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Positive Thinking in the Outdoors:
 Staying Upbeat When the Unexpected Happens
by Dustin Vaughn Warncke, M&P Pro-Staff
It is remarkable to me that many hunters I encounter never consider the power of positive thinking in the world of our sport of hunting. In our culture and throughout the decades and centuries before our time on this earth, you do not have to look far to find an excuse or run into someone who will gladly share their problems with you and negativity talk about how bad things are in the world. 

 In my years guiding hunts for friends and family and working extensively in the hunting industry and in sales and marketing for a hunting ranch, I have experienced, more than a few times, how much of an impact a positive or negative attitude or thought process can make or break a hunt. Most would not argue with the point that much of what we do in the field a mental game. On many occasions, I have worked with hunters who showed up expecting our guides to do all the work for them (wrong expectations) without properly preparing and practicing for the hunt (poor preparation and planning) as well as have an “entitlement” attitude about what they expect from the hunt. This happens more than you think. Furthermore, they take no responsibility for a missed shot or even poor shot placement during a hunt, expecting the guide to magically recover the animal or get another shot opportunity at another animal during the hunt. Then, if this doesn’t happen, they in effect, throw their hands in the air and blame the ranch for their own shortcomings.

Many of us have missed shots and even not recovered animals in the past. It is part of hunting sometimes, although not a graceful or glorious part we like to talk about often. The point of this is to not let negative emotions get the best of you. A good attitude and positive thinking is a choice. As I have written about and talked about on camera many times before, the point of hunting efficiently and effectively is to practice often and hunt with the best equipment to put all of the odds in your favor of successful harvest, no matter what the pursuit. The rest indeed is a mental game of keeping the negative garbage out of your head and staying positive about where you are and where you are going in your future endeavors. 

Negative thinking, or as author and motivational speaker Zig Zigler calls it, “Stinkin’ Thinking”, works in a snowball effect. I have seen it happen over and over on many hunts I have guided and with friends and family I have hunted with over the years. You forget to load you gun after you get settled in your blind, the deer of your dreams comes walking out, you get nervous and frazzled. Nothing seems to be going right. It doesn’t seem like your lucky day. You end up pulling the shot, missing the deer completely. The longer I live, the more I have become aware that my response to a given situation could greatly influence the outcome… This is the case with all of us.
The last exotic hunt I was on is a good example of “Murphy’s Law” showing up. I was after a Silver Medal Corsican Ram and did a solo spot and stalk hunt to get him. I took my rifle as I didn’t think I would have a chance to get close enough for a shot with a bow and I figured it would be an easier hunt than it eventually turned out to be. Little did I remember that one of the part-time hunting guides accidently let my rifle slip and fall off the truck seat on my last hunt and I didn’t follow through in re-check my zero at the gun range before this hunt. The shot I had was less than 50 yards and I hit the Ram low in the shoulder, right about the leg joint. He limped off and with no blood trail to be found. Yep. Not a fun feeling, my friends!

The next day, the ranch owner found the Ram. He was still alive but limping and in another part of the ranch property. He called me with the news. I quickly switched out rifles and headed that way. We got on his trail, did a quick spot and stalk, and I took him down in one well-placed shot. I responded to this situation and kept my cool after the bad shot and was blessed and lucky enough to get a second opportunity. No, it doesn’t always work out that way but there is something to be said for responsive (positive) thinking versus reactive (negative) thinking after something unexpected and frustrating happens. 

Recent to writing this article, I filmed a short tech tip in the blind one evening while I was bow hunting on this same subject of positive thinking. Not 30 minutes after filming this segment, here comes a nice 8-point and a shot I have made dozens of times in practice and on previous hunts. The arrow hit the deer lower than expected, in the low shoulder. No pass-through shot. The arrow stuck in him and eventually pulled out. It wasn’t a fatal hit but certainly made my heart sink as I have lost very few deer bowhunting of the years. I spotted the deer shortly after this hunt and he made an almost full recovery from this shot, mainly just a slight limp. How ironic, I thought. I just filmed a segment about positive thinking in the face of unexpected challenges in the field and this happens! It was a great chance for me to dust myself off and get back at it. Two weeks later, same blind, same set-up, l nail a management spike buck in the morning. This one REALLY needed to be culled and you would have been proud of me for doing so. Perfect shot placement and he piled up in less than 45 yards and about 10 seconds after the shot! I hunted that same stand in the evening and shot a nice trophy class 8-point, who ran 30 yards, stood there for a second, and fell over. Two deer down in one day, same stand…Awesome! Moral of the story: Dust Yourself Off and Try Again, Cowboy!

