As someone who played sports all the way through college the phrase “game shape” is a term I am pretty familiar with. Seems as though there was always a coach telling us we had to get ourselves into “game shape”. Sometimes it was during pre-season conditioning drills, other times it was during in season practices when people weren’t quite as intense or as focused as they needed to be. Regardless of the situation the meaning was always the same, as an athlete there is a certain level of physical conditioning you need to achieve to perform your best as an individual and as a team.
Having left truly competitive sports behind when my college career ended over a decade ago it’s safe to say I am currently at a state that falls well short of “game shape”. The relative ease with which I was formerly able to maintain that shape is now a distant memory and the toils of office life have certainly taken their toll on my physical conditioning.
These days hunting is my main hobby and while I won’t attempt to imply that hunting whitetails in Michigan requires the same physical conditioning as playing collegiate level sports I will say that being in better shape certainly has its benefits in the deer woods. The demands of “hunt shape” aren’t nearly as rigorous or difficult to achieve as “game shape” but they can have a big effect on both the enjoyment and success of your hunts this fall.
Hunting in the snow can be an awesome experience but walking a half mile through the snow to get to your stand can be a quick reminder that you didn't get into quite as good of shape as you thought.
I’ve told myself before that I was going to get into better shape for the fall and usually that leads to a few good months in the gym followed by an eventual tapering off and a realization about a mile and a half from the truck on a November morning that I, once again, fell short of my goals. The frustration at that point is enough to remind me that I need to stick to my resolutions next year but unfortunately it comes too late to be corrected for the current season.
It’s with that in mind (along with some motivation from my wife who’s currently kicking butt in her own fitness goals) that I begin this year’s quest to get into, and stay in, “hunt shape” for the upcoming season. This year the effort will be focused mainly on my cardio conditioning but will also include some leg strength work along with back and shoulders (think bow hunting muscles).
For deer hunting in Michigan, which is mostly stand/blind oriented as opposed to spot and stalk some may think that the need for cardio training is somewhat limited. While I agree that a person doesn’t need to be a marathon runner to be in “hunt shape” for deer season, those with better cardio conditioning will certainly have an advantage over those who have not put the work in.
On our property the longest walk that we make is roughly a mile in distance. Those hunting on state land and trying to get back into some of those hidden sweet spots may have walks two times that distance to get to their stands. Walking that distance through the woods going over logs and up or down hills while carrying items such as your bow/gun, backpack, stand, climbing sticks, blind, seat, etc can quickly tire a person out. Times like these are where that time and effort put in during the summer can really start to make a difference.
When you finally reach your stand would you prefer to be tired, out of breath, sweating and stinking or would you rather be relaxed and ready to start your hunt? Don’t forget that you also have to climb out of your stand after sitting for several hours and hike back to the truck or house as well. While you need not be a marathon runner it’s easy to see that a bit of conditioning can come in handy.
My approach for this phase of “hunt shape” will include sessions on the elliptical and/or exercise bike as well as by taking daily walks with the wife and kids. I am not a runner and will likely not resort to jogging but for those who are joggers this element of “hunt shape” should be easy to address. One adaptation I have seen other hunters do is to wear a backpack while walking or running to further simulate the weight that you will carry while afield.
Leg strength is another aspect of “hunt shape” that I want to address this off season and my reasoning behind that is directly related to how bad my thighs were burning last summer as we hung stands and last fall as we drug deer from the woods. Again, there is no need to be a Mr. Olympia or Worlds Strongest Man competitor but some simple exercises such as leg press, leg extensions/curls, squats, lunges and calf raises can all be an asset come fall. These are all exercises that can be done on machines found in any weight room or even in your house on a basic universal machine. Some, such as calf raises or lunges for instance, can even be done at home without the aid of any type of machine at all.
Leg strength and conditioning also come into play is as you ascend to or descend from your tree stand and as you step from your steps onto your actual stand. Having added leg strength and conditioning can make you steadier and more stable during your climb and in turn make your hunt that much safer.
Shooting my bow is far and away my most enjoyable workout method to get in shape for the season.
The last phase of my “hunt shape” goal is probably the most enjoyable phase for me, the bow specific portion. As a person who loves to shoot his bow any excuse I can come up with to fling a few arrows sounds like a good idea to me! Being able to quickly and quietly draw your bow and being able to hold your bow at full draw for extended periods without breaking down are abilities that have some obvious advantages when afield.
Obviously the best and most enjoyable way to condition yourself for shooting your bow is…to shoot your bow. Ideally you live in a location that allows you to step out your back door and shoot whenever you would like. If that is the case I would recommend shooting 3 or more days a week and keeping your sessions short and purposeful. Do not stand out there and shoot for so long that your mind begins to wander and your body becomes overly fatigued. Shoot 3 or 4 sets of 5-10 arrows; take brief rests between sets and work to focus your mind on each and every shot. In terms of getting a workout be sure to make every draw as smooth and fluid as the last and if you get to a point where you are fatigued and can’t draw smoothly than either take a break or stop all together. This isn’t a “work until exhaustion” type of workout, you simply want to condition your muscles (and your mind) so that you are able to draw you bow smoothly, quickly and quietly each and every time.
I live in the city and while I do shoot in my yard it is much easier to simply take my bow out of the case down in the basement and do 3 or 4 sets of just drawing, holding, and letting down my bow with no arrow on the string. This isn’t as fun as shooting to get in shape but it is just as effective in terms of strength and conditioning.
As you can tell, I’m no trainer or fitness expert but by following the three simple ideas shown above I will have myself much closer to “hunt shape” come fall than I am right now.
Getting into better shape will not guarantee me a shot at a big buck or an old doe but it will guarantee me a better hunting experience.
Take care, and thanks for reading!