Staying Fit Through the Season                         By BWB Pro-Staff Matt Breton

Deer season is finally within reach in New England!  Sure, I’ve been archery hunting, but that is merely a tune-up for the real deal in my mind- tracking bucks on snow in the Big Woods.  Training is behind us and now is the time we want to make the most of what we have gained.  Most of us will be able to hunt the first few days without thinking about what we are doing to our bodies, but after that the grind can start to take its toll and wear us down.  What can we do to stay in the game for the entire season, mentally and physically?

I’ve written this story before, but I recall it vividly.  Dad and I stayed at Hal and Deb’s one Thanksgiving week to enjoy the meals and comradery while we hunted on our own.  There were a few others there, one being guided.  There was some snow on the ground and we were all getting worn out.  This fella missed dinner one night from being so tired, then breakfast on another day and finally he simply went home with two days left in his week of hunting.  He serves as a major reason why I think people should train to hunt, but he probably would have also benefited from taking care of himself during the season.

Here are a few ways you can stay after those bucks all season long, by taking care of yourself every day: 

Pace Yourself- We all want to get after it on opening day, tromping over the next ridge and the one after that, but we aren’t always ready on day one.  Even if your job is physical or on your feet, walking through swamps and up mountains is something few of us do every day for weeks on end.  Many of us work in sedentary jobs and aren’t used to blasting through the woods all day, which is why we all need to train for it.  That makes the shift into the season a little tough.  If there isn’t snow to track on, check your pace and distance by 10-20% of what you want to do for the first few days to let your body settle in to the new rhythm of early hours and long days of cruising the woods.  The energy you save here will be there for you when there is a buck track to follow in the snow.

Recover Well- The mental and physical work of hunting all day can require some recovery.  Generally, the human animal requires 6-9 hours of rest per night.  Being in the woods all day pushes the need closer to the nine hour mark.  The daylight hours are short, meaning there is plenty of time available to get your rest once you get back to camp.  Most people can tolerate a day or two of performing on short sleep, but eventually that need has to be met.  If it isn’t, performance and motivation will decline rapidly.

Fuel Your Body- What you eat will impact how you perform in the woods.  I don’t recommend big diet changes during the season, but in some ways that is unavoidable.  During the day, we are often limited to what we can carry.  Your eating habits through the year will impact how you need to eat during the season.  In my year-round diet, I tend to avoid processed carbs as much as possible, preferring to focus on protein and fat for my nutrition, which trains me to use fat for energy (a fuel source we have plenty of on our bodies).  Carbohydrates, while maligned in a lot of nutrition circles these days, do have a role for supplying quick energy jolts, good for that last push of the day to catch that buck or when your energy lags heading back to the truck.   The problem is that they burn up quick, so you need to keep adding more, which means carrying more.  To combat this, part of my training also includes regularly skipping of delaying meals to practice for times of reduced availability in the woods.  This is called intermittent fasting and needs to be tried with a bit of care.  The basic premise is that by practicing going hungry once in a while, your brain and body will adapt and be better able to handle it later, avoiding the shakes and mental fog that typically accompany running out of glucose (the fast fuel our bodies prefer to use).  Endurance athletes call it hitting the wall and it is uncomfortable physically and mentally.  You don’t want this to happen while you are hunting, so trying it beforehand can be helpful.

Once the season hits, I am likely to add some of the breads and pastas back in to my diet for convenience and performance.  I usually end up with a sandwich, some nuts, an apple and a protein bar or two in my BWB pack to get me through the day.  That means breakfast and dinner in the evening are where I need to get the bulk of my protein and fats for my diet, to replace what I burn up in the day.  In general, most of us lack enough healthy proteins and fats during the season, so I recommend focusing on those when you can.  Eggs, avocadoes, olive oil, healthy nuts, sweet potatoes, lean meats (venison!) are all good places to start.  Salad is good for you for lots of important nutrients, but don’t rely on it as your sole source of fuel as it is not very calorie dense. 

Some supplements can be beneficial for filling in gaps; I don’t take anything every day, but usually get something in on a of couple different days per week.  I’m not saying that is what you should do; it is just what I do.  Realize I’m not sponsored by these folks, but people have asked what I use, mostly it is from Wilderness Athlete- I take a multivitamin, omega 3-fish oil, a green infusion blend and use their drink mixes- Hydrate and Recover as well as Energy and Focus.  Talk to your physician before you do anything too far from normal and be careful of interactions with supplements and your regular medications.    

Muscle Care- As we use our muscles throughout the day tracking a buck down, it will be helpful to give them a little attention as well.  They are likely to get tightened up and a little sore.  In general I avoid medications for this, knowing that my body can manage this on its own.  If you trained through the year, this soreness is likely to be less and you’ll also be familiar with it, so it won’t concern you.  I recommend the use of a foam roller for a few minutes and then some stretching after a day of hunting.  The focus should be on the muscles of the legs and core.  You’ll want to roll and stretch your calf muscles, quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, back and chest.  Hold these stretches in a gentle, comfortable position for 30+ seconds each.  Shoot me an email at bwbfit@gmail.com if you want more specifics for this.  In the morning, I don’t like people stretching cold muscles, so ease along on the track for 10-15 minutes.  If you don’t think he is bedded close by, back track for 50 feet or so and do a few stretches to loosen up and think about what lies ahead of you.

If you have anywhere from four days to a week plus off between hunts, you'll want to do maintain some light exercise a couple of those days to keep things firing on all cylinders.  The human body can only peak physically for a week or two, so we're really trying to maintain ourselves at 90% of what we're capable of for a long duration.  If we shut things down completely, it is hard to start back up.  Do a few long walks, some bodyweight strengthening and some sub-maximal lifts in the gym, like deadlifts, lunges and rows.  Efforts should not be to make gains, but instead maintain fitness and the routine of work from your hunting days.  True recovery will take place after the season.    

Water- We can live for weeks without food, but only days without water.  Our body needs a fair amount of water to flush out the damage we do to ourselves and help deliver nutrients for repair and function.  I got dehydrated on a hunt in the thin air of Colorado where we spent an unexpected night in the woods due to some horse issues.  I had only brought a small bottle with me and nothing to purify additional water with.  After a hard day of hunting and walking late into the night, I was out of sorts by the time we set up a hasty shelter and got a fire going.  Thankfully my hunting guide, Clay, was able to get some water cleaned for us and I had my stuff back together by the time dawn broke and we headed out, none the worse for wear.  I was able to take care of my hunger later that day but the need for water was made quite apparent.  Now I carry a filter with me as a backup to the water I bring, though I’d drink dirty water to keep my wits about me and get out of the woods if I needed to.  If you do so, realize you can catch some nasty parasites, so be careful.  Do your best to stay hydrated and drink when you are thirsty.

Break the Rules- When push comes to shove and that buck is ahead of you, feel free to break all of these rules- eat what you need to, push too hard, don’t stretch, run short on sleep.  The season is brief and intense, so sometimes you have to push over the edge to take your dream buck in the Big Woods.  Just realize you’ll probably pay a little for it later, with interest.  It will be worth it though, I promise.    

Stay after ‘em!