It’s no secret to anyone who has followed my writing that I chase whitetails in some pretty rough country. Because of that, my preparation for bowhunting whitetails involves a little more than slinging a few arrows in the weeks leading up to opening day. While shooting and scouting are important topics, when it comes to hunting whitetail bucks in rough country physical preparation is the most vital piece of the overall puzzle. And, like any construction job, success revolves around a good foundation.
The Legs Feed The Wolf
Everyone loves to have big arms and a barrel chest. However, in the backcountry it is your legs that will carry you to your prize. Without a strong set of wheels you will never reach your hunting area or fill your tags. So, when developing a workout program try to place an emphasis on leg strength.
Lunges Are Great
When trying to mimic hunting conditions I’ve found lunges to be a great exercise. More specifically, walking lunges. This exercise closely mirrors walking with a heavy load on your back or taking long strides up a steep hillside. Performing walking lunges with the weight of dumbbells in your hand not only builds strength in the hamstrings and quads, but it also helps improve balance as you fight the weight while walking.
It doesn’t take a lot of weight to make an impact on your hunting prowess either. Due to a knee injury I am unable to load up with a tremendous amount of weight when doing leg exercises. I still strive to do as much as I can and make daily improvements. I’m preparing for bowhunting whitetails—I’m not trying to break any power lifting records.
A typical leg workout might look something like this:
Squats 3 sets 10 reps
Lunges 3 sets 10 reps
Leg Extensions 3 sets 10 reps
Of course you can play around with set and rep numbers. In fact, you should change up your routine every 4 weeks or so just to keep your body from getting acclimated to a specific workout. Also, remember that high reps (12-15) go good with lighter weight and low rep numbers (6-10) go great with heavier weight.
Cardio Is King
In conjunction with the legs theme, strong lungs will also help you get where you want to go. Without strong legs and good cardiovascular conditioning you’ll never reach those “out-of-the-way” areas that harbor mature bucks.
I have found over the years that I prefer short bursts of cardio as opposed to the mundane process of running mile after mile at the same pace. Also, short bursts of maximal effort followed by a rest period more closely resemble my morning travel to the treestand.
One of my favorite cardio routines is a form of high intensity interval training, or, HIIT. Basically the program calls for me to start with a 2 min warmup at an intensity level of 5. Then, I move the intensity level up to 6 for one minute and then 7 for one minute…etc. The process continues until I hit an intensity level of 9. Then I drop the intensity back down to 6 and repeat the process 3 more times. On the last round I try to hit an intensity level of 10 on the last minute followed by a 2 min cool down walk.
The intensity numbers look like this….5 (2 min warmup), 6 (1min), 7,8,9, 6,7,8,9 6,7,8,9 6,7,8,9,10….5 (2 min cool-down). The beauty of this program is that the intensity levels are personal and can be perceived anyway you wish. My level 9 will differ from yours and yours from everyone else. Also, as your conditioning improves you can change what a level 5 intensity is and so on.
Another cardio workout I enjoy is setting the treadmill at a steep incline, sprinting for one minute and then walking for one minute. The sprint is at a level 8 or 9 intensity and the walk is at a level 5 intensity. I continue this sprint/walk process for 20-30 minutes. That’s it.
In recent years fitness has found its way into the hunting mainstream—and that’s a good thing. Certainly if you’re in better shape you will enjoy yourself more in the outdoors and hopefully live a longer life. Just try to remember that you don’t have to be a “bodybuilder” to be physically prepared for bowhunting whitetails. Simply find the level of intensity that fits your personality best (whether it’s a 5 or a 10) and just run with it. You’re taxidermist will be happy you did. Best of luck.