This is a guest post from Shawn Stafford. Shawn has written for The Journal of Texas Trophy Hunter, North American Whitetail, and Western Elk Hunter. He is a follower of HuntingFit.com and is passionate about combining fitness and hunting in order to increase success in the field.
Many do not fully understand the rigors of successful hunting. There are times one will get lucky and have his prey drop near a road with a couple of buddies to help load it. I personally would not look a gift horse in the mouth and welcome the luck. However, I have hunted long enough and in various locations to know that this is very seldom true for the adventurous hunter. In most instances a significant amount of effort is required to not only get to your hunting location but also to get your quarry out.
Some whitetail hunters from the Midwest may disagree that a high level of fitness is required when hunting from a tree stand 100 yards from the truck. First off, this is not always the case as there are many who venture much further into the woods in search of game. But for this article let’s assume that you are hunting whitetails less than a mile from either your home or vehicle. I have done this many times and been very successful so this is not meant to demean this type of hunting. My focus is on after the shot. I primarily hunt alone and do not have additional help once game is on the ground. Fortunately, I have had this problem many times over the last several years and can attest to the fact that you do not want to be in marginal shape at this point. Try hoisting an entire deer (less the entrails) onto your back (can you say clean and jerk?). It’s not easy. Due to the terrain I was in, dragging that deer out was not really an option. Had I not been in good shape not only would I have likely injured myself while getting the animal on my back but keeping it there for the duration of the hike out (who needs to walk around with a sandbag strapped to their pack?) would have been pure torture if not a failure. I have had to drag deer for anywhere to from 10 yards to half a mile. Dragging 150 lbs plus of dead weight up and down hills is miserable (how about sled training?). I welcome the challenge each year but it’s not a walk in the park by any means. Proper training really is required to complete such a task in a safe and timely manner. There are other instances where I did have a 4-wheeler available and was able to drive it right to the animal. Easy right? No. I needed to load the animal onto the rack (dead lift anyone?) in order to keep it relatively clean and free of debris as to not waste any of the valuable meat. And finally, my all time most dreaded task, getting a dead deer into the back of my truck. Of course there are some products out there that would make this a trivial task but I’m not made of money, right? Until you have wrestled a 200 lb buck with his head flopping this way and that, his legs kicking at you even though he’s long been dead, and his weight always shifting at the most inopportune times you haven’t lived. I have no secrets or suggestions here just pure raw determination and strength. Try doing this when the most exercise/strength training you have had all year was walking from the parking lot to your office with your coffee cup. Good luck with that.
Thus far I have focused on the “easy” whitetail…now on to elk hunting! This requires a whole new level of dedication. Regardless of whether you’re going guided, outfitted, or 100% DIY the mountains will kick your butt (more so if you chose the latter but difficult regardless). Thin air? Yep. Steep inclines/declines? Yep. Treacherous footing? Yep. Obstacles? Yep. Huge, heavy animal? Yep. If you can think of something to make a hunt difficult, elk hunting has it. Unless you’re rich and go to a five star resort where they drive you to the elk then take care of all butchering and packing chores you’re going to need to have some degree of physical fitness about you in order to fully realize all the joys of the experience. I will tell you this much; legs, cardio, legs, cardio, repeat! Examples of what to expect are the 1000’ foot ascent (can you spell stair master?) to the top of the ridge you need to make before daylight in order to cut off the elk returning from feeding you glassed the night before. Your hunting partner puts a marginal shot on a nice 6×6 and you spend 5 hours climbing (max incline on the stairmaster for 300 minutes?) through some of the gnarliest terrain you can imagine tracking it only to be lucky enough to kill it at the very top of the mountain. Problem is you have to get that 700 lb animal to the bottom of the valley so the pack horses can get to it. Trust me, they don’t just roll down the mountain. As a matter of fact, getting that elk off the mountain resulted in a knee surgery for my partner, and he was in good physical condition. Of course packing miles in with your budget camp on your back (get those 100 lb sandbags ready again and do lots of step ups), and by budget I mean the lighter the gear the more expensive. You know when you have to have someone help you get your pack on you’re in for a long day. If you are lucky enough to kill one then the “real” work begins. Things like hanging quarters in trees requires a significant amount of effort. You need to pick the 80 – 90 lb quarter up (squats!) then elevate it as high as you can (shoulder presses!) and now the kicker, hold it there while your partner ties a rope around the tree then the game bag. Then we found ourselves on all fours (bear craws yeah) at 1:00 AM on a near vertical valley wall trying to get back to camp while my partner had the skull and antlers on his back. I need not explain this one but you can imagine spending 3 days packing two elk back to the truck. There are other instances such as uneven footing, deadfalls, loose rock, etc that you’re body needs to be prepared to traverse (don’t forget stretching). We took a couple nasty spills that could have easily resulted in a strained or pulled muscle. In summary, elk hunting is a test of your mental and physical fortitude.
I mainly covered two popular and vastly different species and the lands they inhabit but just about any hunting situation can be improved with a regimented training plan. Participating in a week of bear drives in the Appalachians would not have been possible had I not been physically prepared. Chasing hogs with dogs is much more enjoyable when you can keep up and not be sucking so much wind you can’t stand to shoot. While I have not participated in a sheep or goat hunt, those would be flat out impossible for someone who had not invested in their bodies. If you want to truly maximize your hunting experience the best way to do this is to be in as good as physical shape as you can be. Now is the time to get ready for next season. Good luck!!