Hunting is hard…but western hunting is just plain difficult! It strains your gear, your emotions and your body all at the same time. Hunting, regardless of the technologies we bring to the field will always remain a primal grudge match between predator and prey. The only thing we can improve upon as hunters is our fitness level. The frustration we feel during the fall hunting seasons reflects our own inability to handle the wild at her best and most fit. Some hunters forego preparations in the offseason and pay the price through not tagging an animal, being unable to keep up with the demands of the hunt or worst of all, may not be able to fully enjoy the hunt. While training to hunt may sound cliché, everyone’s journey is their own. Each person must want to take it upon themselves to be in peak form come fall. Each person’s “peak form” may be different, but your body and mental game must be at a minimum to complete your hunting adventure. This means taking hunting workouts and fitness seriously in the offseason.
PODCAST: John Stallone and Willi Schmidt – Planning and Preparing for Big Game Hunts Out of State
Before You Start: Consider Safety
Diet and exercise should always be considered under the advice and guidance of a medical professional. Their knowledge and expertise can help you understand how to fully optimize diet and exercise for you and your body based on your age, current fitness level, and any injuries. Another reason to check with health care professionals is to keep a working track of your vitals, specifically your heart. Every year hunters succumb to a fatal heart attack in the wild and they may have never known they had a lurking heart problem. The actions of the wild through hiking and heavy lifting can lead to serious strain on the heart muscle and leave you in a dangerous situation especially if you are traveling to higher elevations on your hunt. Many months before hunting season it is always good to check your cardio health. Consider building a baseline of data every spring to track year after year.
The Right Way to Start Is Through Nutrition
A truck is worthless if the gasoline is of poor quality. Poor fuel robs the vehicle of efficiency through strength and endurance. The same goes for the body, the foods we eat, and supplements we take, as they make up a large portion of the overall performance and results we see through preparing our bodies. If you are not sure where to start, start by evaluating what you are eating and consult a professional if you need help shaping a plan.
A good rule of thumb is to stick to lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, complex carbohydrates throwing out simple carbs and starches and looking into additional supplements like Wilderness Athlete products. Adding supplement powders to your breakfast smoothies are a great way to further optimize the body. Workout recovery mixes like Protein Plus or Brute Strength also help you get the most from your time in the gym or from out hammering miles on your legs by providing a balanced proportion of protein and carbohydrates and proven nutritional anti-inflammatories. When you push your body to the next level through training, it will need help through supplements to replace the nutrients you are so quickly burning.
A Body in Motion
Exercise can seem overwhelming. Thousands of hunting workouts are possible and endless numbers of movements and methods, theories and techniques create a crisscrossing mire of confusion that the everyday hunter can find frustrating. Just getting up off the couch to get to the gym and break a sweat is a daunting task if there is no direction and no plan. Exercise requires a drive, desire, determination and most of all a plan!
Every hunt is different within itself just as each game species requires different hunting tactics. Each hunt will push different parts of the body and you can make the best use of the long offseason to prepare for the specifics of your hunt. In general, there are workouts that help in overall hunting fitness.
Hunting Workouts to Focus on For Western Hunting
When it comes to mountain and western hunting your entire being must be ready for the wear and tear of the daily grind. To be able to enjoy the rigors of mountain hunting, cardio endurance and leg and core strength should be on the forefront of your offseason workouts. Just remember that big bucks, bulls, and rams are killed because you were able to get to them and keep up with them, not because you muscle flexed them to death.
Cardio health can be achieved through any different forms of exercise. Running, biking, elliptical machines, stair climbers or even high-intensity workout videos provide quality cardio routines. Consistency is the key to building cardio stamina. Nobody says that it’s the most fun exercising in the world, but it is effective and trains the mind to deal with pain. The same pain you’ll deal with on a long hunt and hopefully packing out your trophy.
Pushups, lateral raises, and shoulder presses are simple daily exercises. Pushups work the triceps and parts of the shoulder muscles in addition to core muscles, back and pectoral muscles. Pushups are a stamina building exercise using your own body weight. Consistent and daily repetitions are the key to building long-term strength and endurance through this exercise in your off season training.
Lateral raises are another easy exercise not requiring heavy weight or much time. Lateral raises are an exercise in which you raise your arm in a Y, T and I form and hold for a few seconds at a time. This work out can be done with or without weights. If you choose to use weights, use small dumb bells no greater than 15lbs.
Leg day is often skipped since it requires much more effort both physically and mentally. If you can get over the mental hump of procrastination, working out your legs is not difficult at all.
The weight room also has plenty of options to strengthen legs muscles. Squats and leg presses are widely regarded at the go-to leg exercise, and for good reason. These motions work nearly every area of your legs and build core strength and stability. The form is the key for both methods and should always be done with a spotting partner. Other exercises include motions possible with dumb bells. Vertical and side-to-side lunges holding dumb bells are great for lower body resistance training. These motions work parts of your legs regular squats cannot. In the mountains every part of your legs are worked and strained as the constant stop and go, pushing and balancing yourself is a part of each step.
