I've long dreamed of a mountain hunt for mule deer somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. If I'm able to draw a tag, that dream will hopefully become a reality someday in western Wyoming.
As soon as I sent the outfitter my deposit, I knew it was also time to get in shape for what could be the most physically challenging hunt I've ever done. The good news is that I had a head start on this, as I had already decided a few months earlier, after my annual physical, that I need to make some changes in order to keep my doctor from putting me on prescription drugs for high cholesterol. I had changed the way I eat, and I made near-daily exercise a part of my regular routine. It was starting to pay off, as I'd lost a few pounds already, but I knew I needed to do more if I hoped to keep up with my hunting guide, as early season mule deer hunting is a bit like sheep hunting in that big mulies are often found in high elevations. Here are some workout tips for getting in shape for such a hunt, or whatever kind of hunting you do.
- As mentioned, I'd just had a complete physical, but if you have not had a thorough medical examination recently, that is the first thing you need to do before embarking on any sort of exercise program. Tell your doctor what kind of hunt you are planning, and allow him/her to make sure you are in suitable condition. They may also offer you some suggestions on specific exercises to assist in your preparation. Do this well before your hunt and get started right away. Two months is a bare minimum, but 6-12 months is ideal.
- I've found that an elliptical machine is just about the perfect tool for preparing to hunt mountainous terrain. They are low-impact, so they don't put undue stress on your back, knees or hips, but you get a great workout. I purposely purchased one (used) that has fixed rather than swinging handlebars. I did this because anytime you are holding on to something, this is assisting you and thus reducing the benefit of the exercise. By not holding on to anything, I'm also strengthening my core and working on my balance, both of which are very beneficial for going up and down steep angles. I get creative by striding in reverse and also standing sideways on the machine, to mimic descending and side-hilling, both of which I expect to do a lot. You can also vary the resistance and the degree of incline, so start low and work your way up over time.
Since I will be carrying a hunting pack on my back while hunting, I simulate this by wearing a pack with 35 pounds of weight in it while working out. Although I don't expect to need to carry quite that much weight on my hunt, by getting used to a heavier weight, it will seem that much easier on the mountain.
RedHead Primal Bow/Rifle Pack
- Every pound you lose before your hunt will make things that much easier for you on the mountain, but don't bite off more than you can chew. I only do 30 minutes on the elliptical. Any more than that and I begin to clock watch. Plus this is a manageable amount of time to dedicate each day, without feeling like I have to shoehorn it into an already busy day. According to the digital readout on my machine, I burn close to 400 calories in a 30-minute session.
- Eating better has to be part of any comprehensive fitness effort. Speak to your doctor about your particular dietary needs, or see a dietician/nutritionist. But whatever you do, don't feel that working out gives you licence to pig out on junk food afterward. That's just counterproductive.
- The first key to keep up with any exercise program is to stay motivated. I do this by reading or watching hunting videos on my iPad while working out. There is surprisingly little bouncing up and down on a smooth, high-quality machine, so I have no problem looking at a small screen. Just make sure you pick quality reading or viewing material that you look forward to resuming each day. The other key is to try to make exercise just a normal part of your daily routine, like brushing your teeth, eating breakfast, etc. Then it doesn't feel like work anymore; it just becomes another thing that you do each day.