Hunting Fitness: When Should You Get in Shape for a Hunt?

If you've ever hunted the backcountry, you know it's not for the weak. It takes mental and physical fortitude to navigate the rough terrain and extreme conditions of the wilderness. From hiking miles uphill to packing out a heavy load of meat, you need to be prepared for whatever the wilderness throws your way.

It's an extreme challenge best suited for those with the fitness level to tackle it; so when should a hunter begin to get in shape for a hunt?

You should get in shape for hunting at least 12 weeks before, incorporating exercises that focus on building muscular endurance, range of motion, flexibility, and cardio. Increase the intensity over time and train in conditions that challenge you in similar ways to hunting.

Ideally, you're constantly in a state of readiness throughout the year; on call to go hunting any day and any time. But life happens, and rarely does it revolve around ideals. So we'll leave the guilt trip at home and focus on helping you make the most of the time you have before your next hunting trip. START PRESEASON TRAINING TODAY

In this article, we're going to set the scene by examining the physical demand of backcountry hunting. After that, we're going to highlight our evidence-based approach to getting hunters ready in 12 weeks. The clock's ticking, so let's begin.

Why Is Hunting Physically Demanding?

Hunting demands physical fitness due to the challenging terrain, high altitude, and long distances traveled. Backcountry hunters need to be prepared for steep inclines, uneven ground, and changing weather. Lack of hunting fitness is both distracting and a safety concern, as it can lead to exhaustion, injury, or worse.

These conditions force hunters to hike for hours on end while carrying substantial weight. All the while remaining mentally alert.

Staying sharp for hours on end is a difficult challenge in its own right, and mental preparation is critical to not only seeing success but also staying safe.

The adrenaline of getting an elk won't be enough to sustain the heavy load when packing out meat. You'll have to be physically conditioned to haul an even heavier load down the mountain. That's about as demanding as it gets.

The experience of getting to and getting back can break you down if you aren't trained for it, having you bonk in no time. The feeling where mental clarity is long gone and you're completely exhausted to the point you can't make it back to camp.

So to avoid the dreaded bonking feeling, let's deconstruct the physical demand of hunting, looking at it in its simplest form; endurance and stamina.

What's the Difference Between Endurance and Stamina?

Stamina and endurance are two different but complementary aspects of physical fitness, where stamina refers to the ability to perform high-intensity activities for a short duration, while endurance relates to the ability to perform low-intensity activities for a more extended period.

Endurance takes the wheel on those long hikes carrying a heavy pack, while stamina jumps in the driver's seat for the short bursts of energy that push your body to its max.

You need to build both to make it in the backcountry and hit maximum performance.

What Are the Physical Requirements of Hunting?

The physical requirements to succeed in the challenging terrain and climate of hunting includes strength, cardio fitness, range of motion, and flexibility. Hunting strength relies heavily on muscular endurance, but stamina is still critical. Cardio fitness builds heart and lung efficiency, leading to improved aerobic endurance. 

And your range of motion and flexibility support your hunt in numerous ways, from navigating through heavy brush to drawing your bow.

Strength Training for Hunting Season

Strength training for hunting should focus on muscular endurance and core stability. Exercises that involve free weights or bodyweight exercises are effective ways to target these areas. The goal is simple, increase your ability to carry heavy loads over long distances and not have to retire from exhaustion afterward.

Compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and lunges, as well as core exercises build the strength required to hike and climb while slinging a pack filled with gear and meat.

Don't make the mistake of focusing solely on upper body strength training - the backcountry demands far more out of you than a strong chest and shoulders.

Instead, your strength training should include mix of exercises that functionally mimic the physical demands of the backcountry.

Everything from core muscles to back muscles should have their moments as part of your workout regime for hunting season.

Cardio Fitness for Hunting

If you're considering any type of western hunting, you can bet the location will be in thinner air.

And in that case, if you aren't in prime cardiovascular shape or used to high altitudes, breathing will quickly become an issue. There's a clear correlation between cardio fitness and overall performance when hunting, as well as safety.

Being able to work at a moderate intensity for long periods(emphasis on long) distances without having to catch your breath every few feet will give you the edge when it matters most.

A mix of moderate-intensity and high-intensity activities is best for prepping the heart, lungs, and muscles for the rigors of backcountry hunting. 

Balancing intensities as part of your off-season training helps to develop and maintain your aerobic capacity for whatever the mountain has in store for you.

And even if you're someone who gets tired just thinking of going up a flight of stairs, with proper guidance and consistent effort, you can build your cardio fitness.

Range of Motion and Hunting

Range of motion is the total distance a joint can move while keeping your muscles and tendons happy. It's a key physical component for any successful hunt, especially if you plan on packing out an elk or you're recovering from injury.

A full range of motion allows you to move swiftly and stealthily through the wilderness, crawl through the brush, and aim with precision.

