If you have ever hunted out West for elk, deer, bighorn sheep, or one of the various other high elevation quarries, then you understand the importance of being in the best physical shape. Obviously, in everyday life, most of us strive to eat healthy or exercise from time to time, but there is always an opportunity to get better, stronger and faster. There are so many advantages to getting in mountain shape and every pound you lose, mile you walk and hill you climb in the offseason matters — even a month before your hunt. It is always better to start your preparation as early as possible, but it’s not too late to start today because anything is better than nothing when it comes to preparation.
The main advantages when it comes to even last minute physical preparation have to do with your actual hunt quality. If you go from the couch to the mountain with no exercise in between, you can get altitude sickness easier, leg cramps due to lack of exercise shape, knee pain or countless other ailments that can all but ruin a few days of your limited hunt. When you are only hunting seven to 10 days per year, a few down days due to injury can drastically reduce your opportunity and harvest success rates. If you can prepare your body and mind prior to season, you will reduce your chance of injury and of just being worn down during your hunt. Another big advantage of even last minute preparation has to do with your pace up the mountain. The better physical shape you are, then the easier it is to hike. This will help you go faster without being huffing and puffing the entire time. You may be saying to yourself that you don't care about your pace; however, I am sure your opinion will change when you see a big bull and need to climb up in elevation in a short period of time. Gaining elevation quickly may be the difference between getting to an interception point in time for your quarry to pass or missing the opportunity. Overall it is advantageous to you to get in better shape before your mountain hunt.
If hunters are buying the best and lightest gear to reduce their pack weight by ounces wouldn’t it make sense that that extra pound or 20 lbs you are carrying from your COVID quarantine are important to lose as well? It’s important to understand that any weight you can lose up until season will be beneficial to you overall. Losing weight will not only allow you to adjust to higher elevation oxygen levels better, but will also make you lighter on your feet and able to keep a faster pace on your hikes. It can save your joints, keep your from being starved from oxygen and allow you to push harder than a heavier version of yourself. Losing a few pounds before season requires mental effort, but will benefit you on the hunt and in life. That might mean eating a salad or fruit instead of a burger for lunch or cutting a few sodas or sweet teas out of your daily routine. Eating a healthier diet will also fuel your body better and allow you to push farther during preseason preparation and on the mountain. Eating healthy in combination with putting on some miles can help you get prepared even during the last month before your upcoming hunt.
In addition to eating healthy and, hopefully, weighing less, it is important to get some miles on your legs to build strength, break in the boots and get used to that sore muscle feeling again. Of course, there is some science behind getting your legs in shape, muscle growth and memory and losing weight; however, the biggest principal for the average Joe and Jane is to practice what you plan on doing out on your western hunt. The more miles you can run, walk, hike or bike each week will make the first few days on the mountain go so much smoother and allow your recovery time to be reduced drastically. These preparation miles can become a family activity that gets everyone involved. Countless times a month we go on family hikes carrying my 35 lb toddler in and out of our spot. No matter how much you prepare for this season you will never be in good enough shape for the mountains unless you live at high elevations year-round. However, everything and anything you can do before the season could mean the difference between a quality hunt with a harvest or not. If you are hurt or can’t get somewhere quickly enough, you will have less of a chance to harvest than someone who has prepared his or her body to be there.
Getting in mountain shape does not necessarily mean running and lifting weights daily like some of the prominent examples in the outdoor world. Of course, running and lifting is effective, but does not necessarily work with everyone's time restraints, budget or lifestyle so there are other options to getting in shape to go out West. Here are two examples that can be done pretty much anywhere and that should allow you to get into better shape before your hunt— even if it’s just weeks away.
One excellent example of something you can do today and everyday until season is a weighted pack walk or hike. Start off short, slow and light, but then work up in miles and weight to what you will be doing daily on your western hunt. Wear your boots, pack and other gear in order to get it fitted and adjusted to your body well before season. Even if you never run, but hike at a fast pace, you will find yourself better off on day one of your hunt. Another way to get into mountain shape that is very effective at punishing your legs is climbing stairs. If you live in a more urban environment, you can find public stairs in parking garages and public buildings that will push your legs to the maximum, but a soft incline or even the stairs in your house are a great start. Stairs are a great exercise to work your mountain climbing muscles, including your feet, calves, legs and butt. Doing stairs at a fast pace or, even, with weight a month or two before the season should help you tremendously. Even if these two exercise techniques don’t work for you, walking, biking, rollerblading, swimming, trampolining or any other heart racing and leg burning exercise will be beneficial to you.
Ultimately, it is important to understand that not everyone has the time or the opportunity to go to the gym all year long or to run every day throughout the year. If you are in this boat, then you are similar to a lot of western big game hunters; however, anything you can do in preparation for your western hunt will benefit you and your experience. Anything that raises your heart rate gets your legs and back more prepared or helps you lose a pound or two will allow you to breathe easier, hike farther and feel better once you arrive and start hunting. It’s never too late to prepare for your hunt this fall, so get off the couch and get some miles under your belt and don't forget to replace that greasy burger with some grilled chicken.