By Mark Kenyon
Train Hard, Hunt Easy. It’s a mantra made popular by “celebrity” backcountry bowhunter Cameron Hanes, and it’s a phrase that has been often in my mind this summer. Failure is not an option this season, and every piece of my plan, gear, and strategy must be tuned perfectly. That includes my body and mind.
When it comes to hunting, plenty of things are “nice to have”, but few things are absolutely necessary. A healthy and functioning body and mind is though. It’s also one variable that effects almost all others. Fancy gear isn’t worth a thing if you can’t physically use it properly, or muster the time in the field to actually utilize it. In order to be able to hunt to the best of my ability, my body must be in as good of condition as possible and my mind must be in the right place. If I’m to kill the animal I want, I must hunt hard. But if I want that hunt to come as easily as possible, I must train hard. That has been my mission this summer.
So what exactly am I preparing myself for? Let me tell you. I’ll be in the woods on somewhere around 60-80 sits this fall. I’ll probably have about fourteen full 13 hours days spent in the tree stand. Many days I’ll be strapping a portable treestand and climbing sticks to my backpack, and hiking several miles into the woods, through ditches and over ridges. Once I reach my destination, I’ll need to quietly and quickly scale a tree, set up my stand and then my camera equipment. Once I’m there, I’ll begin the marathon of an all day sit. An exercise in patience, persistence and physical durability. 10 hours in, after suffering through freezing temperatures, biting winds, and long hours sitting still, I’ll suddenly be presented with a new situation. A buck steps into my shooting lane, and I must calm my breathing, steady my hand and draw back my bow. That requires 65 lbs of concentrated and controlled power and an eternity of motionless existence. I must have complete mastery of my body and mind to make this next moment count. Everything led up to this. Did I work hard enough?
I’ve always been in “decent” shape, but not often have I been great. This year though in an effort to be more prepared than I ever have before, I decided I needed to start changing that. My plans at first were simple, start running a few days a week to just help my overall fitness level. In addition to hunting season, I had a mid-summer vacation planned for the Rocky Mountains and I wanted to make sure I’d be ready for those high altitude hikes. A two or three mile jog became my routine about three nights a week, and it definitely seemed to help me regain a little bit of endurance leading up to my trip. If you can’t do anything else, getting some cardio in a few days a week is a great way to maintain at least a base level of fitness and will keep your heart in good shape too. And if you can practice running past your “wall” (that time when you feel like you just can’t got anymore), it will prepare you for those days on stand when you just want to quit, but know you need to stick it out. On a related topic, I’ve also now started looking into doing some “trail running”, which is essentially jogging on hiking trails, in more rugged terrain. It’s a great way to combine more wild scenery with my exercise routine.
From there though things got more interesting. I started layering archery practice on top of my running regimen. I would run, and then return fresh off my sprint to the finish line, immediately pick up my bow and fire an arrow. It’s a great way to simulate buck fever, and a very helpful process to help you practice controlling your breathing. In addition to this, I wanted to find a way to make it easier for me to pick up the bow and just shoot a few rounds at any point in the day. To do this I set up a bow hanger in our coat closet, and set up a little vase to hold some arrows and my release. I then set up a target across from my back door inside our barn. Now I can just grab my bow from the closet, nock and arrow and shoot right out the back door whenever I want. This makes it super easy to fire a random shot here and there throughout the day, and has led to me practicing more and more.
On top of that, I try to have a a good 30 minute shooting session at least 3 times a week, preferably more often. This consistent training is important for building up your muscles, establishing muscle memory and just overall mentally preparing you to take smart and accurate shots come hunting season.
This brings us now to August. I’ve been running and shooting all summer, but I still wanted to raise the bar. I found the perfect way to do this one morning while listening to a Bowhunting Podcast on the way to work in which the founder of a company called Wilderness Athlete was interviewed. Come to find out, this company Wilderness Athlete, develops nutritional products specifically for hunters and other outdoorsmen. I was immediately intrigued, and eventually was able to get in touch with some folks at WA. Coming out of those conversations, a plan was made. I was going to give Wilderness Athlete a try with something called The 28 Day Challenge.
The 28 Day Challenge involves a handful of different products from Wilderness Athlete that are intended to help you jumpstart a healthy lifestyle and I thought this would be a perfect way to kick things up a notch leading into hunting season. So now I’ve been using Wilderness Athlete vitamins, a “Lean Life” formula, meal replacement/protein shakes, and a energy/hydration drink. So far, so good with the WA regimen – but more to come on this with a full review soon.
In addition to the WA, I’m also just trying to adjust the rest of my diet to feature less sugar and fat, and more lean proteins, vegetables and fruits. I honestly can already feel the effects of this change in my diet.
The Full Body Workout
The final step I’ve taken is the implementation of a more rigorous exercise program. I realized that a few jogs a week just wasn’t cutting it for me, if I wanted to get in tip top shape for the season. I decided to take up a program called DeltaFit from Men’s Health – which is a set of DVD workouts that you can follow along with for several months. DeltaFit is focused on full body workouts that engage your whole body almost non-stop for 30-40 minutes at a time. I can say from my experiences so far, that these workouts are not so difficult that a schmuck like me can’t follow along – but they definitely kick my tail by the time I’m done. This full body workout is improving my shoulders, back and arms – which are importnat for drawing and holding back my bow. My legs and core, which are obviously important for hiking far distances and climbing trees. And then just my overal heart and lung fitness – which certainly come into effect at all times, but maybe especially when a big buck is heading my way. Overall, DeltaFit has been my way to get over the fitness hump in order to try and peak just before hunting season.
Putting It All Together
Being a health and fitness nazi is not a prereq for successful whitetail hunting – and it’s not something I’ll ever be. There will always be folks who lumber 50 yards out behind their house, sit on a log once and shoot a dandy buck. But this doesn’t happen often. Most of the time it takes hard work, lots of time, and serious preparation. And to do those things a healthy and happy body is crucial. My hope is that by “optimizing” my body and mind leading up to the season, I’ll have control of one more variable when I’m out in the woods. And come fall, that’s one more piece of the puzzle that I can feel confident in while chasing those big bucks. If you want to hunt hard but have it feel “easy”, you’ve got to train hard. And that’s exactly what I plan on doing.
3 Easy Ways To Start Training Hard for Hunting
If you’re looking to start “training” more for hunting, here are 3 easy ways to get started yourself…
1. Develop a shooting (archery or firearm) schedule, in which you are consistently practicing with your weapon. At least 3 times a week if possible.
2. Begin some kind of cardio workout, and if you’re a bowhunter use some shoulder/back exercises as well (these are key for using a bow).
3. Try to make one small change to your diet/exercise routine for the better, that you can consistently stick to. For instance, try removing soda from your diet for the remaining month or so leading up to hunting season, and go on a couple runs a week. Every little bit can help.
– Mark Kenyon