Tough Hunts - Dftq Part 1 - (Mantra Of Die First Then Quit)

There were no horns and no meat sacks in the Supercub when we landed. Outfitter Erik Salitan was there to meet me, as was Donna—she’d gotten ill and had flown out a few days earlier. Me, I went full term, continuing to battle terrible weather and never seeing the game I was seeking. So I hugged Donna and greeted Erik, and he looked at me with (I think) genuine incredulousness and asked, “How can you be so cheerful?”

This is my best Rocky Mountain goat to date, taken in the Kootenays of BC. Goat hunts are always hard and this one was…but it wasn’t a “DFTQ hunt.”

That struck me funny, so I laughed and said, “Well, nobody likes to get beat…but it happens sometimes.” So long as you give it your all, there’s no shame and no embarrassment. There will be some regrets, but if effort was honest there’s no point crying over spilled milk. You win some, you lose others.

One of the great things about hunting is its total randomness. First-time hunters get Boone and Crockett animals every year…and veterans get skunked. It’s really about trying, and if you can’t handle defeat this is probably not the pastime for you. That said, some hunts are tougher than others.

That, too, is random. Any game animal in the world may offer itself up on the first day. That particular day may be long and hard, but by definition (or at least my definition) that ain’t a tough hunt. Tough hunts are when you slug it out day after day, never knowing if you will ultimately be successful. It isn’t always physically tough, but it’s mentally excruciating, doing the best you can, trying as hard as you can…not knowing whether you will be rewarded or not. Part of you wants to quit but this you know for certain: If you quit you will not be rewarded. If you keep trying you may still fail, but just maybe Lady Luck will smile. Add in some physical challenge—which may be superhuman exertion; extreme heat or cold; constant thirst, hunger, or sleep deprivation (or perhaps a combination)—and you have what I have come to call “DFTQ hunts.” I’ll explain that later, but allow me an example.


My first bighorn hunt was in one of Montana’s “unlimited permit” areas. It was late and it was cold, and we backpacked into a valley below a charming place aptly called Froze to Death Plateau. Eventually we spotted a ram up there. Actually, we spotted him from below three times, and went after him three times. The first time, when he jumped from his bed at maybe 250 yards, I could have and should have shot him…but I was looking at the horns. Making sure he was legal? Making sure he was the same ram? Being stupid? Who knows?

Dad and I with a great Montana bighorn. It was a wonderful hunt, but the country was gentle and there were lots of rams…it didn’t feel like a real “sheep hunt.”

Montana Bighorn Ram -actually an easy huntDad and I with a great Montana bighorn. It was a wonderful hunt, but the country was gentle and there were lots of rams…it didn’t feel like a real “sheep hunt.”

He bolted, running 800 yards across a scree slope without ever hesitating. I saw him again, but never within a mile. That was pre-cell phone and sat phone, so under the unlimited quota system we had to hike out to find out if the season was still open. We hiked out without a ram.

My second bighorn hunt was a huge success…and a disappointment. I drew a good Montana tag, in the Pioneer Mountains west of the Interstate. Although high, it was gentle, rolling country…much more like mule deer or pronghorn country than my concept of sheep country. My Dad, just starting his long bout with cancer, went with me and we had a great time. I think I shot the 90th ram we saw, a great bighorn…but somehow I felt cheated. It wasn’t a real sheep hunt!

A few years later I drew in Wyoming, east of the Park. Veteran outfitter—and great horse outfitter—Ron Dube guided me, and although we saw a lot of sheep we just couldn’t find a mature ram that looked like a bighorn is supposed to look. On about the sixth day, spiked far up a canyon below serious rimrock, we caught a major snowstorm. The next morning riding down a slick trail, the horse shied at some imaginary troll. It went one way, and I went the other. No excuse…hell, I was riding my own saddle. I wasn’t paying attention, and I got dumped. It seemed a long ways down, but fortunately there was all this new fluffy snow. Unfortunately there was this one rock under the snow. It caught me to the left of my sternum, a couple ribs broken, a couple more cracked. Who cares? I had a bighorn tag. I taped myself up and kept my mouth shut.

Wyoming Bighorn Ram -tough hunt, but worth itOn the 11th day of a 10-day hunt with several broken ribs from a fall off a horse, this Wyoming ram isn’t huge—but I felt like I’d been on a real sheep hunt.

On the tenth and (supposedly) last day Ron went one way and I went another to separate vantage points, me tying my horse in a saddle, then climbing (somewhat painfully) up an icy chute to a little point. Ron was far away on the next ridge, but I picked him up in my binoculars…and after an hour or so I saw him signaling to me. The descent wasn’t as painful but was a whole lot scarier. Ron met me on the trail, and I’ll never forget what he said: “The hunting part of this Ron Dube Adventure is concluded. The harvesting part now commences.”

He’d spotted sheep at incredible distance, an odd group of two mature rams and a ewe. We ran out of light that evening, so we built a fire and huddled under saddle blankets through a long cold night. We shot my ram in the late morning, on the 11th day of our 10-day hunt.

On the 11th day of a 10-day hunt with several broken ribs from a fall off a horse, this Wyoming ram isn’t huge—but I felt like I’d been on a real sheep hunt.


It stands for “Die First Then Quit.” I wish it came from my Marines, but it is the motto of an Army unit I worked with in the Persian Gulf in 2002-2003. As we Marines always sign our correspondence to other Marines “Semper Fi,” members of that unit sign correspondence “DFTQ.” I’ve shared this with a lot of my friends because I think it’s a great sentiment. Mind you, I am not suggesting that a game animal is worth any human life. In the military, where I spent 31 wonderful years, it is (or should be) accepted by all that one might lose one’s life to the mission or cause. As General Hancock, he who (barely) held Cemetery Ridge against Pickett at Gettysburg, said to a subordinate who urged him to dismount: “There are times when the life of a Corps Commander means nothing.” In today’s world hunting is not a life or death matter, so common sense should apply…but the sentiment stands: Have you given it your all?

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