Elk NetworkEarning Your Elk Hunting MBA by Randy Newberg

Bugle - Featured Articles | April 29, 2024

I’ve become convinced that every business school curriculum should include public land elk hunting. If you sent all Master of Business Administration (MBA) students on a required, two-week elk hunt, they’d come back better prepared for the business world.

It’s the kind of thought that occurs to you as you’re sitting in a dark stand of Douglas fir as a cold wind blasts across the mountainside. Or maybe as you’re driving home exhausted after a long day getting your butt handed to you in the elk woods.

Most business school curriculums focus on problem-based learning, or how to solve the problems commonly encountered in business. Throughout a 35-year career, I noticed parallels between the life skills that make a good elk hunter and those that make a successful businessperson.



In my first six years of elk hunting, I operated without a real plan, and I never fired a shot. Finally, I realized I couldn’t keep doing the same thing. During the summer of 1997, I built a detailed plan to kill an elk on opening weekend of rifle season in Montana. First, I devoured North American Elk: Ecology and Management edited by Jack Ward Thomas and Dale Toweill. Though it’s more than 800 pages, I read that elk bible twice that summer.

From my research I learned that in late October, when I’d be hunting, bull elk are looking for places to get away from hunting pressure and recover from the rut. I went over my maps and found a place where elk might go when the first shots rang out.

After mentally rehearsing my plan, I arrived at the trailhead, slept overnight in my truck with all my gear like tuna packed in a tin can, then creaked the door open three hours before daylight and began hiking.

I arrived at my chosen spot well before sunrise and waited.

Around 10 A.M. I awakened from a morning nap as a stick broke. I sat up and listened. I heard something working down the gentle slope above me. I cycled the action of my .270.

A brown shape walked down the trail that crossed 80 yards away. The horizontal lines soon materialized—an elk. Dang, a cow. No tag for her.

As she worked her way through the stunted lodgepole to my left, I looked up to see another brown shape working its way down the trail. I lifted my binos and spotted antlers—a legal bull.

He walked straight into my crosshairs, at 60 yards. An easy shot, even with the nervous tremors brought on by six snake-bit seasons.

Imagine if business owners and CEOs started their businesses the way I started hunting elk. What if they said, “I hope we get lucky this year. Maybe our stock price will rise.” That’s laughable. No businessperson succeeds without a comprehensive plan and neither does an elk hunter. If you jettison a strategy and look for shortcuts, what you’re really saying is, “I hope I get lucky today.” And you might. But odds are, you won’t. Once I focused on planning and being a student of elk, I killed five elk in five seasons.

Today they are so many resources available to help you make an elk hunting plan, there’s no reason to wing it. In addition to calling the area biologist and game warden, you can check out mapping and planning apps like onX maps and GOHUNT.



If you sent a team of businesspeople on a 10-day elk hunt, those still scaling ridges on the afternoon of day 10 have what it takes to succeed.

Let’s face it, nine out of ten days we fail while elk hunting. Like most successful businesspeople, elk hunters learn that giving up is permanent, the equivalent of hunting insolvency. Determination in both business and elk hunting is what allows the planning and the investment to eventually pay off.

As you’ve just read, I failed at elk hunting for six years. I almost gave up. Thankfully, I have what a friend termed “missionary zeal.” This determination to continue despite any obstacle or failure catapulted me from a lazy elk hunter to a successful one, just as it launched me forward in each of the three businesses I’ve built up throughout my career.

When I planned to start my third business, I envisioned a media platform for the self-guided public-land elk hunter. But at the Shooting Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show in 2008, the outdoor media experts laughed my idea out of the room.

Returning home, my wife told me I seemed dejected.

“Yeah, all the professionals tell me this idea is impossible.” She got this look like, oh no, they told him it can’t be done.

Today, that business employs eight people.


Analyzing data and making quick decisions

Like successful business operators, successful elk hunters don’t fall prey to analysis paralysis. Both can take huge amounts of data bombarding them at light speed, then process and prioritize that information to make decisions that lead to success.

What I encounter in a typical business day requires analysis, quick thinking and action. I might open my computer and see that one of my vendors can’t get something to me in time for an event. Although there’s probably a “what if” scenario in my business plan telling me what to do, I have to factor in the different variables and act quickly to find a solution. Those same skills are essential to an even higher degree in elk hunting.

Hunters probably take for granted the volumes of information they process every minute, every step. When I’m hunting, I’m constantly dealing with variables, asking “What is the wind going to do in two hours? What are the elk going to do in a drought year? What about hunting pressure from the other side of the mountain? What do I do when the wind changes?”

