“On your mark. Get set. Go!” Hunting season often feels like running a marathon. The starting gun fires at the dawn of opening morning and the fight is on. Two weeks of early mornings with bad coffee, late nights accompanied by a chorus of back aches and exhausted feet, moments of sudden elation followed by disappointment, times where the motivation to take another step crashes into the wall followed by a push to continue comes from somewhere unknown inside yourself.
Just as being a runner isn’t just about a single marathon, being a hunter is about more than the moment of harvesting an animal. Mental and physical releases from the stress of everyday life are found when focusing on the strategies of the hunt, engaging in physical exertion during scouting and the pursuit, and simply taking the time to disengage from the chores of daily life and immerse oneself in the purely present experience of being outdoors. Use the off-season to not only focus on structuring a successful hunt for next year but to continue experiencing the mental and physical benefits involved during the season.
When starting to build an off-season training plan it is important to first take some time and evaluate the goals for the plan. Reflecting on the past hunting season failures and successes will help determine where to focus off-season efforts. Were you not in good enough shape to complete the hikes during your season? Were you not familiar enough with the area you hunted? Was your calling weak? Once the areas for improved effort are defined it is easy to build an off-season maintenance plan you will be motivated and enjoy implementing into your daily routine.
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Decide at the beginning of the off-season which hunts you are aiming to complete in the upcoming year. Study the hunters’ proclamation for each hunt and learn the season dates, regulations and rules, and boundaries of the hunt. Make a list of all the hunts and their specifics. Nothing makes a hunt more unenjoyable than arriving on opening morning and questioning what the limit is or where the actual boundaries lie. Instead of heading out to hunt, you’re searching the back seat of the truck for an old proclamation you hopefully tossed in from the last visit to the sporting goods store.
Next, jump on Google Earth and invest some virtual miles “hiking” the parameters of your upcoming hunt. Google Earth allows you to drop down into an area and scan the terrain, study elevation changes, search for watering holes or tree groupings, identify possible scoping overlooks, and check accessibility. Spend enough time exploring on Google Earth that by the morning of the hunt you could walk the entire area without ever actually having set foot on the ground. From Google Earth, identify landmarks to guide you when actually on site.
If you can actually visit your hunting area, do so! While Google Earth can be a great tool for analyzing and planning, nothing will beat the benefits of in-person field research. Spend time investigating migration paths, watering holes, bedding areas, and feeding sites.
After studying and researching the area, layout hunting plans. Decide routes, overlooks for spotting, and calling areas. Spend time thinking about new techniques you would like to try and how to implement them into the landscape. Make more plans than you have hunting days. For example, if you have a 10-day hunt, create 20 hunting plans. As you build into the stride of hunting season and the exhaustion of early mornings and late nights catches up, the first thing you lose is your creativity. Your ability to implement a different plan, switch courses, or try a different tactic will be overshadowed by exhaustion, and in that state of exhaustion, you will stick to what isn’t working. Having an entire bag full of plans to easily draw from without much thought will keep you fresh and motivated throughout the season.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Runners don’t show up to the race in brand-new shoes, and hunters shouldn’t either. Break in all your equipment before the hunting season. Target practice with your tool of choice, whether it’s a shotgun, bow, rifle, or muzzleloader. Practice, practice, practice, and then spend a little more time practicing. Target shooting will create an unconditional understanding between you and your weapon.
Become completely comfortable with the weight and feel of your gun or bow, develop activation and deactivation of the safety like second nature, constantly exercise your stance and aim, and practice good breathing techniques.
Practicing calls is also a great off-season exercise. Finding YouTube videos for proper call use is a good starting point. Research different brands of the calls you are looking to use. The final step is to call and then call some more. Practice calling until your family throws an intervention and threatens to kick you out if you don’t give up calling.
Developing a consistent workout routine will benefit your hunting season and overall health. Aim for a balanced combination of cardiovascular and weight training. Two to three days a week of week strength sessions with two to three days of aerobic activity is a good starting place.
Also, add in an outdoor hike once a week covering the type of terrain you enjoy hunting. Training for elevation increases, climbing over rocks, and crossing creek beds can only be really practiced by doing that particular type of activity. A few days walking on the treadmill isn’t going to prepare you for hiking up a mountainside, so get out there and spend the entire year training in and enjoying the areas you hunt.
Completing a marathon isn’t accomplished by simply showing up on race day. Success is built in the off-season. Developing an effective and efficient off-season training plan for the hunting season will also result in becoming a stronger, smarter, and more successful hunter season after season.