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Dustin Diefenderfer | Photos: Niveus Productions & Steven Drake | 6.9.2019

Mental Toughness Challenge: How To Avoid the “Quit Moment”

  • Pursuit: Everyday

MTNTOUGH Fitness Lab believes eliminating psychological barriers is the key to reaching our goals. Their team, which includes former US Navy SEALs and Army Rangers knows the most important muscle you can train sits between your ears... the brain. Dustin Diefenderfer, lifelong backcountry hunter & founder of MTNTOUGH, shares a straightforward Mental Toughness Challenge to boost your ability to endure anything the backcountry will throw at you this fall.

Nearly all great hunts have a “Quit Moment,” a trial that separates the successful hunter from the unsuccessful. For those who triumph, and do so consistently, I believe it comes down to one thing: mental toughness.

The good news is: your mind, just like your body, can be trained. Mental toughness and perseverance can be cultivated through proper training… specifically training above the neck.

This mental toughness challenge may appear simple, but if you can follow the plan for 30 days—no excuses, no days off, no substitutions—you will come out the other end a different person, guaranteed. A new person on the way to having an unbeatable mind they can leverage in the backcountry.

Trekking through snow in late season conditions.

Why Train the Mind?

Data suggests that only about 10% of Western elk hunters are successful each year. When you look specifically at those that kill mature bulls on public land with OTC tags, that number drops to around 3%.

If you ask people about the data, some will say it’s about “finding the right spots.” Others will say it’s about how many days they hunt in the field. Some will point to skills like calling or shooting longer distances. Of course these are all important factors and certainly some luck also plays a role.

But I believe it’s something else altogether.

Something I don’t see many people talking about. What is it that separates the 10% of successful hunters from the other 90%?

Snow pours down as hunters figure out their next move.

The “Quit Moment”

We’ve all been there, on the side of a mountain, mentally exhausted. Tired. Cold. Hurting. Hungry. Thirsty. Beat down.

I call it the “Quit Moment.”

Most guys don’t talk much about it. It’s that moment when thoughts start creeping in. Thoughts of home. The kids. Work. A warm bed. Good food. Any reason to leave. Do I push deeper until I find elk? My knee is killing me… can I really put in another day of this? Is this safe? Before they know it, the decision’s already been made… And they find themselves back home. The hunt is over.

At first, going home feels good. Then a few days later, the regret sets in and starts to eat at them. The “what ifs” run through in their minds. What if I had just stayed one more day? What if that bull was just over the next ridge? What if I would have worked harder?

It’s never about the fact that they came home empty-handed. Any day spent hunting in the wild is better than most.The regret is more about knowing they could have given it more. That the mountain won. That they gave up.

The truth is: during that “Quit Moment”, most people give up.

Regardless of where they’re hunting. Or how far they can shoot. It’s about something else entirely. So, what’s the difference?

Hunters avoid the quit moment amidst wild winter weather.

The Difference Between A Consistently Successful Hunter and the Other 90%

After a lifetime of backcountry hunting and training hunters, I believe the thing that separates the 10% from the rest is not what most people focus on during the year. Don’t get me wrong, the right gear is vital. Scouting and knowing the right locations are game changers. Being a good shot is critical. Physical fitness is a game changer.

But at the end of the day, every incredible hunting story I’ve heard of or been a part of, has a “Quit Moment” right in the middle. Whether it was some wicked storm that blew in. Or they ran out of food and water. Or they got cliffed out or stuck in some blow down all night. Most great hunting stories have a moment when things get really bad on the mountain. It’s the moment we all get tested, both mentally and physically.

The difference is this: the guys that are successful, they push through that “Quit Moment.” They stay one more day, they hike one more ridge, they wait out the storm. They don’t quit… and usually end up with success at the end of the story.

The other 90% stop. They go home. They stay in the tent. They can’t get through that moment. And their story ends right there.

And I believe it comes down to one thing: Mental Toughness.

And most of the consistently successful backcountry hunters that I’ve met and learned from, they have it. That’s why they can make it 7-10 days on the mountain, barely seeing an animal; hike 10 miles a day with a heavy pack on; climb thousands of feet of elevation day after day; survive whatever Mother Nature throws at them: the harshest temperatures, wicked snow, frigid cold, blazing heat.

And most importantly, that’s why they can push through the “Quit Moment.”

