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Get in shape for hunting

Get In Shape For Hunting Season

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So you are planning your next hunting trip. Perhaps it’s a guided tour in Colorado hunting elk or bear or a safari trip in Africa. It might be your usual whitetail hunting trip with all your buddies. Whichever one it is, your daily desk job with little to no movement is not going to get you ready for the physical demands that hunting requires.

You want to avoid being that headline you sometimes read. “Middle-aged man dies in the woods while camping and hunting from a heart attack. Too far from home to get necessary medical attention.”

That situation is preventable by getting in shape now before hunting season starts.

Most people do not consider hunting physically rigorous, as quite frankly a lot of hunting is sitting still. It does, however, require a lot of functional fitness. Here are just a few examples:

Hunting Requires Carrying A Lot Of Gear

There’s a lot of hunting equipment now and it weights a lot. And if it is cold, you’ll be wearing extra clothing that is not always that easy to move around in. Most likely you will pack the following: a gun, scope, rangefinder, binoculars, ammo, knife, and cell phone.  If you are not hunting where you keep a permanent blind or stand you might be toting a portable tent or stand to hunt from as well.

I hunt with black powder so I also carry my powder horn, ball starter, caps and balls.

Hunting Often Includes A Significant Amount Of Hiking

You are not going to just step out of your truck and jump right into your tree stand. You are going to have to walk and carry all your gear. The incline of the terrain might be different from what you are used to and there might even be a change in altitude which will make breathing more difficult. You will fair better if you are in good cardiovascular condition.  These are great reasons to start a walking and strength training routine now.

Hunting With A Bow

For those who hunt with a bow, you will need a strong upper body with lots of endurance. As you know, the heavier the pull tension on a bow, the more it weighs. You will also need to steady around an eighty-pound draw long enough to make a good shot. Therefore you need some serious biceps and forearm muscular endurance to accomplish this.

Hopefully, You’ll Be Dragging Dead Weight

A field dressed deer is heavy and other game might be even heavier. We all dream of the biggest buck, bear, elk or whatever, and they weigh a lot. Usually tracking game includes walking quite a distance from your truck. If you get one you’ll have to drag it back unless you are lucky and have an ATV. And even if you have an ATV, there still some dragging involved to load it.

Some Hunts Require Camping

Some specialized hunts require walking in backcountry and camping. Add camping gear to the list of what you have to carry and you will have to be in even more shape. And even if you are paying a guide to go with you this often doesn’t include them setting up camp for you. You are expected to handle your own gear.

Some Hunts Include Riding Horses

If you are going on a guiding tour that requires going in by horseback, you’d better make sure you are in shape. Riding also requires physical conditioning. Many people get very sore after riding for the first time. The last thing you want is to be so sore from riding that you can’t move easily.

Clearly the above examples of walking, stalking, dragging deer or other game, hauling gear, etc doesn’t seem that bad until you are in the middle of doing it and you realize how out of shape you are. Don’t let that be you!

It Is Time To Get In Shape With Walking, Weight Bearing Exercises, and Stretching

With this in mind, it is time to get in shape during the summer months before hunting season rolls around. There should be three areas of focus: cardiovascular exercise, weight bearing exercises, and stretching. Remember the goal is functional fitness. You don’t need huge bulging biceps, but you do need upper body strength to carry all your gear and strong legs for lots of walking. Remember to consult a physician before you start any new exercise routine.

Walking

If you do not currently exercise, then walking is the best way to get started. Unless you are a total klutz, you can’t hurt yourself. Start out with short less strenuous walks. Gradually increase the length of your walks, the incline, and speed. Make sure that you increase one factor at a time. So, for example, if you are waking four times per week make day one be your average walk, on day two increase your distance, on day three increase your incline, on day four increase your speed, and then repeat the cycle next week.

Try to walk in areas that mimic the terrain you’ll find on your hunt. It is even better if you can walk where you hunt. It will get you familiar with the terrain and help you see the behavior of your game.

Walking in an area similar to where you hunt is very important as walking on a flat sidewalk or paved road requires different conditioning than walking in the mountains. Altitude can be another consideration that can affect you negatively if you are not used to it.

So if you come from the flat land areas of Illinois and decide to hunt in the mountains of Colorado you’d better find a hilly place to walk or a treadmill that allows you to change your incline. This will help you be better conditioned for the many changes in incline in a hilly or mountainous area.

After about a month of this basic cardiovascular conditioning program, you want to up the ante a bit by adding weight that mimics the weight of your gear. Estimate how much all of it weighs and then wear a weighted backpack on your walks.

After every walk, you want to make sure that you stretch. There are some recommended stretches below. 

On a side note, I don’t recommend jogging or running as both of them are hard on your feet, hips, knees, lower back, and joints. It also doesn’t match the activity that you will be doing. Unless maybe you get chased by the bear you just shot at and missed!

If you feel that walking even with a weighted backpack is too easy for you, then go to the gym and ride a bicycle or work out on a stair climber. These machines allow you to have a low impact workout and put less stress on your joints. More importantly, these machines require your legs to lift and push which does a much better job of conditioning you for hunting than jogging will.