Poor flexibility and limited range of motion can affect your balance, agility, and reaction time.

Improving your range of motion can boost your hunting performance and reduce your risk of injuries as well.

Get this right and you'll be able to freely kneel, crouch, climb, and move in any direction needed, without nagging pain or risk of injury.

The Importance of Flexibility When Hunting

Flexibility helps hunters maintain physical stamina and prevent fatigue during extended hunting excursions. Tight muscles cause tension and fatigue, and improved flexibility supports better blood flow to reduce the risk of muscle strain.

It's closely associated with your range of motion where tight muscles can decrease full control of your movement, preventing your ability to make pinpoint movements, like adjusting your aim and maneuvering through the backcountry.

Flexibility is an easy component to overlook, but just as important as strength and cardio. There are other areas you can focus physical training on, but in terms of requirements and thinking of the necessary minimum, these four would lead the list.

This is part of the reason we created Minimal Gear Daily (MGD), which is a mix of full-body workouts for an entire week that you can do from anywhere. They're tailored to different levels of fitness, from beginner to elite, and each one only carves 30 to 40 minutes out of your day to complete.

They're tailored to the four physical requirements we've just focused on. But there's a fifth component covered in MGD, and it arguably holds the greatest influence on training and hunting.

The 'X' Factor Behind Every Physical Requirement

Whether you're training or in the mountains, mental toughness is the red line through everything you. It affects your ability to push through difficult moments and stay focused on a goal while ignoring the physical or mental strain it might bring.

It helps you move past fatigue, set aside doubt, and train or hunt with intensity as needed.

If physical fitness is the house we build with mountain athletes, mental toughness is the foundation we pour together. Training your mind and body is the best approach to getting ready for hunting.

The Science Behind 12 Weeks for Hunting Prep

To be truly ready for the backcountry, you need at least 12 weeks of consistent and quality training to be ready. Ideally, you'd have around 16 weeks, which is why our Preseason Prep is an 80-day program. 

But the 12-week mark isn't some random number that simply appeared in a vision. It's backed by a deep understanding of human physiology.

There are three parts to it; neural recruitment, muscular endurance, and cardiovascular fitness:

Part 1: Neural Recruitment: 2-4 Weeks Total

Neural recruitment is the ability to fire off a muscle group at full capacity. You can have all the strength and flexibility in the world, but if your body won't communicate with or activate those muscles correctly, you can't get the most out of them.

This process takes at least 2-4 weeks for any new form of movement, and you need to get past this phase to pack on the mass and strength you'll need for hunting.

If you head to the backcountry without training, in a way your body is going through the neural recruitment phase in real conditions, rather than training conditions.

Part 2: Muscular Endurance: 8-10 Weeks After Neural Recruitment

Neural recruitment dovetails into muscular endurance, which as you know is your ability to repeat movements for a prolonged period without being completely wiped out.

As you start to break out of phase 1 with more muscle mass, your body can increase its scope to focus on sustaining strength without fatigue.

While there's quite a bit of variance based on the individual, in this 8-10 week timeframe, you'll need roughly half of that for foundational endurance and the other to maximize your ability to carry all the weight your gear adds while hunting.

Part 3: Cardiovascular Training: 8-12 Weeks

To increase your aerobic capacity, you'll need at least 8-12 weeks of consistent and frequent training. The vehicles for delivering oxygen to your muscles (hemoglobin and red blood cells) need a few weeks of conditioning before production starts to ramp up, allowing you to send more oxygen to your muscles as they work harder.

Likewise, your heart rate elevates to meet the oxygen and nutrient needs of your muscles during exercise. 

You're looking at 4-6 weeks for your heart rate to settle into its new assignment, where it becomes more efficient and can do its job at a lower rate.

And of course, it won't peak here. As you continue to aerobic training, you'll notice you can run faster, hike farther, and not be so fatigued during a multi-day hunt.

Make Sure You're "Always Ready"

We hope you've still got at least 12 weeks between reading this and your next hunting trip. We also hope that this article has kickstarted a new behavior for you - not only inspiring you to avoid panic fitness next season but to train throughout the year so you're Always Ready for whatever the outdoors or life back home can muster up.

Always Ready is a mindset. Starting our Preseason Prep program will take you through 16 weeks leading up to hunting season. 

We've got you covered after that too with our backcountry hunter training programs that run in-season, post-season, spring training, and back to preseason again.

If that sounds like something a professional athlete would go through, that's because it is.

All our programs are built for mountain athletes, which includes backcountry hunters. We've created a whole ecosystem of programs outside of hunting as well, such as bodyweight, military-specific, and performance-focused series.

The list is exhaustive, but the point is hopefully short and simple - we've definitely got the right program for your needs and goals.

If you think you're up for the challenge, then give it a shot for 14 days - it's on the house. We're confident that's enough time to awaken your dormant potential and begin your journey toward being Always Ready.