Hunting elk in the mountains of Wyoming should be an exciting and rewarding adventure. It is supposed to be an enjoyable time for those participating in the hunt. It’s basically a vacation right? You drive or fly out west, stay in a nice rustic cabin, walk around the woods, find a herd of elk, wait for a big bull to come within shooting distance…and BOOM! Just like that, the hunt is over and you are going home with a trophy to hang on the wall, a freezer full of meat and some great stories to tell your friends and colleagues. It’s that easy! Wrong! It may look easy on the hunting shows, but in reality, it’s far from that.
The truth is that elk hunting is a grind. It is a grueling war of attrition between you and Mother Nature. You versus sleep deprivation, weather, elevation, terrain, predators, and of course the elk itself, which is a four legged animal built to run up and down the mountains. To win the war, you need to be in shape! I know I’m being dramatic, elk hunting is definitely not a war, but it is a grueling adventure where you will abuse your body and learn a lot about yourself. And in my opinion, you better get your butt in shape if want to enjoy the awesome experience ahead of you.
So how do you get in shape or train for a hunting trip to the west where the mountains are bigger and the terrain is way more rugged than you can imagine?
The best way is to try and replicate the environment you will be in and the activities you will be performing to the best of your ability.
Hunting out west involves A LOT of walking. And most of the time you will be on a mountain at an increased elevation. You will be carrying at minimum, your weapon of choice and a backpack. Clothing will most likely be medium to heavy and you will be wearing boots. You must try to replicate as many of these elements that you can and do it in a slow progression so you don’t cause an injury in the process and completely ruin the hunting trip before it even starts.
So here is a general outline of my training process before I went out west to archery hunt for elk.
First, I wanted to get my legs in shape and build some cardiovascular endurance. Like any training program, my starting point was dependent on current physical fitness and the time period I had to train before the trip. Starting slow and allowing weeks to months to progress is obviously ideal to avoid injury. So, I started off by walking a mile at a time on a flat road or treadmill with regular tennis shoes, shorts and a t-shirt. Over the next 2 weeks I progressed to a slight incline on the treadmill or some rolling hills on the road. I also strengthened my lower body with simple exercises like squats and lunges, first using just my body weight and then adding weight slowly in the form of dumbbells. I kept things pretty simple, slowly increasing weight and intensity for the next 2-4 week. After about a month, I really wanted to try and replicate as best I could some of the elements and stresses I would be dealing with out west. Obviously, I couldn’t identically replicate the Teton Mountains and the 8,000 -9,000 feet of elevation there. So I tried to simulate some of the steep ascents I knew I would encounter by setting the treadmill to its highest incline and using the stair stepper at moderate to strenuous intensity. Also, I would go outside and hike some decent hills behind my house almost every morning. And if you really wanted to simulate the lack of oxygen at elevation, then using an elevation mask during this training would definitely help. I did not use an elevation mask, but I wish I would have!
Once I developed some strength in my legs and some cardiovascular endurance, I wanted to try to replicate some of the other factors I would face during my hunt. Heavier clothing and boots add another variable to the equation in that they obviously weigh more and are more restrictive than tennis shoes, shorts and a t-shirt. So as I progressed through my training process I added clothing and gear as often as I could depending on the weather and temperature. Carrying your weapon and pack can add another 25-50 pounds to the load you will be carrying. So I tried to replicate this scenario by putting weighted plates in my pack as I hiked the hills behind my house. This also allowed my body, from my feet, knees, lower back and shoulders to adapt to the added stress and altered weight distribution. I also tried to strengthen my big muscle groups like traps, deltoids, lats, glutes, hamstrings and quads through moderate strength training on a regular basis during the whole process. Again, progressing slowly and steadily so I didn’t cause any injuries or setbacks along during the training.
Lastly, nutrition and hydration are crucial to any training program in order to give your body the proper energy source and building blocks to perform and then recover. So I ate a decently balanced diet and hydrated accordingly in order to give my body the opportunity to grow and recover in anticipation for the excessive stresses in would endure during the week long adventure.
I’m glad to report that my training program worked pretty well! My body held up and acclimated to the rugged terrain and elevation within a couple days. This goes to (900) show once again that preparation and planning will definitely pay off and make any adventure more enjoyable.