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The Athletic Hunter

By April Mack

Successful Measures?

No, I’m not talking about the past elections. 

How do you measure a successful hunt?  Is it a monster buck or bull?  Is it a successful harvest? Or is it time out hunting, with your family, friends or by yourself? Do you measure your success of a hunt by the equipment you use and the gear you have? Or simply time spent in nature soaking up God’s great creations?

Me?  I measure success of a hunt by my experiences…. Time with family, time with God and simply the God given ability to get out and do what I love.  Oh, and then there is the success of being able to hunt without desperately gasping for air and bending to cling to my knees after climbing a hill.  I’m talking about being in shape.  Both mentally and physically, they go hand in hand.  There is nothing more rewarding to me then to gracefully, quietly and easily make my way to the top of a mountain without feeling like I just went through military boot camp.  Sure, it’s an ego boost as well when I look around and see all the guys sweating and huffing like draft horses pulling a 3000 pound sled.

All too often hunters get prepared for the upcoming hunting season by making sure they have their bow sighted in, have enough arrows and new broad heads along with checking equipment to make sure all gear is up to par.  However, rarely do hunters take into consideration the physical preparation needed for the hunt.  Being physically fit can be the difference of having an enjoyable hunt or a hunt that kicks your butt.  We all know getting up early is part of the hunt. That alone is a hard task for some.  But when you wake up the next day and your body is screaming for more rest because you are sore from the previous days hunt... What’s the fun in that?  When you are in shape physically, the mental portion follows suit.  It has been proven time over that physical activity (working out) improves mental clarity and relieves stress. You have enough on your mind when hunting such as spotting and stalking, calling, and concentrating on making that once in a life time shot.  You shouldn’t be thinking about whether or not you can make it up the mountain without needing CPR!

So, with that being said I would like to offer some tips. 

         1) Set goals; start off small and work your way up.  You will need to set both cardio and
         strength goals.  A good goal to start for cardio is walking 2-3 times per week, walk up and  
         down your driveway to get started. Slowly increase the distance by a couple miles at a 
         time, pickup your pace and change terrain. In addition to walking, add biking to the mix. 
         Make your routines fun, go for a hike in new territory, discover new places, or take up 
         mountain biking.  Whatever you decide to do, make it fun, make it your own, make it
         challenging (repelling anyone?)

2)  You will need to be physically strong to not only carry all your gear around, but also to carry out your harvest.  Hit the weights at least 3 times per week. Remember the smaller the starting goal, the longer the time needed to increase so don’t wait a month before the season to start getting active.  You don’t have to be a gym rat to accomplish these goals; there are a lot of things around the house that you can use as weights.  Get creative; fill a bucket up with sand! If you are up for the challenge, hire a personal trainer with specific needs in mind (hunting with a bow is exercise specific). 

Exercises to focus on for bow hunting specifically include: shoulders (front to side arm raises, arm circles, shrugs and lateral raises) upper and lower back (back extensions, seated lat row, reverse fly’s and reverse grip lat pull down) biceps (curls and pull ups) and core (oblique twists, reverse curls and good ‘ol fashion crunches).  You of course want to balance out your muscles so don’t forget to throw in some chest presses and triceps pushups  just for fun!  In relation to the actual hunt and climbing mountains, your lower body needs to be just as strong if not more.  Your tail end is one of the biggest muscles you got… work it! Lunges, squats (they don’t have to be in deep range of motion) and hamstring curls will all target the Gluteus Maximus, aka your tail end.   Once you get started in your exercise regimen, you will need (and want!) to maintain your progress.  It’s much easier to consistently exercise throughout the year then to be a one-month warrior.  Schedule time in your day to workout.  You may even have to book an appointment with yourself.  Most importantly, be forgiving.  If you miss a day or two or even a week, don’t be hard on yourself or ride the guilt train.  Just pick up where you left off.  Being strong enough to draw your bow back is an essential part to hunting, not only does it make it more enjoyable for you, but it isn’t fair to the game we have the privilege to hunt if the shot we make isn’t steady.

