A renewed focus on fitness and physical training is something that has taken a strong hold in the hunting community over the last several years. Like any movement, it is often hard to point to a single origin; doing so would surely be inaccurate and incomplete. That said, it is easy to identify key influences of this movement, most notably Cameron Hanes.
Cameron took hardcore backcountry bowhunting mainstream. His book Backcountry Bowhunting is a manifesto for many, and his continual example of fitness is something that many have looked up to and been inspired by, myself included.
When we look at someone like Cameron Hanes the question begs to be asked, “Is what he does in terms of physical fitness and training necessary to be a bowhunter?” Do we all have to run marathons or ultramarathons? Do we all have to “Lift. Run. Shoot.”, each and every day? Do we all, to quote his latest catch phrase, have to go “beast mode”?
Physical training is something I have been thinking a lot about recently. As you may recall I have lost over 40 pounds in the last few months. One of my primary motivators for doing so has been to become a better hunter. To most folks that would sound extremely silly. After all, the most common stereotype of a hunter that most non-hunters have is of a beer-bellied slob. Under Armour has adopted the phrase “Athletes Hunt”, but that is anything but a common idea among many. Nevertheless, the idea of hunters being athletes is becoming more common. There are physical fitness programs for hunters, there are nutritional items marketed towards hunters such as Wilderness Athlete, and there is a whole host of informational sites, forums, and groups that target physical training for hunters.
Is all of this necessary?
This conversation is difficult to have when we paint both training and hunting with a broad brush. Just as there are many types of hunting, there are also many types of training. It would be scandalous to generalize “hunters” and say that the guy doing a 10-day backcountry backpack hunt in the mountains has the same needs as the guy hunting from a stand, 100 yards from the road. Obviously, physical training (at some level) is required for the backcountry hunter, and while I wouldn’t say that the “stand” hunter requires physical training, I would encourage them to consider it.
I think every hunter can benefit from physical training for one simple reason, and it actually has little to do with physical ability or conditioning.
If there is one thing that I have learned over the past several months of training hard, it is that I am more capable than I thought I was. I have learned, through much sweat, pain, and exhaustion, that I am stronger than I thought – not in my cardio, or my lifting abilities, but in my head.
My buddy Ryan is one of those guys that trains to hunt. He is one of the crazy guys that puts his body through grueling 100 mile races all in the name of becoming a better hunter. Something I noticed about Ryan is that he would almost always end his messages on Twitter with the signature “never quit”. (Or, in twitter-speak, “#neverquit”.) I never thought much about it and just brushed it off as something inspirational or catchy.
A couple of months ago I was out running on a local trail that is absolutely brutal. It was the first time that I was attempting to run the trail and soon enough I found myself at the 4 mile mark looking up at a long, steep, continuous .7 mile climb, followed by more than 3 additional miles of continual ups and downs. I didn’t make it long into the climb when my legs and lungs both began to burn. Everything in me wanted to quit. It was then that I remembered Ryan and his seemingly goofy habit of writing “#neverquit”. All of a sudden it made sense to me. I had two choices in that moment: quit, or keep running though the agony.
To quit or to endure. Every hunter will face that same decision countless times over the course of their season.
My physical training has showed me that our limits are largely mental. Running 10 miles through some tough trails will surely make my physical condition much better, but the most important benefit of doing such a thing is the fact that I know I can do it. I know that I am tough enough, strong enough, and dedicated enough to stick it out.
Success in hunting may or may not require physical conditioning, but it will certainly require a truckload of mental toughness.
Success in hunting is largely mental. Hunting is frustrating. The conditions are hardly ever what you want…The level activity is seldom what you had hoped for…The animals are never where you thought they would be…The shot wasn’t executed like you had planned. The obstacles and challenges are innumerable. If you want to be a successful hunter then you will have to endure a lot of mental obstacles. You will have to be the guy that has enough resolve to stick it out through the worst of the worst.
“It only takes one animal and mere minutes to turn a grueling, seemingly futile hunt into the hunt of a lifetime.”
– South Cox
Do I believe every hunter should train?
Some hunts require physical training, there is no arguing that, but what about less intense hunts? Should hunters be training even though they aren’t scaling mountains are living out of a backpack in the backcountry?
Much of my motivation for training has been my desire to hunt the mountainous backcountry. Would I still be training this hard if I didn’t have that goal in mind? I think so, but if I am honest I don’t think hunting would be as much of a motivating factor if I was just going to continue to hunt whitetails in the midwest. The training for that type of hunting just isn’t as critical.
