On a recent BWB podcast, Hal, Lee, Joe and I discussed “getting in shape” for hunting. A lot of jokes followed and we had a good conversation, discussing things like fitness and mental toughness. I felt like some important details got left out, so hopefully this will help fill in some of the knowledge gaps.
What are we trying to do?
Say the words “in shape’ and a certain image comes to mind- a chiseled physique with bulging muscles, perhaps. This is not what we want to work on to be ready to chase deer around. That image comes from bodybuilding, which is a fine pursuit, but it works on targeting individual muscles for the sake of appearance, rather than focusing on conditioning the whole body for performance. We want to train movements and not individual muscles. Any improvement in the appearance of your body will be a byproduct of this process, rather than the focus of it.
This is the other aspect of “in shape” that people usually think about- losing bodyweight. Again, this is a byproduct. We want to treat food as fuel for activity, so we need to tailor it to what we’re doing. There is emerging research that caloric restriction works for weight loss for about 6 months and then it plateaus. When we’re restricting calories, it is hard to perform at a high level, so this needs to be managed well. If we eat to fuel activities and focus on what that fuel looks like, we’ll do well. We want to eat what our bodies adapted to over millions of years of evolution- and very little of that comes in a box! Limiting processed foods is a big first step toward improving performance. Then there is the timing of nutrition that matters. Eating a snickers bar or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while on a buck track for the 4th hour provides quick calories that will be burned right up. Eat the same food at 9pm on a Saturday night in March, and that fuel will be converted into stored energy for later- body fat.
So, treat food like fuel and use it appropriately.
Some people think that mental toughness is something you are born with, either you have it or you don’t. This isn’t true. Over repeated exposure to progressively challenging situations, mental toughness can be learned and increased. Building up this tolerance before hunting season parallels physical conditioning. As training increases, so does mental fortitude. Training hard is a like a 2 for 1 special- improved physical condition and increased mental toughness. As the body is challenged by increasing mileage or steepness of terrain, the mind realizes there is no threat in working hard and being pushed.
What is a buck tracker to do? The plan Hal outlined for himself to build up his wind will work for anyone. Every couple of days, go for a long hike that includes hills. Stop when you need to, then slowly build up how long you can go without a break. When you don’t need to rest anymore, try to go a little faster or add a pack with some weight and keep increasing the challenge until deer season gets here. If we listen to the podcast, Hal has some knee and back issues that can bog him down and Joe had some shoulder complaints, so a few more things might be appropriate to add in. A reasonable strength training routine is good to work on- not bodybuilding, but hunting-specific strength. Just like with building up your wind, start small and grow what you can do, a couple days per week:
⦁ Pullups (or do a row if you can’t do a pullup)
⦁ Lunges (with a weight in one hand for core and shoulder strength Joe!)
⦁ Log drags
⦁ Some yoga for flexibility and balance- Sun Salutations and the series of Warrior Poses
If you want a recipe for tracking success, it looks like this:
Get all your ingredients together-
⦁ Your body: Hike 3-4 days a week, strengthen and yoga 2 days a week, eat right, get tough
⦁ Your gear- get it all squared away, wool clothes, boots, pack, rifle
⦁ Your skills- work on your woods skills including map, compass, shooting
⦁ Get smart- Hal’s tracking school, Hal’s books, Matt’s book (www.bucksthatgotaway.com)
⦁ Find a stretch of big woods when it snows
Then go find a buck and track him down!