Physical Conditioning for the Older Hunter
By Jim Bernardin - Big Woods Bucks Team Member
"Just 300 more yards and you'll have a great shot at him, Ron." These were my words, urging my client to push himself just a bit more to have an opportunity at one of the best mule deer bucks I had ever seen in my years of guiding in Wyoming. The reply given was, "I can't do it, I'm done !" How sad to lose an opportunity after the investment made in a western hunt, but not enough investment made in preparation. I have also had clients who gave up on the track of big whitetails in the woods of Maine after only an hour or two on the track. Hunting, outside of waiting in a tree stand overlooking a food plot, in an athletic endeavor, whether tracking deer across the northern tier of States, or parts of Canada, or the pursuit of mountain sheep, goats, mule deer and elk in the Rocky Mountains of the West. You need not be an Olympic athlete, nor a marathon runner to be prepared for physical hunts, but some effort and preparation will pay dividends in the field.
So how does the "older, 50+ individual" get into decent shape ? I am well past 50 and would like to share some tips on what may and can work for you. Not only will your trips afield be more enjoyable, but your odds for success will increase as well. First, and this can be a tough one, if you are overweight, work on trimming the pounds. The so-called "macro" diets are great and you will not go hungry. Stick to foods that are not processed or highly refined. If it comes in a can, a box or a bag, it more than likely is not the best choice. Whole grains, complex carbs (fruits, fresh vegetables, nuts, especially unsalted almonds), lean meats, all wild game is great, and plenty of water are the ticket. If you enjoy a cocktail or beer, do so in moderation and try to avoid them completely for six weeks prior to your hunt.
As far as physical condition itself, one the greatest practices is to actually replicate what you will be doing in the field. If you are way out of shape, check with your doctor first and "start slowly." To build up your wind, start with a brisk walk, fast enough to break into a sweat and get puffing a bit and after a week, alternate between a brisk walk for a hundred yards and then a jog for a hundred yards for about a mile. Work your way up to the point where you are jogging the entire distance of your workout until you can do two to three miles, three times a week. Listen to your body and if you start to hurt, ease off and go back alternating your walk, jog routine until you feel no pain. The old saying about no pain, no gain is not entirely valid. If you hurt, you'll quit so take it one day at a time. And walk everywhere, when and where practical. Park the car as far away as possible from the store. Buy a "Fit Bit" and make a goal of taking at least 10,000 steps per day. If you walk your dog for 10 minutes, gradually increase it to 30 to 45 minutes.
Now, once you are comfortable with your two to three mile jog three times a week, it's time to start replicating what you will actually be doing on your hunt. Take your back pack and load it up with about ten to fifteen pounds and start climbing gentle hills and slopes to start. Keep adding weight, and increasing the incline as you become more comfortable with the weight on your back and push yourself to where you get some burning in your legs, but do not overdo it or , again, you'll be forced to give up. I am fortunate to live in steep, rugged country in Northwestern Wyoming, with altitudes from 8,000 to 13,000 feet. But you don't need to move, unless you wish to! If you live in flat country, join the local fitness club or YMCA. If neither of those are available, go to a nearby high school or college and climb the stadium steps. Even if none of those options are available, put on your pack and walk, walk and walk some more. The weight bearing exercise will help with your conditioning, I guarantee and you will feel better. Remember, you need wind and leg strength to track that big buck or climb that mountain and the combination of jogging and climbing and walking with your loaded pack will get you there.
Lastly, mental toughness is just as important as physical conditioning; that is, you have to want to do it. Hal Blood of Jackman, Maine is quite possibly the best whitetail deer hunter alive; he's the "real deal." And in addition to his being in good shape, Hal has the mental toughness and persistence to "stay on the track," or keep on climbing. He wants it and just like everything in life that is worthwhile, preparedness and desire go a long way towards the fulfillment of goals. That big buck in front of you on the track does not care that you are tired, wet, cold, or really don't have the desire. And the sheep on the mountain, or the bull elk that keeps climbing and climbing endlessly, probably cares even less than the whitetail buck that you are weary of the hunt. But if you are prepared, really prepared, both physically and mentally, you can be up to the challenge and the rewards are more than worth the effort. So rather than making excuses why you simply cannot get into shape, start making excuses why you need to and must do it.
Good luck on the track or on the mountain.
Besides being a Big Woods Bucks team member, Jim is a true woodsman, Big Woods tracking expert, registered Maine Guide and licensed Wyoming Guide. He has killed or guided to a kill many trophies animals including huge Northern Maine Bucks. We look forward to sharing his adventures with you. He and his wife Gail reside in Wapiti, Wyoming for part of the year and Boothbay, Maine for the remainder.