By Johnny Mack
Instagram – @soulseekersnation
There are very few hunts in this life that challenge a man’s soul, grit and determination quite like a backcountry bear hunt. With the mission of “Mentorship is Conservation” at the foundation of everything we do at Soul Seekers, it is always exciting and extremely refreshing to have adults who want to reinvent themselves and create a new legacy, reach out to us for support. It is even better when their lives are impacted enough for them to go full circle with sharing the mission themselves, as they sharpen their own skills by passing on what they have learned. Ultimately in the end, you can never out give good and there is no better way to reach a level of mastery quite like teaching others what you know.
In February of 2020 I received a direct message on our Instagram account from a guy that was interested in learning how to hunt. This message jumped out to me unlike other messages that we receive because a mutual friend forewarned me this guy, who we later nicknamed “Iron Will,” would reach out at some point in time. Sure enough, he messaged at a great time where I could talk with him on the phone. I quickly returned his message and told him to call me right then and there. After a few minutes and what I’m sure was a gut check on Will’s part, I received the phone call from him which would set off a chain of events that drastically impacted Will’s and my life forever.
On that call I learned that Will and his family had a desire to be self-reliant as they were beginning their journey towards a full on homestead lifestyle with hunting playing a big role in it. As we all know, hunting isn’t easy, however there is no better place to start learning about food procurement than getting hands on with nature and experiencing it for yourself.
After a couple phone calls and a few social gatherings, I invited Will to be one of our mentee’s for the 2020 hunting season. With black bears being the origin animal for Soul Seekers and the first big game animal I ever notched a tag on, I believe that bear hunting is the perfect gateway for learning how to hunt as seasons in Washington state are long and provide a lot of cross-training for other quarry. Most people I encounter say they want to hunt deer when starting out but I like to encourage them to pursue bruins as it will open multiple other hunting opportunities for them down the road.
In August of 2020, Will loaded up early in the morning to join us as we set off into the Cascade mountains of the Pacific Northwest in search of the fabled bruin. Not only was this Will’s first hunt, but this was also his very first time backpacking as well. On the hunt, Will challenged his fortitude as a man, while deepening his resolve in a lifestyle that would create a ripple effect far beyond what he ever could have imagined. It wasn’t until a few months after the hunt that Will divulged he was having second thoughts shortly after taking off that morning, as he was asking himself “What have I gotten myself into?” while the elevation of the trail became more difficult and the distance increased. At the end of that hunt, I could tell that something changed inside of Will. That he experienced something that revolutionized his life and he now had a specific goal ahead of him. That goal was to become the ultimate provider and that is when he picked up his nickname, “Iron Will” because his determination could not be broken.
When returning from the hunt and truly understanding the transformational power that hunting holds, Will shared with me that he was hooked. Not only did he fall in love with hunting, he also fell in love with the brotherhood and community that goes along with it. Hunting has the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and the bonds that are formed in the mountains are ones that last a lifetime. And now in our case, generations, as our families and children have created a love for each other as well. (If you want to watch Will’s first hunt, check out episode 4 & 5 in season 1 of Soul Seekers on CarbonTV by clicking HERE.)
Fast forward 2 years to August 2022 as Iron Will officially joined the Soul Seekers team as he wanted to impact the lives of others just as his life was two years prior. Only this time he had the privilege of being the mentor while he and Soul Seekers teammate Tony, set off to the mountains once again with a new mentee and a goal of notching his first bear tag.
It didn’t take long as they spotted a few bears on the hunt and were finally able to make a move into position that allowed Will to send his 6.5 creedmoor 143 grain ELD-X down range at a beautiful color phase bear. When he got back from the hunt and told me all about it, I was ecstatic for him as I heard the pure joy exude from his voice. He said, “Once I got set up for the shot and buried my eye into the scope with a beautiful color phase bear on the other end of the glass, I was locked in and felt like I had been training for this moment my whole life. I slowly squeezed the trigger and watched as my bullet made impact with the bear while tucking its nose and tumble down the mountain. I was in shock and kept asking myself, “Did this really just happen?” Having the opportunity to teach our mentee Joe how to hunt, field dress an animal and everything else that goes along with the adventure, I felt truly blessed and grateful for the opportunity you provided me two years ago.”
As I received the news of the successful hunt, I had feelings that reminded me of being a father. Watching Iron Will’s journey unfold while getting to play a role in it is something that is truly fulfilling and I want more people in this world to experience. If we really care about hunting lasting for generations, then we as hunters need to invest into the lives of others. There are souls all over this great nation that are waiting to be impacted and set on fire by something that challenges their courage, grit and determination. For us at Soul Seekers, we believe any hunt can be that catalyst for a individual. We also believe that the mystique and culture surrounding “bears in the woods” provides that much more adventure when it comes to the hunt and why we advocate for bear hunting as much as possible. Especially when it comes to someone’s first hunt. It is a special moment to be able to lay hands on a primary predator and something no one will ever forget.
In the end, if you want to give the greatest gift to another by introducing them to hunting or providing them with a skillset that will impact their lives and generations to come, then become a mentor. You don’t have to know everything to be a mentor. You just have to know one thing, and that is how impactful hunting has been in your own life. There is no greater gift than to sacrifice your time and energy for the lives of others knowing that you can never out give good. You too can be a part of Soul Seekers Nation by living out the mission of “Mentorship is Conservation” while recruiting and mentoring others. It only takes a spark to start a fire and before you know it, there will be a blaze sweeping across this country all because you asked someone if they wanted to start hunting black bears. In the end, there ain’t no hunt like a bear hunt and you know it’s true. (Iron Will’s bear hunt will be airing in Season 3 of Soul Seekers on CarbonTV in August 2023. For more information about Soul Seekers, go to soulseekersnation.com and check out our podcast.) #mentorshipisconservation