I do think all hunters have much to gain from physical training. Most of us live sedentary lives by nature, and we can all benefit from pushing ourselves in the physical activity of our choice. There is more to gain from physical training than what we may reap when we hunt. Training will help our general wellbeing, our stress levels, our confidence, and yes, even our hunting.
I believe that if you are a passionate and dedicated hunter, and you are serious about being successful, then you should be doing everything you can to become a better hunter, including physical training. It isn’t about running 100 miles, and it isn’t about going “beast mode” and throwing around hundreds of pounds of iron. It is about pushing yourself to do something difficult and proving to yourself that you are stronger and more capable than you had imagined. It is about strengthening your mind and your resolve to stick it out through the worst of the worst. It is about knowing that you have what it takes to hunt at your best.
“If you are going to win any battle, you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do…the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”
– General George S. Patton
What are the physical benefits of training to hunt? How should a hunter train? What areas of fitness should a hunter focus on?
Earlier, we talked about the necessity and value of physical training for the hunter. I concluded that one of the biggest benefits a hunter can attain from physical training is the mental strength that comes from making our bodies’ do things that it doesn’t want to do. Now, I want to take a look at what types of training are most beneficial for the hunter.
I don’t pretend to be a fitness expert. You will notice that I didn’t say I want to cover “how” a hunter should train, but “what” a hunter should train. This post won’t be covering specific workouts or techniques, although I do think that is a valid discussion and we will probably tackle that in the future.
The point I want to get across today is simple: there is no one right way for the hunter to train, but there are a couple of things that the hunter should focus on.
The hunter should focus on building a solid and enduring platform, from the ground up.
It is obvious to see how building endurance via cardiovascular exercise will benefit the hunter. Many of us, regardless of where we hunt, have to cover a lot of ground to get to where the hunting is good. Making that trek in the early morning darkness with a day’s worth (or maybe even a week’s worth) of gear is no easy feat. Throw in the fact that we hope to come out either packing or dragging a large amount of additional weight and you can quickly see how the hunter will benefit from endurance training.
The goal isn’t to be the first guy out there, it is to be the last one to remain when all else have quit.
Endurance training isn’t about speed; don’t think of it as who can run, bike, or hike the fastest. Endurance is about building up our hearts, minds, and legs to be strong for the long haul. A hunter needs to have the mental and physical strength to keep after it – day after day, week after week, for the whole season.
The other key benefit of endurance training via cardiovascular exercise is that it is a great tool for weight loss. I used to quibble about the weight of my gear, but I failed to realize that the heaviest thing I was lugging around the woods was all of my unnecessary body weight. Carrying a stand, food, and supplies deep into the woods is hard. Carrying all of that out of the woods, in addition to the game you just harvested, is even harder. Doing all of the above while being overweight is just unnecessary.
The great thing about endurance training for the hunter is that you can choose to do so many different activities to work towards your goals. My choice is primarily trail running. Hate running? You don’t have to run! How about hiking, mountain biking, cycling, walking some hills, or hitting one of the many cardio machines in a gym?
It isn’t easy, but it is simple… Get out there, get your heart rate up, burn some calories, and build some endurance.
When most guys think of strength training they automatically think of things like curls or the bench press. The “macho” thing to do is lift weights and build a massive upper body, but in my opinion the hunter should be, at least initially, focused on the exact opposite.
Hunting is about covering ground on brutal terrain. If the hunter is successful he will often be carrying weight, but it certainly won’t be via his massive biceps. The hunter will be packing or dragging out his game via the power of his legs. The legs are the key tool to getting the hunter where he wants to be and helping him get his game out of the field and into his home.
Moving up from the legs, we get to the core. The core will help the hunter in general strength, endurance, balance, and injury prevention. The core is typically overlooked, or simply thought of as only being about the visual aspects of the abs. A strong core is essential to building a solid foundation and serving the hunter well in all aspects of the hunt. Strengthening the abdominal region, as well as the lower back is essential for the hunter; doing so will help stabilize the hunter when carrying loads and is also very critical for injury prevention and general strength.
Training, just like hunting, is often overcomplicated by many of us. I have made massive gains in my overall fitness and none of what I have done thus far requires a gym or equipment. No fancy plans, no special equipment, no excuses…you can start now and begin to train for the seasons ahead.
What should you be training? In my opinion you should be building endurance and a solid foundation by strengthening your legs and core.
How should you be training? That is up to you…
What about you?
What types of training, or specific workouts have you found to be most beneficial?