Article contributed by Field Staff Writer J. Minich
As summer again passes by in the blink of an eye, hunting seasons for most of us are just around the corner. It can be difficult to get in the right mindset for hunting preparations when it’s 90 degrees out and your mind is more geared toward beaches and barbecues than bucks and bows. Successful hunters can attest that year-long preparation is a major key to success, so the time is now to get tuned up for hunting season.
Meanwhile, “Hunting Fitness” is also quite the fad these days. Spend a little time paying attention to hunting media, and you will see hunters and huntresses pushing a litany of workout programs and nutritional supplements marketed towards hunters.
No doubt, being fit in many cases will improve your chances of success, in addition to the everyday health and confidence benefits it provides. But just how far do you need to go with it?
This can be intimidating to new and inexperienced hunters. Do you really need to be able to run a super marathon like Cam Hanes or deadlift a small car to go on an elk hunt? No! Of course you don’t.
Here is a fun, and hopefully helpful little quiz to help develop some baseline expectations. Remember, it’s just a fun quiz and ultimately this is a highly personal and subjective topic. This by no means constitutes health information or specific training recommendations.
Instructions: Complete each question (honestly), and total the points at the end
What is your approximate fitness baseline?
- Super athlete (1 point)
- Good shape, need a little tune up (3 points)
- Decent shape, need some work (5 points)
- I take the elevator up 1 flight of stairs (7 points)
What terrain are you gearing up to hunt?
- Flatland (1 point)
- Rolling hills (3 points)
- Steep hills, coulees, canyons, (5 points)
- Moderate mountainous terrain (7 points)
- Mountain goat country (10 points)
- Ground blind (0 point)
- Treestand (1 point)
- Still hunt (2 points)
- Tracking (3 points)
- Spot and stalk/mobile calling (run and gun) (4 points)
Average hiking distance each day?
- Hiking? That’s what ATV’s are for! (0 points)
- 100-400 yards (1 point)
- 400 yards – 1 mile (2 points)
- 1-3 miles (3 points)
- 3+ miles (5 points)
How much gear do you need to carry?
- Almost none (0 points)
- Small day pack (1 point)
- Treestand and some gear (3 points)
- Backpacking expedition (5 points)
If successful, how are you getting the meat out timely?
- Easily! (truck/ATV/horse) (1 point)
- Drag less than ½ mile (3 points)
- Drag ½-1 mile (5 points)
- Drag more than 1 mile (7 points)
- Backpack or game cart less than 3 miles (2 points)
- Backpack or game cart more than 3 miles (5 points)
- Uphill bonus (per 500 feet elevation gain) (3 points for each 500 feet carrying or dragging uphill)
What is the nearest size of the game you are hoping to harvest?
- Turkey or small (0 points)
- Deer/Antelope (1 point)
- Sheep/caribou (2 points)
- Elk (3 points)
- Moose/Bison (5 points)
Done? Time to tally up the points and see where you stand:
Less than 15 points: No worries. You don’t have a very intense hunt planned. If you are in this category, there’s a very good chance you hunt whitetails on private land and have access to ATV’s. General health concerns aside, don’t injure yourself and stay within your limits, and you will be fine.
15-25 points: Most hunts probably fall into this category. Definitely an element of physicality, but nothing too crazy for the average person. You could benefit from a basic fitness program. Focus on light cardio, flexibility, and core strength. Assess what you anticipate your weaknesses will be and focus on improving those areas. Getting meat out of the field timely is typically the most demanding aspect. You are responsible for knowing that you are in good enough shape to do so before pulling the trigger.
26-40 points: You have a moderately intense hunt planned, and need to be physically prepared. Good cardio endurance is a must, and your legs and core need to be strong to climb mountains and drag or pack out game. Reasonably fit individuals with experience in this category will know what they need to do to get fine-tuned for hunting season. Since this is geared toward more inexperienced hunters, know that if you fall within this range, you are getting into a more difficult, but probably attainable hunt. You would be wise to seek the advice of a mentor to help determine your baseline and fine-tune your fitness program to be in appropriate shape to be safe and successful in your specific situation.
41+ points: You have a very intense hunt planned and need to be in great shape to be successful and safe. This is NOT a good category for an inexperienced hunter. Try working your way up the difficulty ladder. Experienced hunters know that these hunts require very diligent physical preparation, and typically have significant safety concerns associated with mountainous terrain.
Live the lifestyle: it’s easier to live an active lifestyle and fine tune preparation for hunting season than it is to go through boot camp-style preparation for each one
Mental fortitude: As important as physical preparation is, mental fortitude is exponentially more important. Hunting is not always “fun”. There are aches and pains, blisters, bad weather, sore muscles, and general discouragement from many things, notably from not seeing game. The best hunters push through the bad times with determination and a constant vision of success. If hunting were easy, grocery stores would not need a meat department.
Keep it real: Any exercise is better than no exercise. But you have to get out and simulate the real thing as best as possible. Sure, a treadmill on 15% incline is better mountain training than sitting on the couch doing curls with a bag of potato chips. But if you have access to mountains, go climb them! Similarly, hiking trails are great for training, but often leave people unprepared for the uneven footing and obstacles that go with hunting. Get off-trail and out of your comfort zone once in awhile. Don’t have access to mountains? Grab a heavy backpack and run stadium stairs or something, get creative. Don’t fear looking stupid! There are a lot of crazy people out there and if I’m going to look crazy, at least I’ll be fit doing it!
Injury prevention: Injuries will derail the best laid plans. Don’t get caught up trying to run super marathons or lift weights like an NFL lineman. You WILL get hurt and ruin hunts trying to push training too far. Limit low risk activities. Probably not the best idea to be doing dirt bike tricks the week before a hunt, if hunting is an important priority to you.
Benchmark and track: I am a competitive person, so I am constantly testing and timing myself. Timed ascents up mountains, number of pushups in 3 minutes, scores at 3-D shoots; the list goes on. Motivation to beat my personal bests drives me forward and makes me a better hunter.
Train with someone: For many people, it’s easier to have a partner or group to push them than to go it alone
Don’t fall for the quick fix: Training takes time and hard work. Some workout programs are based on sound science and results, some not so much. Nutritional supplements are just that; supplements, and must be used appropriately in conjunction with hard work. Look past the glamour and marketing and use common sense when it comes to these products.
Read More Articles by Field Staff Writer J. Minich