Get In Shape For Hunting Season

If you hope to make the most of your dream hunt, you’ll need to be in top physical shape, become familiar with your gear to the point of obsession and truly understand the terrain, game and weather you’re about to face.

You have waited, planned and perhaps even saved for years in order to afford that hunt of a lifetime. It may be for mountain sheep, mountain goat or even a guided elk hunt deep in the Rocky Mountains. Or it may be trip far afield to another land for cape buffalo or possibly to Alaska for a monster brown bear. While the trips and terrain may vary, there are some fundamental principals in preparing for such a trip that are essential for a successful, safe and enjoyable hunt.

The place to start is to completely understand from every aspect exactly what the hunt will entail. That includes everything from the type of terrain you will be hunting in, to the weather conditions expected, to the quality of hunt and your trophy expectations. Also, find out if are horses provided or if are you expected to pack in and out, what type of shots you might encounter, what are the optics and calibre of rifle you’ll need. If you are booking with an outfitter, most provide an equipment list. If they don’t, ask for one. But that is just the beginning

Setting Goals

A hunt for some species, particularly those that find lofty mountain peaks home, can be very demanding. Climbing thousands of feet each day in order to simply look for game can push the endurance of even a seasoned hunter. If you then add to that the expectation of a monster trophy — whatever the species — the demands on you, the hunter, have just escalated dramatically. Many a first-time alpine hunter has had their hunt ruined by not recognizing either the physical or mental demands of such a hunt. Or they may even over-estimate their own ability or their gear’s capability until, on day three, sheer physical exhaustion or blistered feet have left them unable to continue. A veteran sheep guide once put it this way, “After his first sheep hunt, a hunter will either never hunt sheep again or he will hunt them for a lifetime.”

Where to start? That, in my view, is to establish realistic goals based on the game you seek, the terrain you will be hunting in, the method of hunting and then on your ability to meet those goals. As part of this process, it would also be advantageous to ascertain just what a successful hunt will mean to you bearing in mind, of course, that 40-inch rams or monster trophies of most species are rare indeed. A legal ram for many a first time sheep hunter is just fine indeed.

For example, even after establishing what I have considered as very realistic goals, I have walked away from more than just a hunt or two without an animal. In other words, never lose sight of the fact that hunting is hunting and there are no guarantees no matter how well prepared you might be. But once you have jumped those hurdles, the next phase is to begin the process of getting yourself prepared for the hunt itself.

Fitness & Conditioning

Unless you are a marathon junkie, it would probably be best to start with a visit to your sawbones to make sure that you can tackle the hunt you are planning without your old ticker letting you down. During your visit let your doctor know just what you are planning and ask for an exercise regime to meet these goals. As an alternative, I have always started at least two-and-a-half months ahead of every alpine wilderness hunt with the following regime: I would begin by slow pace jogging a short distance (for me, that’s a kilometre) every day for two weeks and then up it by a kilometre and increase the pace after each ensuing two weeks right up to my hunt date. This, to push your endurance and lung capacity while toning all those muscles you will need on the hunt — adjust the distance to suit your fitness level, ensuring you get a good workout.

I would also begin a regular workout regime of exercises that included comprehensive stretching, leg presses, sit-ups, pushups and the like that covered most every muscle — but particularly emphasized the leg muscles. I would supplement this program with regular hikes in the hills with a loaded backpack and I would never take an elevator when there was a flight of stairs to climb. There simply is no substitute for climbing even if it is only a flight of stairs. Assess your own physical conditioning, and vary your workouts accordingly to get yourself in top-shape.

Gear & Technique

Now let’s move on to those other areas often neglected in preparing for a hunt. One of the most important of these is shooting practice. Not only should you be very familiar with how your rifle shoots at various distances on the range, but you also need to spend as much time as possible in the field practicing shooting at various angles (both up- and downhill) but additionally from all sorts of shooting positions. Become as familiar with your rifle as you are with your television remote.

Another area often overlooked is glassing. On most hunts you will spend far more time glassing than any other activity directly associated with the hunt. In other words, become totally familiar with your binoculars and in spotting game under as many conditions as feasible. Regular field trips, and even a trip or two to a park with nothing but your binoculars, will go a long way in getting the most out of them come hunt time.

What about the rest of your gear? While all components are important and should meet the requirements of your specific hunt, none is more important on a backcountry hunt than your boots. If they aren’t properly broken in or if they don’t fit right and keep your feet blister-free — the success of your hunt can be put into serious jeopardy. Buy the best boots you can afford and thoroughly break them in. Take them on those regular hikes that should formulate part of your preparation strategy and they will get you there and back on your hunt.

While I have concentrated on the preparedness required for primarily a mountain type hunt, many of these requisites apply to any hunt that may stretch your endurance. I can vividly recall an African safari for eland where I walked anywhere between 10 and 20 miles each day for 13 days straight in temperatures that exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit before taking a fine old bull. If I had not been in relatively good hunting shape, I would have gone home empty handed. While it will seem like a lot of work at the time, establish a preparedness program suited to you and your hunt and then push yourself to not only maintain it but also to exceed it. It just may make the difference in not only taking that trophy of a lifetime but in having an enjoyable and safe hunt.

Horses, Anyone?

If you have ridden little or not at all and your trip involves the potential of many hours or even days on the back of a horse, I would strongly urge you to visit Uncle Henry’s farm and spend as much time as possible riding old Nell. I can assure you that during the hunt your backside and legs will be most grateful. I will never forget the first time I crawled off a bruiser of a horse after an eight-hour pack trip into the mountains. It was all I could do just to stand, let alone set off on a stalk. I will never make that mistake again.

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