Editor's Note: Consult a physician before starting a vigorous workout program.
Hunting in the backcountry requires a high degree of fitness and mental fortitude. I am 54 years old and have been on many backcountry hunts for sheep, mountain goats, and mule deer. The last 25 years have been mainly focused on hunting Stone Sheep in Northern B.C. Canada, with much success. My average hunts are around 8 days, with hiking distances in excess of 100 kilometers or 62 miles. In the mountains, you have to be ready for anything, and I attribute all my success to being in shape mentally and physically. In this article, I will discuss how to physically prepare yourself for a grueling mountain hunt.
My first ram.
PREPARING FOR THE BACKCOUNTRY - DIET, CARDIO AND RUCKING
An old sheep hunter's saying is, "you are not in sheep shape until after the sheep hunt" These words ring true; however, training and conditioning will make your hunt easier and more enjoyable. Six months before your hunt, you must be very disciplined in your diet, cardio fitness, and weight training. Remember, if you are going on a backcountry sheep hunt, you could hike up to 20-25 km (12.4 - 15.5 miles) a day, and half of that will more than likely be up a mountain and very steep. So the better shape you are in at the start of the hunt, the more you are going to enjoy the hunt and want to do it again.
Let's start with diet. I will keep this simple (as I am no dietician) and to the point. A low-fat, high-protein diet with up to 6 small meals a day works for me. No fast food, pop, or potato chips. Everyone's body is different, and we all have different metabolisms. I suggest consulting a dietician at least 6 months before the hunt.
For Cardio, you will likely gain altitudes up to ten thousand feet. Your heart and lungs have to work harder at these altitudes. So you will want to get them in the best condition possible. I do cardio training at least 4 times a week. About three to four months before the hunt, one of those training days will be hiking with a weighted backpack. You can expect your pack to weigh between sixty and sixty-five pounds. That includes a rifle, food, one Liter of water, and all gear at the start of the hunt. Although I do not train with that much weight, I usually keep my training pack weight around forty to forty-five pounds. You want to avoid overtraining or causing an injury before you go. I also do not use trekking poles when training, but I definitely use them on the hunt. Trekking poles have saved my life on more than one occasion, and I highly recommend them.
Train Indoors! If I don't have time for a hike or the weather is not ideal for a run or hike, I will walk up and down the stairs in my house with my weighted pack for twenty minutes without resting.
The mountain I train on. 5 kilometer round trip.
When I run, I keep it at around 5 km (3.1 miles), and I will only run on trails since pavement is too hard on my knees at my age. I always time my runs to measure progress and usually spend 2 training days on my elliptical as it has a low impact on my knees. I will run on the elliptical for thirty minutes, and at each ten-minute interval, I stop the time and do push-ups or planks.
Regarding weight training, my body responds best to training 1 body part a week. I won't go through each exercise, but the muscle groups are listed below. I also keep my workouts under 1 hour.
- Day 1 Chest
- Day 2 Arms ( biceps and triceps )
- Day 3 Back
- Day 4 Shoulders
- Day 5 Legs and Abs
After each workout session, I will do 1 minute of planks for a finisher, but on my Abs day, I finish with 3 sets of 1-minute planks. I do not do all my workouts in 5 consecutive days. I like to have two rest days, usually a day in the middle of the week and one on the weekend.
Rams are found in some very rugged places.
One more thing to mention is stretching. Stretching is essential and not to be forgotten. I will stretch after all cardio and before weight training. I have even taken some yoga classes, which really helped, and I recommend incorporating yoga into your fitness routine.
This is what has worked for me for over 25 years. What works for me may not work for you. We all have different body types and metabolisms. I have a very fast metabolism. Before starting any workout routine, it is a good idea to consult a personal trainer. They will know what kind of body type you are and design a workout routine around your body type and metabolism.
THE WEEK BEFORE YOUR HUNT - REST AND RECOVERY
A week before the hunt, I will let my body rest and fully recover. The day before the hunt, I will prioritize hydration and continue to hydrate throughout my hunt.
My hunting partner and I shot a ram on opposite sides of the mountain. Each ram yielded eighty pounds of meat. It was a long climb.
This is the routine I have been doing for many years, and it has made all my hunts more enjoyable and successful. My hunting partner and I have made some stalks on rams that if we weren't in the shape we were in, we would have never been successful. Do I skip training days? Yes, I still have to have family time and work as well. But I stick to my program as much as I can. What motivates me to keep training? I watch hunting videos while training, and when I run or hike, I visualize a big ram. When I'm tired and want to stop running. I think of the same big ram and push myself to finish the 5 km.
My training routine may seem extreme for some, so this should be used as a guideline for someone preparing for backcountry hunting. I have been weight training and into fitness for the last 30 years; it's what I like to do. If you plan a backcountry hunt, do Cardio and hikes with a weighted pack 3 months before your hunt. Good luck!
My hunting partner Rob and I.
HUNTING RESOURCES FROM MDT
- Tips For A Successful Antelope Hunt
- Hunting In Inclement Weather
- Analysis: Long Range Hunting
- MDT Field Report - Why The Triple Pull CKYE-POD is a Guides Best Friend
- Tips for Cold Weather Shooting
- How To Optimize Your Rifle For Positional Shooting
- The Modern Hunting Vest
- Hunting With The MDT XRS Chassis System
- Hunting Stocks Versus PRS-Style Competition Stocks
- Predator Hunting with a Chassis Rifle
- Maximize Performance with Mental Imagery
- Confidence Kills