Reasons and ways to stay in shape in the off-season

Stair climbers with weighted backpack for hunt training

Right about now, application season is in full swing. Going forward, it seems to be nothing but months of waiting, planning and dreaming. It might seem as though there is no reason to start working toward next year, but that is not true. Your health and your fitness level should not suffer during the off-season. In fact, there are plenty of reasons to maintain your fitness level and continue working toward new heights in your overall fitness. If you are like me, you need something to train for because sometimes training for the sake of training can get boring. With this in mind, I have a few ideas of things to train for that will keep you motivated during the early off-season. Whatever you do, do not let your fitness go by the wayside.

Reasons to stay in shape

While there are more reasons to stay in shape than I could reasonably list in this article, here are some of the more important reasons:


We don't exercise for hunting alone. Exercise is part of the fit lifestyle that will improve your overall health and quality of life. Additionally, it is very unhealthy to train hard for a few months and then take six to eight months off. This can actually lead to your body breaking down over time as opposed to getting stronger. Staying in shape will ensure that you are at a lower risk of injury, heart disease, diabetes and cancer as well as a myriad of other health issues.

Fitness improves everything else

When your fitness level is high, everything else will follow suit. Your quality of life will improve, your skills in shooting will increase and your general mood and motivation will improve. Letting your fitness slip often leads to lethargy, apathy and, in general, every aspect of life will suffer to some extent. Don't let lack of training be the reason that you don't enjoy the off-season as much as you could.

Next season

For me, the end of hunting season is the beginning of next year's season. As soon as the season closes, I start planning for next year. Fitness should be a part of this planning. Not only will this increase your anticipation for next year, but it will also help you to reach new heights you otherwise would not have reached. As you continue to train during the off-season, you will build on your foundation and you will only improve your fitness level.

Spring hunting

Black bear track in mud
Photo credit: Brady Miller

Who says only fall is for hunting? There is plenty of hunting to be had in the spring. Spring bear and turkey are great opportunities to shake off the cobwebs and get out in the woods. Both bear and turkey hunts out West take work and some serious distance to find. If you want to have a reason to train during the off-season, buy a spring bear or turkey tag and get to work.

Ways to Stay in Shape


 Training to run a half marathon race

Hunters are results-oriented by nature. With this in mind, part of training for hunting is having the mindset needed to push through barriers and difficulties in order to reach your goal.

Training for a half-marathon takes preparation, discipline, proper nutrition, and a whole lot of work… and that is all long before the race begins. It is a 1 1/2 – 2 hour long race for someone in moderately decent shape so it is no small commitment; however, the benefits reaped after finishing far outweigh the work invested in training and execution (sounds kind of like hunting, doesn’t it?).

3 benefits to running a half-marathon:

1. You will be in the best shape of your life by the time your finish the race
You cannot run a half-marathon in so-so shape. You have to be in good shape to run 13.1 miles. The process of getting there takes work, but the end product is you being in tip-top shape.

2. You will find willpower you didn’t know you had
Running long distance brings every person who tries to the do-or-die moment where one decides if he or she will continue or not. When you reach that point during training or in the middle of the race and you push through it to finish, you train your mind to never give up until your reach your goal; a decision that will pay great dividends in the backcountry.

3. You will be more confident in who you are and what you can do
Anyone who has decided to do something big like running a half-marathon has had the thought: Can I even do this? But through discipline, persistence and hard work, they realize that they can and they will. Your body can do just about anything you want it to do; you just have to realize that in your mind. When you realize that, no landscape seems too difficult to traverse for the prize of a filled tag. Confidence in your abilities is half the battle in the backcountry. Running in a half-marathon will prove that you can do whatever you set your mind to.

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Change things up

Switching up the normal gym workout routine

Changing your approach to fitness will keep things fresh and will help you break plateaus. If you typically workout in a gym or run, try spending three months doing CrossFit (or vice versa). If you want something totally different, join a MMA gym or boxing gym. Find something new and interesting and do that for a few months. This will keep you motivated to stay in shape and it will make it enjoyable along the way.

Train to Hunt Challenge

 Train to Hunt Challenges
Photo credit: Train to Hunt

The Train to Hunt Challenge is a multi-day combination archery and fitness competition that takes place all across the Western U.S. The challenge has three phases: the meat pack, the 3D archery course and the challenge course. The meat pack involves carrying anywhere from 30 to 100 lb (depending on your class) on your back and in your hands for 1.5 miles. The 3D archery course involves taking multiple shots at 3D targets across a large array of terrain and situations. The challenge course is the culmination of the competition and involves a timed race where there are multiple checkpoints in which either a physical fitness exercise must be complete for reps or a 3D archery shot must be taken. To put it bluntly, you have to be in hunting shape to be able to complete the Train to Hunt Challenge event. This is a great opportunity to push yourself to your limits as well as train your mind to overcome fatigue while delivering a kill shot on an animal. To check it out, go to

Total Archery Challenge

Total Archery Challenge
Photo credit: Total Archery Challenge

The Total Archery Challenge is another 3D archery competition. Many of the venues take place at high altitudes that require a heightened level of fitness to compete. While the Total Archery Challenge does not involve the same physical demands as Train to Hunt, you still need to be in good physical shape to compete well. Learn more at


Sweat stains from spring scouting
Photo credit: Brady Miller

Scouting is crucial for backcountry hunting success. If you don't know where the animals are and where they are going, you will have a tough time harvesting one. One of the best ways to train for hunting in the backcountry is to get out there and hike as you scout. No gym can perfectly replicate this kind of environment so make the most of your scouting time and use it as a way of training for your hunts.

Shed hunting

Hunting for antler sheds is a fun, rewarding way of getting out into the backcountry during the downtime of the late winter and early spring months. You can look for deer sheds in January and February and elk sheds in March and April. To be successful, you have to cover a ton of ground, which is a great way of maintaining your fitness while having a blast doing it. You are also able to gain valuable information for your hunts later that year.

In summary

There is a myriad of other reasons and ways to stay in shape during the off-season that I have not listed in this article. If none of these seem appealing to you, hopefully this article at least gets you thinking creatively on how to stay in shape. One may be more appealing to you than another; just be sure that you find the motivation to stay physically fit year-round. Letting yourself get out of shape in the off-season is setting yourself up for failure when hunting season rolls around. You risk not being able to get back into shape in time, a higher risk of injury and, in general, a lower quality of life. It might not be hunting season, but it is always the right time to stay in shape. Focusing on your skills is a crucial component to the off-season and your fitness is just as important as any other skill. Get out there and get to work!





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