I have seen many hunters virtually flop and the floor and foam at the mouth in the face of adversity or unexpected circumstances while on a hunt and their end result and outcome usually is never as good as hunters who stay calm, cool, and collective. The rule I generally use is to expect the unexpected but always have a positive outlook and hope for the best. You never know what is around the next corner. It is hard for me to admit I have been on some tough hunts, made a bad shot, or had other unforeseen circumstances happen but they happen to all of us and it’s to be expected in the course of life. Staying positive and having a bright outlook is vitality important as we (the experienced hunter) are examples to non-hunters, impressionable youth hunters, and even fellow adults just starting out hunting on their own. We sometimes never realize the full impact how we respond to situation and how it might affect the way people around us view hunters, including the non-hunting community. Remember, every experience in the field, no matter how it goes, is a learning experience. There is no such thing as wasting time when you are learning from your successes and mistakes in the process.

 When I started hunting on my own in my early 20’s after graduating college, I was very discouraged by a guide I had when I hunted government property on Fort Hood here in Central Texas. As part of that hunting program, guides were experienced volunteers who knew the area they were assigned to and were required to lead hunting parties to their respective hunting areas during rifle season for deer hunting. This included building and maintaining hunting stands, clearing shooting lanes, etc. This one particular guide always seemed angry and grumpy about something every time I hunted with him. He grumbled about not seeing any deer on a few hunts and then, when he finally shot a deer, he complained he had to use a buck tag because he shot what he thought was a doe but turned out to be a button buck. I quit hunting Fort Hood after that experience and began to think all hunters had this same attitude. Perception can be reality to those around us and we forget this all too often. Fort Hood is a great place to hunt but this guide almost made me leave the sport of hunting completely for a time.

I constantly seek to encourage youth hunters and adults who are new to the sport to be better at what they do and practice often but attitude is really everything when it comes to implementation of what you know out in the field. I don’t hang around or associate with anyone who has a negative attitude. I have no time or energy for it. It drains the life out of me. The psychology of attitude is pretty simple to understand. Reactive actions are ones people take in recoil to a situation. “Flipping out” if you miss a shot, complaining or playing the “blame game”, or other negative reactions are normal for some people but never HAVE to be a response to a situation. On the other hand, responsive actions are positive approaches to a given situation instead of doing what “comes natural” to some of us. This is very hard sometimes but re-grouping and re-approaching a situation after something unexpected or challenging comes up can be the difference in success or failure in our outdoor adventures.  

Here are some points to consider:

1)Be Humble.  It is certainly alright to be proud of a trophy animal or near impossible shot or past accomplishments and trophies. I tell stories of my hunts and constantly have my phone out showing pictures or videos when the topic of hunting or fishing comes up in general conversation but that is because I love to share my passion with those around me. I am not trying to prove myself to anyone. The famous motivational speaker Tony Robbins once said, “People don’t respect you for what you say you are going to do.” Let your accomplishments speak for themselves. At the ranch I work for a segment of hunters that are usually guilty of “Big Hat and No Cattle” or “All Talk and No Walk” are handgun hunters and bowhunters. More than a few times I get stories about how accurate a hunter is in a local or national tournament circuit but they almost jinx themselves when they talk about how wonderful a shot they are before coming on a hunt with us. Many times these same folks end up wounding an animal that is never recovered or missing a seemingly easy shot completely. Keep your opinions about yourself to yourself and let other people make their own assessments about your skill based on your performance. No one likes a bragger anyway and hunters with huge egos usually get on everyone’s nerves after a while. Don’t be THAT guy…

2)Practice Positive Self-Talk and Daily Affirmations. Norman Vincent Peale’s best selling and timeless book, The Power of Positive Thinking, is among one of the classic “must-read” books out there for anyone wanting to have a better outlook on life in general. Even though the book was written several decades ago, the message still pertains to our lives today. A small synopsis of this philosophy is that what you think about is what you will become most of the time. We all have a “self-dialog” where we talk ourselves through different situations mentally. When you think to yourself, what does it sound like? Is it positive or negative? Is it victorious or defeated? Although it might seem a bit “hokey” at first saying phrases like, “I feel healthy, happy, and terrific!” or “I believe today is going to be a great day!” mentally to yourself throughout the day, this type of thinking will influence you in a positive way. I do say these kind of mental affirmations every day and, no matter what kind of day I am having, it always turns out better than turning to negative thought process. A daily affirmation I learned from the above book that I say every morning is “I am thankful and grateful for all that I have had, for all that I have, and for all that I shall have.” Regardless of your spiritual or religious beliefs, this is a simple but effective affirmation that you can say out loud or to yourself every day. It is easy to remember and will do wonders for your outlook on life. More on that in a minute.

