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Preparation for the Mountain - How Fit is Fit Enough?
Answer from Ryan Hatfield:
Every year I hear hunters from back east or down in "the flats" talk about a couple of specific things in regard to exercise/shape: 1) "I'm going on my first mountain big game hunt and gonna hit the gym/run/cardio machine to prepare; or 2) Man, I went on my first backcountry hunt this year, and wow - I didn't train nearly hard enough.
I think the biggest thing to keep in mind is to just keep it real. You don't have to be a world-class endurance athlete to hunt the mountains. However, heading into a hunt like this with poor preparation will not only likely leave you disappointed, but it might also ruin much of the enjoyment of the hunt you came there for in the first place.
Right now it's early February, and I'm hitting the gym 6-7 days a week. To me it's a priority in my life for many reasons, of which hunting is only one. I also want to live a nice long life, look good for my wife, be fit to play with my kids, and to be honest, a little vanity and decent self-esteem never hurt anyone either. As I was running today, I was thinking about all of this and an obvious question came to mind. For an inexperienced mountain hunter trying to prepare for a hunt like this, just what exactly is "enough"? In simple terms, what are some gauges a person could go by to know if they're in the ballpark to be able to handle a mountain hunt?
To answer that, let me back up just a bit first. I'm not blessed with much natural endurance. In fact, I pretty much have to earn every ounce of it I'm going to get (thus the 6-7 days a week in the gym). How I make up for that is two-fold. First, I'm tenacious. I simply don't give up. I get in the best shape I can, which is pretty average, and I just push as hard as I can when I hunt. Secondly, I simply try to be a better strategist. Is that basin over there "achievable" for me? It sure looks a long ways away, with a lot of elevation gain/loss in the way. But, if I plan on how to make it happen with proper time logistics, I can do it. It might take a long time, or require an overnight stay in there, or some help (human, horses, or otherwise) if I get something, but simply eliminating it from your possibilities isn't going to make you more successful now, is it?
So, back to the question: What's "good enough"? If you want a true benchmark to shoot for - perhaps a minimum requirement, so to speak - here are my thoughts. I think if you can run three miles at a reasonable 10-minute pace or less, without stopping, that's a pretty darn good mark to shoot for. Another one might be to set a StairClimber at about 75 steps a minute or an elliptical at the hardest setting on the machine and see if you can go 40 minutes without stopping. If you can do either of those, you're going to be just fine. This isn't a make-or-break benchmark; just a comparative idea of where you stand and how efficient you might be. Not quite there? Well, you'll have a bit rougher time than the guy next to you who is a "six-miler". No matter where you end up, it really is the effort that counts, and it will all help you be a better hunter and have a more enjoyable hunt. Now, lace up those running shoes and get going!