Hunting and fitness should go hand in hand. We hunt for the best meat in the world, and being healthy just seems to fit with that lifestyle naturally. While we all know successful hunters who are gym rats or totally out of shape, I believe that a certain level of fitness is necessary to be the best possible version of yourself in the outdoors. Here are my top five ways to get in shape for deer season.
The Ruck Simply put, “rucking” is walking or hiking with some type of weighted pack. DIY hunters often face the challenge of hunting in remote areas or on difficult terrain. Most times, success relies on the ability to go farther and last longer. My favorite way to build strength and endurance in my lower half is by rucking with a weighted pack. I’ll throw 50 to 80 pounds of sand in my pack and find the nearest hill or technical terrain nearby.
I have two primary ruck workouts. One is hiking 2 to 3 miles and trying to hit inclines, declines, and side hills. I will fluctuate between a moderate and fast pace, but I mainly just try to keep moving without rest. My other favorite workout is hiking as fast as I can for half of a mile on a steep incline with heavy weight. If I can’t find an incline nearby, I’ll use the StairMaster at the local gym on full speed. I like to do this four to five times throughout the week, and will ramp up the weight and intensity in the weeks leading up to a physically demanding hunt.
Core Strength A strong core is a necessity for hunting in the West, but it could be extremely important for the whitetail hunter as well. Sitting in a tree stand for long hours can wreak havoc on your body. It’s difficult to maintain good posture while sitting on a metal stand without support, and fatigue usually leads to slouching over. Spending one or two days like this may not be a big deal, but for those who slouch day after day, season after season, it can really take a toll on your body. Think about how many deer hunters you hear complaining about back pain.
Maintaining core strength is a great way to avoid back ailments. My favorite core exercises include three sets of ten Supermans and three sets of 90-second planks. To do a Superman properly, lie on the floor on your stomach with your arms stretched in front of you. Rest your chin on the floor and look up at your hands. Flex your back and core muscles to lift your legs, arms, and chin off the floor and hold that position for 10 seconds. Rest for another 10.
To plank, lie on your stomach and put your forearms on the ground shoulder-width apart. Push yourself up onto your forearms and toes, holding a perfectly straight back for as long as possible.
Stretching Stretching is important for maintaining high performance whether you’re hunting the whitetail woods or the mountains of the West. Spending long hours in a tree stand for an entire season can create an assortment of problems.
Hip flexors will start to shorten in length from excessive sitting, causing them to pull on your pelvis and create lower back pain. Prolonged sitting poses the same problem for your hamstrings, which are flexed at roughly a 90° angle when in a such a position. This can also cause them to shorten, igniting back pain. You can mitigate reduced flexibility and back pain from long hours in a tree stand by keeping your hip flexors and hamstrings stretched out.
Do some deep 90-degree lunges by stepping one foot forward and dropping the alternate knee to the floor. Your front leg should be at a right angle extending in front of you, and your back leg should be at a right angle immediately under you. Put your hands up in the air and bend back slightly until you feel a stretch on the front of the hip on the knee-down side. Hold for ten seconds and switch sides.
To stretch hamstrings, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and bend your knees slightly. Keep your back straight and core engaged, and bend over slowly at the hips until you feel a stretch in the backs of your legs.
Keep your core healthy and flexible by doing an upward-facing dog, a popular yoga pose in which you lie on the floor on your stomach, plant your hands on the ground on either side of your ribcage, and push up until your arms are fully extended and your chest and torso are up off the ground.
Dumbbell Goblet Squat The dumbbell goblet squat mainly strengthens quads and glutes, but it also incorporates some awesome core stability and strengthening when done correctly. Because you hold the weight at chest height, your core will stabilize your body during the movement, while the lats and upper back muscles work to keep the dumbbell in place.
This exercise is great for building power through your hips and posterior chain, which can be handy when traipsing through the swamps or rucking up mountains. I usually prefer doing lots of reps to get a good blend of power and endurance. I typically perform three sets of 10 reps with heavy weight but will kick it up to five sets leading up to a physically demanding hunt.
Mental Toughness This might be the most important body preparation strategy for DIY hunting. You have to be mentally tough. But is this something you can actually exercise and increase? In my opinion, yes.
I’ve been on hunts before where I quit due to nerve pain in my back or serious homesickness. I was weak and felt like I deserved the unsuccessful results. One way to help increase mental toughness is to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. I believe in occasionally overloading yourself with stress and difficulty so that you’re comfortable when faced with a difficult situation in the outdoors.
I often have an end goal in mind when I’m exercising or training. It might be running a certain number of miles, 30 minutes on the StairMaster at a fast pace, or hiking a steep hill with a weighted pack for four miles. Once I reach the end goal I push through an extra five minutes or more. I’m usually exhausted when approaching the end goal and I probably want the “uncomfortable” feeling to end, but by forcing myself to push an extra five minutes, I get used to making the more difficult choice when faced with two options.
This translates into hunting; when I’m faced with the choice of going back to camp for lunch instead of sitting in a stand all day, I confidently and willingly make the more challenging decision. Sometimes this is the difference between success and failure in the outdoors.
Hunting rewards those who want it more, who are willing to push farther, last longer, those who just won’t quit. You can train yourself to be more mentally tough with discipline and by habitually choosing the more difficult path when faced with a tough decision.
Feature image via Captured Creative.