In the highly competitive world of college and professional football, critical evaluation of your team’s abilities is a must. Wishful thinking can leave you exposed not only to humiliating defeat but also to public ridicule in front of potentially millions of viewers and frustrated alumni. 

The Film Doesn’t Lie

I’ve sat in many a film session with coaches who weren’t looking at the tendencies of the upcoming opponent; they were breaking down last week’s game film and dissecting every play in order to come to terms with what their own guys’ strengths and weaknesses were. In other words, what is this team – my team – good at and what are they bad at? There’s no room for warm fuzzy feelings about what someone might be capable of in the future. The question is, “What can I expect from this guy right now!” 

Every single player on every single play is evaluated and graded. In fact, the defensive coaches will often scout their own offense, and visa versa, with an eye toward exposing any shortcomings that the other team will surely discover and use mercilessly to their advantage. 

So here’s my question to you. Do you critically evaluate your physical abilities and weaknesses with the same brutal honesty? 

As I sit here, I can tell you I’d be in deep trouble if I headed into the backcountry tomorrow. The film on me would leave the critters totally unconcerned. The hunting alumni would have me fired! That’s okay because I have several months to consider my soft spots and devise/refine my game plan. 

Am I totally out of shape? No. By nature and genetics, I’m a big guy – I weigh 265 lbs., but I’m strong from head to toe. However, my aerobic capacity (how well my body is able to deliver and use oxygen) isn’t currently good.

Versatility

I’m reminded of an episode of a television show when I was young where athletes from around the world got together in Hawaii to compete against each other in sports that were totally unfamiliar to them. It was called something like the “Battle of the Superstars”. 

Ryan Clairmont handily won the Meat Pack competition at the Train To Hunt Challenge in AZ, averaging an 11-min mile with an 80 lb pack. His good combination of strength and endurance and a lean 180 lb frame is perfect for handling heavy loads in the mountains.

The events they competed in ranged from weightlifting to cycling, sprinting to distance running, canoeing to swimming, not to mention a host of out-of-the-box events designed to expose personal shortcomings. These weaknesses could be strength or power-related, hand/eye coordination, agility, conditioning, flexibility, and then there were always some bizarre events thrown in that no one had ever experienced. 

Interestingly enough, the winners were almost always athletes that didn’t look physically imposing at all, but who were just extremely balanced physically. Danny Ainge, former BYU and Boston Celtics basketball player, won this competition more often than anyone and usually won going away. You younger people can Google him, and you tell me if this guy would physically strike fear in the heart of anyone. However, he was incredibly fit, unusually strong, and balanced. Being an efficient hunter isn’t a “body beautiful” competition. You need a bit of everything – strength, endurance, efficiency – so now is the time to quit pretending and be honest with yourself. 

The Extremes

During one of these competitions, poor Lou Ferigno, a bodybuilder who played the Incredible Hulk on TV, was placed on a relay team. With the baton in hand, he took off like a…well…a turtle – a really awkward-looking turtle. The fact is his success in bodybuilding wasn’t tied to movement. All that weightlifting was directly targeted at muscle building, without concern for functionality, flexibility, speed, conditioning, or even power, for that matter. 

I’ve also known some monster men who were freakishly fast and powerful on the field or in the shot put ring, but they trained for explosive movements. I’ve witnessed 300-lb. men two-hand dunk from a flat-footed position, as well as sticking backflips that would impress a gymnast. But, and here’s the rub, how well would they do on a ten-mile hike in the mountains with a heavy pack? Odds are it wouldn’t be good! It takes a great amount of oxygen to circulate throughout large muscular bodies, and there is most definitely a point of diminishing returns on how much muscle is enough. I’ll leave the big guys alone for now.

Now let’s turn our attention to the other side of the coin – the folks who are, let’s just say, fragile in nature (spoken like a true meathead; I can’t help myself). Part of me envies these folks. I must admit, they do seem to float along the ground, never seem to tire, and can even carry on a conversation while heading up a steep ridge. 

Their lean frames often allow them to go on forever. The problem with this physical composition often becomes exposed when they need to pack heavy loads out, or their runner’s legs, which are conditioned to propel them straight ahead, fatigue quickly when asked to maneuver deadfall and unfamiliar obstacles. 

I remember distinctly an outfitter named Bob Zikan, now over 80 and still packing quarters out of the Bitterroot. He relayed to me a story of a hunting client who had just run the Boston Marathon, yet had to be sent home after two days of chasing bears in the mountains. His ability to navigate the mountains without any form of mountain-specific conditioning left him so sore, weak and humbled that he just packed it in. 

Now, to be sure and give credit where credit is due, I’ve known some guys who fit this profile and yet were as tough as nails and could carry immense packs without complaining; just not many of them.

Train to Hunt

So getting back to balance. All I’m asking you to do is look in the mirror and evaluate your weaknesses or how you can better attain that better blend of strength and endurance. Right now, 

I personally need to lift another weight like I need a hole in the head, but that’s my comfort zone, and that’s my problem. That’s a lot of all of our problems. We keep doing what we’re really good at or what we really like, and that may not be what is needed to be a more efficient hunter. 

Don’t be like the old comic drawings of the beach guy with a huge upper body and no legs! Conversely, don’t take such pride in your ability to run forever that you don’t have enough muscular strength to cover steep country with a pack on! 

This is really about confronting yourself and being honest. It’s better to be your harshest critic now than a remorseful victim this fall.

Lastly, there are no magic bullet programs. Some are obviously better than others, but it all revolves around personal sacrifice, hard work, versatility, and getting uncomfortable. You are the magic bullet. You were designed to move; to be agile and strong; to be well-conditioned; to be a well-oiled hunting machine. 

I will advise you that if you don’t have a go-to program and you want some sound training programs devoted to your success, I wholeheartedly endorse the conditioning program called Train to Hunt. For a very nominal fee, much less than a gym membership, Kenton Clairmont has designed and field-tested a fitness program that is as close to bulletproof as anything I’ve ever seen for the mountain hunter. Kenton is an incredible hunter and truly a standup guy who gets it! Check out the program at traintohunt.com.

I’ve been quoted as saying, “If the heart is thumping and the blood is pumping, then you are on the right track.” Just make sure a bunch of that blood is directed at your weaknesses.