For example, once as I was trying to sneak close to a large herd with many bulls harassing the herd bull, the wind was a steady late-afternoon thermal with a slight prevailing westerly. By the time I made it within archery range, the sun sank behind the hills and the heavier air changed the direction of the thermal, trapping me.

Knowing the bedding area, feeding area and the trail leading between them, I made a quick decision that the camera guy and I would give up on the elk we could see. Instead, we’d set up along the trail and wait for elk on their way from the bedding area. We didn’t have much time. If we didn’t move, the thermal would mess us up.

We moved to a spot just downwind of the trail. Within twenty minutes a bull and his four cows came walking down it. The cows noticed something and studied us for a few minutes. Then they moved on. I ranged the stump where they stopped at 38 yards. A minute later, the bull came out, stopping at the same stump to look back. His pause lasted just long enough for my well-placed arrow to travel that pre-ranged distance.

Once the thermals changed, had I hesitated, waited or pondered, the elk would have seen us moving or the wind would have betrayed us.


Investing in yourself and your skillset

When I decided I wanted to hone my specialty in trust taxation, I spent a couple years studying and taking every possible course offered locally. Finally, I swallowed the huge cost and attended a week-long conference on trust law, known as the best in the country and held in the concrete mess that is Chicago. My Montana tuxedo of boots and a sport coat, contrasted sharply with the custom suits worn by all other attendees.

It was expensive. It was complicated. It was at times uncomfortable. Yet, it was the best investment I ever made in my certified public accountant life. That conference served as pivot point that allowed my CPA career to take a new and more profitable direction.

The people who make the same kinds of investments in themselves when it comes to hunting—researching elk year-round, practicing marksmanship, studying elk habits, studying weather patterns, scouting hunting areas each year and reading up on elk—they are the people whose hunting careers take a profitable turn, leading to consistently punched tags.


Treating obstacles as opportunities

Thomas Eddison said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Every elk hunter and every businessperson should write that on the back of their hand. Opportunity is out there. It just might not look like it.

During the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote communications companies like Zoom could have seen an insurmountable obstacle to their business success. They could have said, “No one is going to buy anything with the world coming to an end.” Instead, many recognized the opportunity for their products to provide solutions to problems created by the pandemic. Those companies capitalized on that opportunity and succeeded. Zoom saw a 383% growth in its overall value during the pandemic.

When the wind and snow rages during an elk hunt, instead of being discouraged and heading back to a snug wall tent glowing with woodstove heat, successful elk hunters see an opportunity. Bad weather forces the elk to move. It’s time to walk that extra mile back to a known migration corridor.


Controlling what you can, accepting what you can’t

My grandma always told me, “If you get up in the morning and you think it’s going to be a good day or a bad day, you’re probably right.” We can’t control the wind, the weather, the moon phase, drought periods, disease, hunting pressure, habitat conditions or herd dynamics. When you show up at the trailhead with your plan for the weekend, unexpected things happen. It’s the same in business. You try to stay positive and learn to update your plan as factors change, knowing that you can never prepare for every eventuality.


Doing more with less

In the perfect world, a CEO would have every dollar of capital needed, all the professional expertise, the perfect governance structure, a fail-proof business plan and a premier brand to build on. Those situations are akin to Alice in Wonderland. For one thing, no matter the size of a business, you can always use more capital.

There are many stories about businesses started with small sums and built to large corporations because the founders understood the best investment of their limited capital. After founding three businesses from scratch, I can relate to the “more with less” principle. I didn’t have a ton of capital to draw from, so I invested what I had in qualified employees who could bring returns to the business. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t immediate, but it worked.

When I began hunting, I made do with a lot less—it’s all I could afford. In a picture taken during my first Montana hunting season in 1992, I’m hunting in Wranglers and Converse. I had a $49 pair of binoculars and an old beat-up rifle. My pack was my Jansport college book bag. I still took a nice pronghorn buck and a good whitetail that season, making some of my fondest memories.

I’d made slight upgrades in the pictures of my early elk hunts. I wore old work boots, mismatched fabrics and carried a slightly nicer pair of binoculars and a .270.

Being forced to do more with less made me a better hunter, just like working with less in business made me a better business owner. It’s much less a choice than it is a necessity.

Public land elk hunters who consistently fill tags embody this Theodore Roosevelt statement, “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.”


Learning to hunt elk successfully is a years-long commitment. But those that stick with it, master the problem-based learning skills needed to consistently tag elk—skills often taught as part of an MBA program. Are you ready to pursue your elk hunting MBA?