3)Celebrate your Past Accomplishments.  As I am writing this article, I look up at various shoulder, European, and horn mounts of Whitetail Deer, two Silver Medal Rams, a Red Stag, a Catalina Billy Goat, and more. Many hunters I meet are never happy with what they have accomplished or satisfied with what they already have hanging on the wall or in their photo book. It’s always about the next big buck, exotic trophy animal, predator, or something else. I try to live content with all that I have. I am so blessed to have been able the harvest the amount of animals I have in the past and realize that I have more to celebrate than many hunters might ever have, especially in previous generations. A year or so ago, I started even looking at any future fishing or hunting trips I would go on or animal I would harvest as a trophy would be “icing on the cake” on top of what I have already accomplished. A bonus! Be thankful and grateful for the opportunity and freedoms we have here in the US to be able to harvest our own food from nature or cull out invasive species as a recreation and sport. You can’t do what we have the freedoms to do in the outdoors in many countries around the world.

4)Give Back and Share the Wealth. I am a supporter and promoter of organizations such as Hunters for the Hungry. World hunger has always been a personal target of mine and I am blessed to shoot enough deer to be able to give away some of my harvest each year and encourage everyone else to do likewise. Local area food banks and organizations like Hunters for the Hungry greatly appreciate meat or financial donations. My local Capital Area Food Bank here in the Central Texas area cheerfully accepts processed venison with an emphasis on ground burger meat as it can have many uses as a lean and healthy red meat. Every visit I make there, I feel like a new man when I leave because I am making a difference in the lives of someone less fortunate and venison is hot commodity there too! The food bank directors tell me that ground deer meat is usually one of the first meat products that is selected by local food support organizations from the food bank as it is low in fat and a great protein source! Giving in this fashion, whether financially or by donating wild game directly, is a very humble and service-minded way to show love for those in your community and those around you. I bring this subject up often whenever I encounter anti-hunters or non-hunters as it is hard to argue with a hunter who helps feed the less fortunate and needy in his or her community. Even many PETA advocates and hardcore vegetarians have a hard time arguing against my avocation of donating meat to feed the poor in our communities. This showcases hunters as leaders and, while the goal is never to boast or be too prideful about giving, a little positive public relations exposure is never a bad thing for our hunting community!

5)Eliminate the Negative. You can find negativity about anywhere you look in our society. The local and national news broadcast on television and newspaper are certainly laden with this and the reasoning is because people will watch it. “If it Bleeds It Leads” is a popular saying for the news, in any format, and it’s true. So, one thing invite you to do in your general life is to eliminate the garbage. I often advocate not listening to the evening news as 99% or more of the time you have no control of what happens in the world anyway. I am not saying that you should not be aware or even be in prayer for the people, places, and situations involved in stories that make the news but the issue is that we naturally internalize these issues and it does have an overall effect on how we view the world. I am not perfect here by any means. I used to be a talk and news radio junkie and even listened to the radio when I slept every night at one point in my life. I noticed a profound change in my life and thought process after I stopped filling my brain with all the troubles of the world. With the innovations of our time, you can get all the news you need on the internet or even most cell phones in about 90 seconds or less. Need the weather forecast? There’s an App for that or go find it in about 3 seconds on the internet. I am not saying that we should not care about what happens in the world around us or be informed about the problems of our world but you cannot better your life if you constantly surround yourself with negative thoughts and emotions. 

Concentrate instead on what good you can do around you and for yourself. Practice shooting your bow or gun, teach an adult or youth around you how to shoot or get started in another way with our great sport of hunting or fishing. Support a wounded soldier event or charity. Get back to nature and “God’s country” instead of concentrating on the all the spin, hype, and garbage out there. If this doesn’t make sense, you can always go back to the doom and gloom of watching the 24/7 news channels and weigh yourself down with all the problems of the world or stay tuned for more garbage at 10pm. I will be thinking about my next hunt in the meantime.

6)Be Aware of Your Emotions and Your Response to a Situation. How long do you stay angry or upset? 15 minutes or 15 days? I am open with you about my own personal “tough days” hunting in the field to share with you that we all go through issues like being outdoors in bad weather, not seeing anything you are hunting for in the field or fishing for on the lake, a missed shot or even a bad shot placement. I have been there with you. We all have. One one trip, Marty McInytre (bowfishing guide with Garquest) and I both separately shot what would have been a new lake record longnose gar on a bowfishing trip one night and both of our arrows pulled out of the fish. Sometimes you can’t win! What happens sometime happens. It is what it is. What you do after that is your choice. To paraphrase most positive thinking books out there, it’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do with what happens to you. Keep smiling! Even if your gun jams, your arrow falls off the rest when you’re drawing your bow, or you get a bird’s nest in your fishing reel after you cast. Life goes on and there is so much we have to be thankful and grateful for in our world today. Sure, there are some tough days but attitude is always a choice. Remember the Law of Attraction rewards those who are thankful and grateful every time.


