The column written below first appeared in Sportsman’s News magazine in October 2016. I wrote it with the same intentions I have for any other piece I write; namely to empower others to succeed in the outdoors, whether it be through technical knowledge or drawing attention to the mental sides of fishing and hunting. I only write what I truly believe in and I try to live the same way. Sometimes that takes help.

Six days into the hunt referenced in the column, I was at a very weak spot mentally. I was physically tired and after having several blown opportunities and an equipment failure, let’s just say I wasn’t all that positive. Sitting at dinner my phone rang and it was my wife; I had talked to her earlier and she knew I was down. This time she didn’t even say hi…she just began reading this column, which had serendipitously arrived at our house in the printed magazine, and she didn’t stop ’til the end. I walked back in the restaurant with a whole new mindset and harvested the buck of a lifetime two days later…

“Confidence. Diligence. Discipline. Determination. Four words that can be very powerful, especially when applied collectively to a challenging task. They occurred to a few months ago as I was formulating a coaching strategy which ultimately proved to be very successful; the team I coached won the Costa Bassmaster High School National Championship while competing against 174 other high school fishing teams from around the country and Canada. Those four words became the cornerstones of how we conducted our practice and ultimately the tournament itself. Now, in hindsight and after further consideration, they seem more appropriate than ever when I consider how those concepts affect the outcome of my days not just on the water, but also in the woods.

As I’ve matured as an outdoorsman, I’ve learned that all the fancy tackle or guns in the world won’t put fish or game on the table regularly without whoever is manning them participating in the pursuit confidently and diligently while staying disciplined and determined. After all, more often than not, the fish or game wins. You know why they win? Because, by nature, they embody all of those concepts. Show me a mature whitetail buck that does not display those qualities in his day to day activity and I’ll show you a soon-to-be dead deer. Geez, the very reason the rut is productive for hunters is because mature bucks loose two of those key factors – diligence and discipline – as they go about their lustful business. They’re still confident in their senses and abilities and they’re very determined to not only survive but to procreate as well. However, they lack diligence and discipline as their judgement is clouded by romance. I can relate, but let’s move on.

Confidence is obvious. As an angler or hunter, you have to be confident in your abilities and equipment or success becomes a product of luck. Problem is, confidence has to be built and it’s a very fragile thing. Success both requires and builds confidence in a chicken and the egg sort of way such that, early on in the field, we rarely proceed with confidence. As our time afield grows, so does our knowledge of how those days often go. The more correct decisions we make, the more confident we get. The more confident we get, the more we act on those correct decisions and therefore achieve success.

Good confident decisions are important, but it’s equally important to act on them with the three big D’s in mind. Diligence is most tied to preparation, whether it be map study, casting or shooting practice, or equipment readiness. Diligence is what helps prevent equipment or body failure over a long day in the field. It’s helps increase confidence, too; I’m always more confident when I know unequivocally that I and my equipment are diligently prepared.

Discipline is always a tough sell. Though some folks are better at it than others, nobody really likes discipline; discipline is what keeps us from cutting corners or taking the easy way out. Its’ what keeps us from hitting the snooze button on those stupidly early summer fishing trips, taking the direct hike rather than routing for the perfect wind, or fishing with a lure that’s already tied on because it’s “good enough” rather than selecting the perfect one we know we have in the tackle box. Discipline and diligence are closely related I figure, and both are tough to apply without the other such that diligent people are usually disciplined as well.

Determination is a whole different beast. Determination is what keeps us from quitting when the life in the field becomes uncomfortable….and life in the outdoors can often be very uncomfortable! When our legs and lungs are burning, determination keeps us climbing. When we haven’t seen a deer in days, determination keeps us in the stand. After five long days of practice and three grueling tournament days in 95 degree heat, determination keeps us casting and allows us to catch a late last day kicker fish to win the high school national championship. It’s pretty easy to give up, notice it’s very hot out and the fishing is slow, and subsequently lose focus which is, in and of itself, a very specific kind of discipline. Determination prevents that. It’s worth noting that, of the four concepts, only determination occurs commonly by itself, without the other three. Many folks are very determined but lack the diligence and discipline needed to gain confidence. Typically they’ll still succeed occasionally by virtue of not quitting.

I have a major deer hunt this month, the tag for which took years to draw. I’m approaching this hunt with supreme confidence and here’s why. I know the area both from having hunted it before and from extensive map, aerial imagery, and ground study. I’m very familiar with my quarry, my weapon, and all of my equipment because I have been diligent in preparation. I’ll hunt each day with discipline, always hunting to the conditions and following known trophy buck hunting strategies. And while they taste the same, I’ll exercise discipline in passing up many bucks, only willing to harvest a deer worthy of my tag. I’ll hunt daylight to dark for all nine days if that’s what it takes, because determination is not to be taken lightly.

Confidence, diligence, discipline, and determination…four words that shape my time afield. With them, I consider myself empowered to succeed.”     

And sometimes a little teamwork can help…CL

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