Q&A with Robert Albers, Slayer Pro-Staff: Elk and the ‘mental game’ of hunting
By M.D. Johnson
Everyone knows — or should know — how big game hunters get — or should get — themselves in physical shape before the season begins. Weights. Treadmills. Diet. Walking. More walking. Walking up mountains and down into valleys. Working on that cardio. Taking on the hot weather of early elk season. Stamina. Muscles.
But what about your mind? Your head? Sure, there’s a physical component to elk hunting, but are there mental considerations, too? Exercise, per se, for the ’ol cerebellum?
Robert Albers from Ennis, Montana, would answer that with a strong, affirmative response. Albers, a 31-year-old family man originally from Bend, Oregon, currently sits on the Slayer Calls pro-staff team; however, his present career path sees him serving as a full-time guide for the folks at Bull Basin Outfitters in Livingston, Montana — a position he’s held since 2021.
Albers is no stranger to elk; in fact, he’ll be the first to say he “lives and breathes” the magnificent creatures. It’s been that way since he tagged his first at the ripe old age of 12. This week, Slayer was able to stop the former bull rider — can you say Pendleton Roundup? — albeit briefly, and discuss the mental aspects of this great adventure we call elk hunting.
Slayer Calls (SC): When I talk about the ‘mental game’ of hunting, what am I talking about?
Albers: Elk hunting can be a very overwhelming thing. I see it with clients all the time. Most people — most elk hunters — are, more or less, in shape physically, but a guy can be a tri-athlete physically, and you put a bull in front of them? They’ve never been in a stressful situation like that, and they fold under the pressure.
SC: Okay, then can someone prepare themselves for this kind of pressure? I mean, get ready mentally?
Albers: The mental side of elk hunting is going to, more than anything, come from experience. Take pre-gaming for an archery elk hunt. If you’ve never done it before, there’s really no way to prepare for it; however, if you’re physically prepared, your equipment is ready and you’re prepared to use that equipment … well, then, that leads to having confidence — the mental side of things.
SC: True or false — scouting and mental preparation go hand in hand?
Albers: I know I go back to the physical side of things, but if you’re going in and scouting elk, you’re going to be ‘physically trained.’ Really, you’re killing three birds with one stone here. You’re physically training when you’re hiking in to find those elk. If you’re properly scouting and patterning those animals, you’re going to know what that bull’s doing. And then, here comes the confidence and the mental preparation. So you’re training physically. You’re scouting. And you’re building your confidence, thus upping your mental game.
SC: Does self-discipline play a role in this mental game of hunting?
Albers: It’s everything. If you don’t have self-discipline, where’s your confidence coming from?
SC: Has technology ‘stolen’ some of the mental aspects of elk hunting?
Albers: It [technology] can create a ‘false confidence,’ so to speak. Everybody can see what everybody else is doing, thanks to the internet. I love Cameron Hanes; I think he’s the best backcountry bowhunter out there. But there’s too many people who watch (Hanes) on the internet and think they can be him, yet they don’t have the mental fortitude and grind to actually do that. OR, and I see it in the backcountry myself, people get themselves into situations they can’t get out of. So I think modern technology could have the potential to create a false sense of confidence in hunters.
SC: Can hunting alone help clear your mind and put you in a better place, mentally, in terms of elk hunting? Can a solo hunt be therapeutic, per se?
Albers: Absolutely. Dangerous, but absolutely. Author’s note: Here, I asked Albers to clarify if he meant ‘dangerous’ from a personal safety standpoint, and he quickly replied ‘yes.’ The last two days of archery season last year, I hunted by myself and killed a bull in under 24 hours. The best time I had, playing the mental game of hunting, was when I hunted by myself.