Coach, and the ways he instilled certain disciplines with his players. The message that stood out the most was toughness. In fact, adorning many of the workout shirts that my roommate and the team wore around campus and at the gym  were the letters PPTPW – which were an acronym for a mantra that Coach Izzo preached. “Players Play, Tough Players Win“. It’s an idea that Coach Izzo has made synonymous with being a Spartan and his adherence to this philosophy is without a doubt a huge part of the reason MSU has become one of the most consistently successful basketball programs in the nation. Toughness wins leads to success.

I bring this up because I strongly believe that this mantra applies not just to basketball, but also to hunting whitetails or any big game for that matter. You can have all the fancy gizmos and use all the latest tactics in the world. But if you’re not tough (mentally, physically, emotionally), if you can’t handle adversity, if you can’t suck it up day, after day…You’re just not going to have consistent success chasing big game and definitely not mature whitetails. In the end, it’s just a fact of the matter. With a few tweaks, I feel strongly that Coach Izzo’s words ring incredibly true for us avid self providing meat eaters. Hunters hunt, but tough hunters kill. Don’t you agree?

I certainly am not the best hunter out there. Heck, I may not even be a very good one. I know I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my hunting career and I’m not the guy with big impressive shoulder mounts on the wall either. But what I do know I can always hang my hat on is that I will always and have always absolutely hunted my ass off. Whether it comes to time in the field, time out to the field or the things I deal with in the field – I refuse to not give it 110%. And if you have as strong of a desire as I do to harvest mature whitetails, you have to do the same. Any less just won’t cut it.

Now sure, plenty of folks head out to the woods, sit in a random tree for the first time and shooter Booners. It does seem to happen quite often, but in reality these are flashes in the pan. If you want to ensure consistent success you need to be fully committed, relentless in your pursuit, and unwilling to give up – no matter the challenge. And as any experienced hunter knows, there are plenty of challenges.

That being said – let me paint you a picture of one example where I faced my fair share of bumps in the road, but had this tough mindset pay off.

It was November 8th, and I had hunted the previous five days from sun up to sundown. That meant I was waking up at 3:30AM, in order to be out to my treestand and all set by 5:30AM – with a little over an hour before daylight. From there I spent every waking second scanning the terrain around me until dark settled again around 5:30 or 6:00. That’s 12 or more hours in the tree – for five straight days – totaling somewhere around 60 hours. Now as I climbed into the tree on day six, I was pretty down on myself – as the previous days had been much less exciting than I had hoped. I hadn’t hardly seen any deer – let alone good bucks, the weather hadn’t cooperated and it looked like I would end another Michigan rut with an un-punched tag. Part of me wanted to throw in the towel – and that part of me became even more persuasive as dark clouds rolled in and freezing rain began pounding my face as if I was walking through a car wash.

But as much as I wanted to be in my warm, dry house – I wanted to arrow a big buck so much more. Nothing would be keeping me out of the woods. So I hunkered down, pulled the draws on my hood and sat it out. And as daylight faded into dusk, my perseverance paid off – as my #1 hit list buck (who had been MIA for a month) stepped out of the swamp and moved in my direction. I didn’t end up killing that buck, but this encounter – my best in almost 40 days – was enough to provide a serious reminder of how toughness can pay off. I stuck it out through hell and high water, and I was rewarded with a very close call at the buck of my dreams.

So this whole “toughness” idea is all well and good, but what does it mean to you personally as a hunter? How can you put this into action more often in your hunting life? There are plenty of ways you can do this, but for what it’s worth let me share with you a few ideas.

When the alarm clock goes off, and you just want to stay in bed…get your tail end up and going. No one’s ever filled their stomachs on a buck killed in their dreams.

When you get the urge to pack up and head in for the morning, reconsider. You never know what might be heading up the trail in the next 5 minutes. Stick it out for a few minutes longer, maybe an hour or two, or perhaps for the rest of the day. 

Don’t let the weather keep you out of the woods. In my opinion there’s no such thing as bad weather, just poorly prepared people. Suit up and stick it out. 

Did you miss a buck of a life time? Or have you gone weeks or months without seeing a shooter, a buck, or any deer for that matter? No matter what challenge is weighing you down – you can rise above it. Keep going. Never give up. Never.

Are you limited to hunting highly pressured private or public property? Don’t settle for the easy approach. Instead do what no one else wants to and it will pay off. Wade across the river, crawl into the briars, muck through the swamp. Do the things no one else wants to, and you’ll shoot the buck no one else could.

When it comes right down to it – I’d be willing to place my bottom dollar on the fact that toughness is a more important factor to hunting success than any of the fancy gear or strategies that we’re constantly inundated with.

Another legendary sports figure, the great Vince Lombardi, said it well when he described toughness in the following way…

“…toughness is many things and rather difficult to explain. Its qualities are sacrifice and self-denial. Also, most importantly, it is combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in. It’s a state of mind – you could call it character in action.” 

This hunting season let your character be put into action. May you stare adversity down, and spit at it in the face. And may you always remember that hunters hunt, but tough hunters kill.

Do you have an example of toughness paying off in the hunting world? Tell us about it in the comments and tweet about it to @WiredToHunt and include the hashtag #HHTHK !