3)  Of course getting physically fit involves proper nutrition (sorry, facts of life!)  During the hunt (pack in/out intensity) you of course need higher caloric foods to sustain you.  However, with day to day eating, your choices should be a little more carefully planned out.  There is nothing new here and no magic pill.  Fruits and veggies, balance your proteins and fats and include carbs into your foods.  Now, when I say fats and carbs, I am not talking about ice cream, cookies, pizza, fast food joints and Ho Ho’s (although in moderation *gasp* it’s okay).  Our bodies need fats and carbs to function, but it is the good kind. (Real butter, avocado, legumes, nuts, occasional red meats, cheeses etc). And of course water.  Food has an amazing ability to heal the body; we just have to give it a chance.  I challenge you to try it… even if it’s not hunting season for you.  Make a commitment for at least one month.  Cut out boxed, prepackaged and canned meals.  Try to eat what grows naturally. When was the last time you saw a box of Hamburger Helper® growing off a tree?  You don’t have to get crazy and go all organic, but I would suggest you stop eating foods that are processed and full of preservatives.  Our bodies were not built to digest the chemicals in these foods.  You give this challenge a try and you will be amazed at the changes your body makes.

On a side note to physical fitness and proper nutrition, I want to mention the importance of having mental strength and clarity.  Have confidence in yourself and your abilities, now that you have exercised and gotten fit, you can do anything… right?  Confidence comes with knowing you can tackle the hunt, climb the hill and haul out your kill.  Be patient, positive and prepared (do I hear a triple “P” cheer?). Patients, well… you’re a bow hunter it’s a given that is an essential tool.  Positivity will get you a long way my friends, whether you are by yourself or with a hunting party.  Have you ever been around “that” person that see’s the down side to everything or is constantly putting themselves down?  I have and it’s not fun…  Keep your attitude up; after all there are worse things you could be doing instead of getting out to do what you love.  And finally, prepared.  Being prepared is such an important mental factor.  Having the right clothes for the weather, terrain and clothes that fit you properly (ladies - stop buying men’s camo clothes!) makes you feel, well, good. Being prepared to gut, wrap and pack your harvest with all the necessary tools leaves you without worry of how to get the job done.  Being prepared with extra food and water helps with the long process involved after taking that fatal shot.  To achieve all this, you have to be mentally strong.  To be mentally strong you have to be healthy.  To be healthy you have to be physically fit. Yes it’s tough to get started, but all things worth working for have great rewards.

Here’s to measured success!

Sample Workout:

Just because we are bow hunters (or rifle hunters) doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have big guns!

You don’t have to be able to lift a car to draw back a bow… but you should be prepared!

Building up your strength for bow season doesn’t have to be hard.  Lifting weights 2-3 times a week, with a day of rest in between should do the trick.  You will want to do 3 or 4 sets of 16 reps and choose a weight that will allow you to have good form, but will challenge you to get out the last 5-6 reps. Lift the weights in slow controlled motions and avoid swinging your body for momentum to lift the weight. You will want to make sure you work both sides equally rather than focusing just on your draw arm… imbalances will cause compensation issues leading to muscle injury.  No pain no gain is not always the case, listen to your body and learn the difference between muscle fatigue and muscle injury.  Muscle soreness is normal when you get started on a lifting routine.  Drink lots of water, stretch after your workouts and if the soreness is extreme, take the recommended dosage of Tylenol®.  However do not let a little bit of soreness keep you from working out it will get easier as you get stronger.  Then it will be time to increase your weights.  To avoid plateaus, change up the types of exercises you do about every 4-5 weeks.  If you can, find a workout partner, not only will they motivate you but they can keep you safe and spot you as you start to increase the amount of weight you lift.

So, here’s to big gun bow (rifle)hunters everywhere!

 April Mack is a Certified Personal Trainer and Health and Wellness Coach, Certified Drugless Practitioner and a Field Advisor for Deep Countree. More about April's fitness programs can found at: 

 www.balance4lifecoach.com