Sportsmen enjoy the thrill of the unknown adventure every time their boots strike the dirt leaving behind the comforts of home and searching for whatever Mother Nature has in store. A successful outing relies on preparing for the terrain and conditions you will encounter traveling to a stand or pursuing game on foot.
As many hunters who pursue game on public WMAs will attest, being in shape makes it possible to enjoy less pressured areas and manage the terrain, whether it’s the rough country of the Ozarks or the bottomlands of the Delta. “Being in good physical condition is a combination of strength, endurance and coordination all in one,” said physical therapist and avid outdoorsman, Grant Harper.
Climbing ridges in pursuit of an animal, then having enough stability to control your heart rate to place an ethical shot and finally packing out the downed animal requires all three elements. It comes full circle to be physically fit and harvest meat that then fuels and replenishes a hunter’s body.
Nothing ruins a hunt faster than being out of shape. It is important to increase cardiovascular efficiency when training for a hunt especially in mountainous terrain. Harper recommends hunters implement cardiovascular training well in advance of hunting season. “Cardiac changes typically take 10 to 12 weeks before someone sees considerable results,” Harper said. Focus on exercise that mimics the experience you expect in the field.
Sprinting may temporarily raise the heart rate, but it is not congruent with hunting. “The key to building endurance is monitoring heartrate and training your body to use the correct energy system to have an adequate cardio response to activity,” Harper said. Start conditioning by walking at a steady pace that increases heart rate to the target zone for 30 minutes, five to six days a week.
“The recommended target heart rate is different for each individual, but is typically 60 to 80 percent of a persons’ maximum heart rate,” Harper said. “Calculate maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220.”
Harper offers three factors that can be modified while walking to increase intensity and overall benefits to cardiovascular training:
- Increase speed to the extent that you can keep at a steady state for five minute bouts. Training with an elevated heart rate from an increased pace now will directly relate to the adrenaline rush during a hunt and hiking in the hills later.
- Increase the grade of the slope by one or two percent each time to gradually get used to walking on a different grade. It’s great to have a combination of ascending or descending hills to help maintain core stability and adapt to variation in the land.
- Increase resistance with a properly fitting backpack. Start with little to no weight and add more weight gradually every week. The pack should not be overly strenuous on the back or core muscles. Make sure you are able to maintain the same speed or grade before increasing weight.
Accommodations for training could include walking the neighborhood loop, inclined cardio machines at a gym or hiking a local trail. Good cardiovascular conditioning allows a hunter to adapt when encountering different conditions. It allows individuals to be more in tune with their body to know its limits, so they can continue to enjoy the tradition of hunting for years to come.