7)Remember, this is the Golden Age of our Era. We often take for granted the time we live in. Never before have we had the technological innovations and modern conveniences that people only dreamed decades ago. I have often said that I thank God every day for the age and time we are living in today. It’s good to be alive. We have so many things to be grateful for at home and in the field. Life can be tough but look at all we have! GPS systems in the woods and in our vehicles, rifles and ammunition that can accurately shoot 1,000 yards or more, Crossbows than can send a bolt flying over 400 feet per second, 24/7 access to just about anything we ever wanted to know from our computers and cell phones, and much more. Its easy to take all this for granted but there is so much to celebrate! 

8)When’s the Last Time You Gave Thanks? It is easy to take things for granted in a world filled with premiere transportation, communication, and other technologies that make our life more effective and effect that ever before. But when was the last time you gave thanks for it? Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, thankfulness and gratefulness attract great things in life. When’s the last time you felt grateful for your children, parents, or other family in your life? If you are blessed to have it, giving thanks for your good health is something we can all relate to in life. My late grandfather one time reflected on his childhood in the 1930’s and 40’s and the scarcity of food at his home back then unless you went out and caught it or killed it yourself. Today, we have grocery stores and super big-box stores full of every imaginable item in most every city and fast food restaurants within driving distance of most of our homes. The world is now at our fingertips. I can’t find much to complain about with all that we have today.


9) Remember Who Made All of This. Mac & Prowler often talk about “God, Guns, and Country”. Most of us outdoorsmen have a belief in a higher power. The organization and systems of nature alone is incredibly fascinating to me. An animal dies, another animal or organism is there to clean it up. There is not a lot of natural pollution, dead and rotting carcasses, or other inconsistencies or imbalances found in God’s country throughout nature. It all works on a self-sustaining cycle with or without our help. This was all created somehow and developing a relationship with the creator, God, is a crucial part of my life as well as my relationship and daily walk with Jesus Christ. No, I am not preaching religion here, but rather a personal relationship with the one who made what we enjoy so much in the outdoors. Honoring God and having a good relationship with Him is a great practice in life regardless who you are or what you do. Our connection with nature is a great way to remember and be thankful for all our creator has blessed us with. There is so much to celebrate. Personally, in the field, I sometimes well up with tears of joy and thanksgiving after making a good shot and recovering an animal. Whether you are saving deer one predator at a time, catching fish, or hunting for table fare, be thankful for the opportunity to do it and share it with those around you. 

10)What Legacy Will You Leave Behind?  Both of my grandfathers were avid outdoorsmen and my biggest inspirations to get involved and stay active in hunting and fishing, long after they passed away, because of their love and passion of the sport. My grandfather on my mother’s side, “Opa”, was an avid fisherman and ran trotlines every day he could get down to the river for catfish using bait soap and other “old school” attractants. My grandfather on my father’s side was also avid fisherman and a deer hunter in South Texas. One of my first memories was watching him skin deer and one huge hog weight over 500 pounds that had just recently gone feral. I miss them both so much now. I will never forget what they taught me in my formative years and their spirit lives on in me. I am sure that you have someone in your life from the past or present to thank for why you enjoy the outdoors as well. We all do.

 One thing we must never forget, however, is the legacy and memory we will leave with those around us now and after we are gone. What example are you setting for those around you? What do you want to share today with the youth of today that might impact the next generation or generations to come in the decades ahead? What legacy will you leave behind one day?

We have so much to be excited about in the day and age we live in and I think outdoorsmen and women have even more to be thankful and grateful for as we have the best of both worlds. We are blessed with modern conveniences of our time along with the pure natural beauty of the great outdoors. The world we live in is full of plenty of people who will never enjoy the passions and pursuits most of us have who hunt, fish, hike, camp or do other outdoor activities communing with nature. Take advantage of it and encourage those around you to come with you or share your experiences in a way they can relate to in a positive way. It is your choice if you learn from an experience or make it an issue you complain to about to everyone all the time. We must remember that how we share our love and passion of the outdoors with those around us is a personal decision, as is the case with many decisions in life and the overall attitude we possess. Make yours a positive and memorable experience. As always, hunt hard, shoot straight, be safe, and have fun out there! 


Dustin Vaughn Warncke is an avid hunter, outdoor industry consultant, and Pro-Staff for Mac & Prowler as well as several other outdoor industry product and guide service businesses. E-mail Dustin at dustin@macandprowler.com or visit Warncke Enterprises at www.dustinsprojects.com