As I've recently noted, I'm going on my very first elk hunt this year!!!! Man, .... I thought time crawled by as a kid while waiting for Christmas to arrive. This was murder.
One of my many fears (right after being eaten by a bear) is having a physical meltdown on a trip such as this. I've read many stories and heard many tales of people going on their dream hunts only to realize, a bit too late, that they are in horrific shape and they are only able to hike 117' from camp before blowing out a lung, knee, disc, ankle or retina. I DO NOT WANT TO BE THAT GUY since (i) I want to enjoy myself, (ii) I'd be angry with myself for not having the discipline to "butch up" and get ready KNOWING the trip was coming and, probably most importantly, (iii) the two buddies I'm going with would make fun of me without mercy for the rest of my natural life. Public ridicule is a powerful motivator. So is not being able to put distance between yourself and a black bear should the need arise.
So... I started training. At first, I started off with some low impact, innocent activities like riding a bike for some aerobic exercise. This lead to some additional weight training, longer walks / hikes / runs around the neighborhood and some sessions on the treadmill. All pretty traditional stuff.
I also took the stairs EVERYWHERE and climbed the 5 flights everyday at work several times a day.
I soon realized that (i) I hate working out and (ii) the hunt was literally just a few months away and there are other activities / skills I needed to address. In addition to physical conditioning, I also needed to work on shooting techniques (i.e. "breathing" control, "trigger" control, "ignoring the ants biting your leg" control), packing techniques, sitting around a campfire making fun of people techniques, getting over the guilt of leaving my family for such a selfish trip techniques,...
Fortunately, my kids have a KEEN interest in all things good ol' dad does. Sensing an opportunity, they too were incorporated into my training.
At first, this involved simply adding weight to my walks. I had heard of people training by carrying bricks in their backpacks. Being short on 40lbs of bricks, my skinny 6 year old was a perfect substitute. This should help with both stamina and building strength in my back and legs for hiking the mountains as well as packing out my 800lb elk.
Not only are children convenient but as your body becomes more tuned and in shape, you can add other children incrementally to increase the challenge. Shoot for a 2-3 year gap in ages with each additional child.
Not wanting to ignore any major muscle groups, I incorporated a variety of exercises into the routine. Added resistance and other stress-inducers can help focus the mind and push you through the pain.
Not wanting to ignore the upper body, arm and neck exercises were incorporated.
But then I realized, "Man, I'm going about this all the wrong way". While it is true that I needed to be in shape, the kids could be incorporated in other, much more useful ways.
For example, children make wonderful rifle rests. Oh sure, they are afraid of loud noises and it might damage their hearing later in life but their constant movements and twitching simulates your oxygen-deprived, panting body and adds to the challenge of putting the crosshairs on target.
A major mistake many first time elk hunters make is packing far too much gear and regretting it miles from camp. While I planned to streamline my gear down to a small fanny pack, rifle and pair of binoculars, there were other supplies I would like to have in the field; I just did not want to carry everything by myself. This lead to major realization: Children are shockingly strong for their small sizes and make excellent pack animals.
Make sure they carry enough water for both themselves AND you since they do tire pretty easily and will slow you down.
So, next time you are training for any mountainous elk or sheep hunt, learn to rely more on your brain and less on your brawn and you'll do just fine. Plus, as an added bonus, you can chalk up the time training and the time in the field as "family time" and look like a hero in the process.
A Man in the Woods