Weight Bearing Exercises

The second area of focus is weight bearing exercises. I’ve intentionally included exercises that you can easily do at home without the additional expense of a gym. You will want to purchase some free weights to challenge yourself further. The recommended exercises include lunges, squats, plank, bicep curls, triceps, and step ups.

There are two thoughts on weight bearing exercises. Do several sets with a lighter weight and exhaust yourself with repetitions or increase the weight on each set making the last set very hard. As you will be working to create functional fitness and endurance out in the field, I prefer the first methodology. You should have a rest day in between weight bearing exercises that use additional weight to your body. On this rest day, you should go for a walk instead. Always stretch afterward.

Lunges

Lunge

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Lunges work all the muscles in your legs, core, and low back, and simulate the work of a hike. There are two versions: with and without weights. You should hold the same amount of weight in each hand if you are adding weights.

Stand up tall and engage your core. Step one foot forward. Lower your hips to the ground until both knees are at a 90-degree angle. Repeat on the other leg.

You can hold onto a chair or table if needed to stabilize your body during the lunge.

Perform 3 sets of 10.

After a few sessions, you can add weights. Make sure to hold a weight in each hand to keep yourself balanced.

Squats

Squat

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Squats work the legs and the back. Keep your back straight and do not bend your knees more than 90 degrees. Engage your core by pulling your belly button in and up when you perform this exercise. You can perform this exercise with or without weights.

Perform 3 sets of 10.

Plank

Plank

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Planks work your core and also your entire body. Assume a plank position and work your way up to holding it for one minute. To protect your lower back make sure that you pull your navel to your spine to engage your abdominal muscles. Do not let your back arch.

You can also do push-ups to make this exercise harder or you can do them as a separate exercise.

This exercise will particularly help strengthen your upper body and back to help you carry all of your gear without getting super sore.

Try doing three sets working your way up to 1 minute per set.

Bicep Curls 

Bicep Curls

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I am sure that most of you are familiar with this exercise. Start out with about 5-pound weights if you are a woman and roughly 10 pounds if you are a man. Make sure to stand up tall and engage your abs while performing this exercise. Make the only movement be the movement of the lower arm curling up and down. Do not jostle the rest of the body.

Complete three sets of ten.

Seated Triceps Press

Seated Tricep Press

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There is a wide variety of ways to work your triceps from a seated triceps press to triceps dips performed on a bench. Choose which one works best for you.

3 sets. Women start out with about 10 pounds. Men with about 15 pounds.

Step Ups

When walking through the woods, mountains or fields you will find yourself on uneven terrain. You’ll probably step up and over rocks and logs, cross creeks, and maybe hop over fences. All of this will be done carrying your weighted gear. This exercise mimics that movement.

This exercise is very simple. You are going to stand in front of a flight of stairs and step up and down.

There are two versions of this exercise.

1. Step up without any gear, just your own body.

2. Step up with a weighted backpack or holding a weight. Don’t try this until you have been working out for a few weeks and have built up your endurance.

Stretching Exercises

Stretching is essential to keep your body comfortable and feeling good. You also don’t want to overtrain or create other problems like low back pain. Make sure that you do these stretches after your walking or weight bearing exercise routine.

Hamstring Stretches

Hamstring Stretch

Photo Owned by Elizabeth Hanson.

My favorite way to stretch my hamstrings is to lie on the floor with a band around my foot.  If you don’t have a band you could use a towel, rope or even a dog leash. The band really helps to deepen your stretch, particularly if your hamstrings are super tight.

Stretch each leg 5 times.

Hip Flexor/Quad Stretches

Quad Stretch

Quad StretchPhoto Credit

This exercise will help stretch the front of the thigh. Balance on your right leg. If you need support you can grab onto a chair. Take your left hand and grab your left foot and pull it toward your butt. Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds and then switch to the other leg. Repeat five times on each leg.

Chest Stretch

chest stretch

Photo Owned by Elizabeth Hanson.

Do this to stretch your upper back, neck, chest, and shoulders. Clasp your hand together behind your back and try to straighten your arms towards the floor. Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat three more times.

Side Bend

side bend

Photo Owned by Elizabeth Hanson.

You should do this exercise to stretch the sides of your body. Stand with your feet about hip distance apart. Reach your left hand up towards the ceiling. Side bend towards the right. Repeat on the other side. Do this five times on each side.

Calf Raises

Calf raises help to strengthen the calves and at the same time stretch them. One of the most simple ways to do this is to stand on the bottom step of a staircase with your toes on the edge of the step and raise your heels and then lower them.

Overall Plan

The best way to get in shape for hunting is to mimic the activity. We are not looking for gigantic muscles, rather functional fitness with endurance. Your goal is to exercise to make sure you can hike carrying gear and drag back your game.

You should aim for walking three to four times per week followed by stretching and also commit to weight bearing exercises two times per week also followed by stretches.

Since you still have a few months until hunting season starts you have time to get a good exercise routine going. Therefore, don’t put it off and, instead find yourself huffing and puffing through the woods. It’s not good for you and it’s loud and will scare the game!

About the Author Elizabeth

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