Packing out any animal is an ordeal. Often times the luxury of having pack animals is not available and the tough work must be done on your own back. Having a strong core and back is one of the most overlooked aspects of off-season preparation. Sure, everyone wants a great looking six pack to play the xylophone on, yet, a strong core is beyond the glamor. A strong core provides balance and strength as it is a part of your overall base. Beyond crunches, there are other great offseason workouts you can do to build a strong core. Squats help build core strength as a part of that routine, but planks and leg lifts directly target the core. These resistant style exercises are brutally painful when done consistently in the gym but help you get the results you need.
Back muscles provide the stability and stamina for carrying heavy loads. Exercises like lateral pull downs and dumbbell rows build these back muscles. Most gyms will have a lateral pull down the machine. With a wide grip bar, the idea is to use your scapula muscles in a downward motion. Pinch your shoulder blades together for a full motion and slowly let the bar back up. Don’t overload yourself and have incorrect form as this will not help you achieve the strength and results you need for the mountains. If a lateral pull down machine is not available, pull ups can serve a similar function working both back and arm muscles through a general pulling motion. Using one’s own body focus on going straight up and down to avoid swaying from side to side. There are many variations of pull ups from wide grip to revise grips and close grip work different parts of the lateral muscles. The key is proper form and consistency.
Hunting Workout Videos
These are a handful of hunting workout videos I have recorded over the year of some of the workouts I want to do to ensure each part of my body is ready for the hunting adventure ahead!
Core and Stability
Workout: Focus on the core with a combination of workouts seen in the video below, and by using a combination of balance and Bosu balls, medicine balls, and weighted sandbags.
The Hunting Application: Core and stability workouts as seen in the video below are absolutely critical when hunting in serious and uneven terrain. This is especially true when you are traversing the rough terrain with a heavy backpack.
Barbell Lower Back and Legs
Workout: Standard squats with a barbell strengthens your lower back, legs, and core for strength and stability.
The Hunting Application: This exercise has one of the most practical applications of any hunting workout as it applies to almost every aspect of the hunt from packing in gear to scaling the mountain to packing out the animal you’ve harvested. Do NOT overlook this highly effective training exercise while preparing for your next hunting trip.
Workout: The weighted sled workout is huge for overall strength and increases endurance by raising the heart sand forcing you to control your breathing.
The Hunting Application: There’s nothing worse than going on a hunt you’ve been planning for several months and realizing once you’re there that you’re not physically prepared. Struggle with the sled, and excel on the mountain. This approach will make your hunt that much more enjoyable!
Trap Bar Deadlift
Workout: Deadlifts are a great way to strengthen your legs, back, and core
The Hunting Application: Lower back injuries are common in the mountains. Lifting totes onto the pack mules, fetching water from the spring, packing your animal back to the horses. All of these tasks are a great opportunity to get hurt if you don’t strengthen your core with exercises like this…
Weighted Pull Ups
Workout: Pull ups speak for themselves… Pull your chest up to the bar and return to rest. This exercise builds several muscle groups to increase upper body strength in general.
The Hunting Application: Whether you’re hanging a new set for whitetails or scaling the final boulder to get to a better vantage point for glassing an opposing mountain range, pull ups are the perfect exercise to give you the upper body strength you need to get where you need to be!
Workout: Shoulder press works your anterior and medial deltoid (shoulder) muscles.
The Hunting Application: You name it… Hoisting gear onto your pack horse. Hanging tree stand sets. Drawing your bow. Anything at eye level or above uses these muscles.
Workout: Rows are a great workout for strengthening your back and specifically your rhomboids, which lie between your shoulder blades and your posterior deltoids, the rear part of your shoulder.
The Hunting Application: This exercise is critical for shot execution and being able to stay at full draw for long periods of time. You’ll be surprised how much easier your bow is to shoot after you’ve been doing this exercise for a while…
Train to Hunt Challenge:
More often than not, most hunters begin their workout programs in July to get ready for the fall. It’s difficult if you have not been working out all year to get motivated or know where to start. Fall seems a long way off and it is often difficult to begin a workout regime in the late winter or spring. Having something to train for in the summer is a great motivator. Train To Hunt was created with this in mind.
There are now nearly a dozen Challenges throughout the country where you can test your fitness and archery shooting skills with others and have something to train for. Although the format has changed for 2017, it is a great program to get you ready for the hunting season, several months before you may have gotten started, The Challenges are a one-day event, and include a 3-D archery shoot in the morning and a Challenge Course in the afternoon. The 19 target, 3-D shoot includes some hunting situations, like shooting from a kneeling position, shooting and then drawing and shooting a follow-up shot within 10 seconds. The afternoon portion includes a longer course where you pack your bow and some weight in your pack and shoot targets along the way. Your 3-D score and your time and score on the Challenge Course are combined for an overall score. Not only does this give some motivation to begin a workout program, the Challenges are a lot of fun and the camaraderie is amazing! Train to Hunt not only puts on these challenges, they also have a workout generator (see below) on the website and can help you create a daily workout depending on your available time and fitness level!
Click Here for the Workout Generator!
Conclusion…Keep the Hunt in Mind
Western hunting is hard when we make it harder than it needs to be. Aside from the challenge of the chase, your body should not have to be the reason you struggle to fill a tag. Training for hunting or performing these hunting workouts in the offseason with the goal of being able to hunt in mind should be your driving power. Don’t let the daunting task of working out or climbing a mountain be the reason your western hunting adventure failed.