I believe mental toughness is what separates the successful backcountry hunters from the ones that get crushed by the mountain. And the cool thing is: getting it is no secret!

Squatting in SITKA TTW gear.

The Mental Toughness Challenge

To succeed we need to take responsibility and cultivate mental toughness on our own. Love it or hate it, in our modern times, things are easy and we are over conditioned to live comfortable lives. But the backcountry is unforgiving and nothing is comfortable.

Perseverance, grit, mental toughness, resilience, and tenacity… all these things are cultivated through pushing yourself past the point of what is comfortable. Controlling your negative emotions in uncomfortable situations is the key to unlocking sustained success and we need to train for this, just like we would the body, or shooting our bow all summer.

We must own it...and you can’t buy it, you have to earn it.

So here is the challenge: if you complete this, you will be a different person mentally in 30 days. The rules are simple… no compromises. No days off, no substitutions, if you miss a step at Day 10, you start all the way back over at Day 1. This is about forging the discipline and learning execution. It is going to be hard, but that is the point. It is about developing mental grit beyond what seems possible to most people… so this Fall you don’t quit on the mountain.

Here is the rundown: for the next 30 days—no excuses, no days off—complete these 3 steps:

1: Wake up an hour early every day:

This simple step is all about doing the small things right. Deciding not to hit snooze in the morning is straight up mental toughness, and this daily task of waking up an hour early will drive your productivity through the roof. Use the time to get a workout in, read a book, or do some self-reflection. Trust me, you are going to need this extra hour to complete the next steps as well.

This translates directly to your hunt in the mountains, which is why it’s #1. Most backcountry hunts have you waking up way earlier than you do in your daily life… sometimes 3am or 4am to get to the ridge before the sun rises. Start the habit now so your body adapts.

2: Take a five minute cold shower every day:

This is about learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Set a five minute timer, turn the shower to cold—no compromises—and get in. Don’t touch the temperature dial until the timer beeps. You will quickly learn this is all about breathing and will develop many of the same breathing skills you need to calm your body and heart rate before your shot this Fall.

Plus, the benefits of cold showers include boosted mood, stress relief, and increased energy. Not only that, but 90% of hunting is uncomfortable… you’ll be cold, you’ll have to suffer through a storm, you’ll be glassing in wind… and Step #2 will get you mentally ready for it.

3: Follow a functional workout plan and don’t miss a single workout:

Whether you join our online MTNTOUGH Backcountry Hunter Preseason Prep Program or another training program, find a plan, follow that plan, and don’t miss a single workout. Travel, holidays, birthdays, illness… doesn’t matter. Don’t miss a single workout for 30 days. Just make sure your plan is functional; bodybuilding plans aren’t going to help in the high country this Fall. The worst thing you can do is start doing cardio in August and think you’re ready to hit the mountains… your body won’t have enough time to adjust.

Not only will this get your body ready for the fall, it’s also going to help you mentally prepare for a 3, 5, or 7 day hunt. During that time, there are no days off. You don’t skip a day to rest. You’re only there for that short window and you’ve got to be mentally prepared to give it everything you can until it’s time to pack up and go home.

Understand Your Mind as a Machine

This Mental Toughness Challenge looks simple, but the truth is not many people can finish it. The few who finish it will be different people. People ready to handle so much more. People who will have far less “Quit Moments” on the mountain.

But at the end of the day, it is up to you. No one can do it for you.

The mountains are unforgiving. They will test you in every dimension and will throw everything at you. To be successful you have to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. The mind is fickle, and you need to learn to manage that inner voice.

This challenge is designed to build that muscle—the ability to endure—before you end up in that “Quit Moment” you could have avoided.

Make a commitment, enlist some friends, and get started!


MTNTOUGH Fitness Lab located in Bozeman, MT, has established itself as the elite source for improving mental toughness, physical preparation, and performance research for the backcountry hunter and tactical athlete.

Research and Development is at their core, and they have spent two years testing their MTNTOUGH Backcountry Hunter Preseason Prep program on some of the most dedicated mountain hunters. You can access this online program you can access straight from your phone to prepare mentally and physically for the demands of the backcountry.

They have assembled an impressive team for this task, including Alex Fichtler (Former US Navy SEAL), Ara Megerdichian (US Army Ranger, Lieutenant Colonel and former West Point Instructor), and Jimmy Alsobrook (Mountain Training Legend & National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer).