The sun is just beginning to peak over the mountains as you breathe in the brisk autumn air. You shift your weight carefully as to not disturb the patch of frosted leaves beneath your knees. Behind you, your hunting partner bugles, and you hold your breath, listening. A competing bugle pierces the crisp morning air; the bull elk you’ve been working steps into an opening, giving you a perfect broadside shot. It happens in a flash – you draw, release, your arrow flies and connects – a split-second success, months in the making.
For bowhunters, what happens in the off-season prepares them for profit during hunting season. Bowhunting requires stamina to pursue animals, and strength to draw the bow and hold steady. Here are five ways to stay on top of the skills needed to be successful.
Skill: Drawing the bow
Preparation: Strengthen those shoulders
Bowhunting, like any sport, requires a certain level of physical fitness to both draw the bow and hold it steady to make a good shot. Many states even have bow poundage requirements for hunters. Drawing a bow uses several muscle groups, including your shoulders, stomach and back. You can do shoulder-specific strength training and resistance exercises in the gym or at home.
Bent-over rows are one of the most popular exercises for archers as they target the specific muscles used to draw. Hoyt produced a video to help bowhunters increase mobility and strength. When you can’t make it to the range but want to practice drawing and holding steady, there’s AccuBow. The simulation bow can adjust to your draw weight and features a laser sight for hunters to practice holding steady. You can also do similar exercises with a resistance band or using a cable machine.
Skill: Finding the animals
Preparation: Kick up the cardio
Whether it’s scouting spots for treestands or taking a trek during a backcountry hunt, odds are the miles will add up while hunting. Don’t go from sitting on the couch to scouting for elk. It’s important to keep up your cardio during the off-season.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is one of the best ways to kick-start your cardio. Interval training burns more calories than regular cardio, and it increases your breathing capacity. HIIT training involves alternating short bursts of intense activity with longer stretches of moderate intensity. You can do this by walking or running, inside or outside. During intervals, increase speed or add an incline. For example, jog two blocks and sprint the third, or do a mile on the treadmill at a lower incline before increasing the incline for a quarter-mile.
Skill: Conquering the climb
Preparation: Leg day
From scaling mountains on a sheep hunt to huffing it up hills during deer season, hunting almost always includes a relatively steep climb. They say no pain, no gain, so it’s time to get sore. But putting in the work ahead of time will make life easier when hunting season rolls around. Squats are one of the most effective exercises for strengthening the lower body. You can train using a number of different squat variations, but it’s important to have proper squat form. Lunges are another great leg-strengthening exercise and can help increase stability in the knees, leading to fewer injuries and increased mobility. The dreaded deadlift engages all of your major muscles. It’s also very important to have proper deadlift form to get the max benefit and avoid injuring yourself.
Skill: Carrying a heavy pack
Preparation: Train with weight
Whether you’re headed on a day hunt or you’re carrying your camp on your back, a lot of hunters carry a pack throughout hunting season. For some lucky hunters, success results in a heavy pack out. Your leg exercises will build durability, but carrying weight also takes a toll on your shoulders. The best way to prepare for a pack is to train while carrying weight.
Working out with a weighted vest is a safe and effective way to train for carrying a pack. Most weighted vests allow you to customize the amount of weight you are carrying. Start small because even a little weight will add intensity to any workout. If you don’t want to invest in a weighted vest, load up the pack you plan to take hunting. Fill the pack with weights, gear for the hunt or full water bottles (you can decrease the weight as needed by drinking or dumping the bottles out). Go hiking, do household chores, walk around the block or practice on a treadmill on an incline.
Skill: Kneeling, climbing fences, belly-crawling etc.
Preparation: Stretch it out
Hunting season can be rough on the body. From climbing fences to crawling through brush, a day in the woods can be a full-body workout. With all the focus on strength and stamina, many people often forget the importance of stretching. Stretching before and after a workout increases flexibility and prevents injuries. You can also try specific stretches before a workout to warm up shooting muscles.
If you’re having trouble staying motivated, buddy up. Visit your local archery shop and register for a league. Many communities have archery groups that put on 3-D archery tournaments. There are also organizations like Train to Hunt that sponsor workouts and competitions combining fitness and hunting. Just remember, with every mile and sore muscle you’re that much closer to setting yourself up for a successful hunting season.