As the dogs closed in on the big bruin, he chose thicker and thicker cover. Uneven ground, heavy clothes and dense Maine brush made it feel like my Danner boots had turned into lead. I thought I was in good shape—but obviously not good enough. My pace slowed and I heard the shot: My buddy had reached the treed bear first. He did me a favor; I swore right then and there that I would never again be physically unprepared for a hunt. Now is the time to put in the sweat investment to make yourself a better hunter.
Evaluate Your Needs And Set A Goal
Not everyone is preparing for a Dall Sheep hunt; the average hunter only needs to seek a basic level of fitness that will allow him or her to enjoy outdoor pursuits safely and without discomfort. If you’re out of breath from walking to your stand on level ground or dragging deer a short distance, your fitness level needs some work. On the other hand, if you have a strenuous hunt coming up, you need to put yourself in peak condition if you want the best shot at success.
Make A Plan
Once you’ve set your goal, sit down and make a plan to get there. Decide how many days per week you can commit to your program and put them on the calendar.
Find Your Fitness Fit
My wife can pound away at the elliptical machine for hours without getting bored but hates lifting weights, while my short attention span makes me the exact opposite. Finding an exercise program that best suits your personality is the key to sticking with it—you’re not going to spend hours a week doing something that you absolutely hate. After 15 or so years of traditional weight lifting and cardio workouts that did very little for my ability to chase animals up mountains, I discovered Crossfit. Crossfit bills itself as “functional fitness,” and combines elements of powerlifting, gymnastics, calisthenics and uses other innovative exercises to create an overall level of high physical capability. The workouts are short, very difficult and have put me in the best hunting shape of my life.
Ditch The Routine
Keep your body guessing and you’ll keep your fitness level growing. Doing the same workout over and over merely adapts your body to that workout. Force your body to constantly develop by increasing the intensity, duration and variety of your workouts.
“Starting Strength” author and powerlifting guru Mark Rippetoe said “Strong people are harder to kill than weak people, and more useful in general,” and he’s right. The cardiovascular capacity of a marathoner is great but that alone won’t get hundreds of pounds of elk meat off the mountain. Every workout program should include some type of strength training. Strength training speeds up your metabolism—which burns fat like a furnace and everything becomes easier when you increase strength. Strength training doesn’t have to include weights (though I recommend it); it can be accomplished with push-ups, air-squats, stairs, etc.
Making a commitment like paying for a gym membership or booking that mountain elk hunt you’ve always dreamed about is a great way to keep you committed to your fitness goals. I am 10 months out from a backpack elk hunt at altitudes of 10,000 to 11,000 feet and I live at sea level. It’s that hunt that keeps me motivated every time I head to the gym. When it gets hard and you want to quit, picture that trophy deer, elk or sheep right over the next hill and keep moving.
Many hunters won’t hesitate to drop thousands of dollars on a hunt but balk at the cost of hiring a personal trainer to prepare them for success. If your budget is tight, you can pay for just a session or two with a trainer who can get you started correctly. Group fitness classes are free at many local gyms like the YMCA and provide great “peer pressure” to keep you honest in your workout—you’ll be less likely to take a rest or quit in a room full of people. Online or “virtual training” is available as well. Davie Ferraro is a fitness expert and personal trainer who launched www.ihuntstrong.com to help hunters meet their fitness needs.
Find A Partner
There will be days when you just don’t want to work out, having a partner to push you is key to your success. Just any partner won’t do; try to find someone who more fit than you, and you’ll see yourself quickly closing the gap. A spouse or significant other can be a great partner.
Work Your Workout Into Your Hunt
Early season scouting, bird hunting, dog training and walking varmint hunting can be great workouts if you ditch the truck and hunt hard.
Eat What You Kill
Game meat is lean, organic and high in protein. A healthy diet is key to physical fitness and venison makes a great staple meal.