Best Exercises for Hunters Hauling Meat

By Shawn StaffordSeptember 5, 20191 Comment

Whether you’re hauling elk meat out in a pack on your back, or dragging a dead buck up the ridge, hauling meat is no easy chore. You better have your body in shape for the task when success comes your way. Seriously, don’t underestimate this one. Every year hunters die from heart attacks while hunting. They weren’t ready for the physical exertion that comes with hunting, particularly packing out meat. So whether you’re packing in deep, or just dragging deer through the swamp, you need to be physically up for the job. Here’s a look some of the best exercises for hunters that will help get you there. They are designed to help you avoid injury as well as make getting that buck out of the woods a little less painful.


Is your body physically prepared for the hunt?


If there is one strength training exercise that I would recommend to anyone for general fitness it would be the squat.  It takes your body weight and the weight from your back and transfers it to the ground.  This transfer of energy is what propels us from point A to B.  The great thing about squats and utilizing a backpack to train with, is it helps simulate the real life conditions you’ll be experiencing in the woods. Your legs will take a beating this season when hauling gear into the woods, as well as meat out. Make sure they are prepared by doing squats.


I use the same Sitka Tool Bucket that I carry into the woods with a sand back strapped on when executing squats. Make sure to get those thigh’s parallel to the ground.


How many times have you tried to slide between the strands of a barbed wire fence?  Stepped over a downed tree?  Quite often I’m sure.  Having a pack on while attempting to traverse these obstacles only compounds the issue and could put you in an awkward situation or position. Take a look at the motion of theses exercise and imagine yourself sneaking through the woods with 40 lbs of tree stand equipment to get to that far away perch – extremely similar movements.  This is a great example of functional fitness and will help you slip through the woods in a more quiet, controlled manner.


Stepping over a rope with a loaded pack will really light up some of the smaller muscles used for balancing that don’t get worked as much as they should.


Sliding under an obstacle is a real thing in the woods. Practicing your lateral movements ahead of time will keep you on your feet and moving come season.


Call it what you want, but if you’re going to be hitting the woods with a backpack this fall the best way to get ready is to hike with a backpack on.  This no-nonsense exercise really doesn’t need an explanation.  Grab your pack and hit the trail, pavement, track, or whatever you got. Just log some miles.  Sand bags or milk jugs filled with water make it easy to add weight as your strength and stamina increases as you progressively train in preparation for your hunts. As an added bonus, try and find some stairs or hills to help mimic any elevation changes you may face depending on where your stomping grounds are. What is the best way to hike stronger longer?  Hike with the same equipment (or comparable weight) you’ll be carrying this fall.


Strap your hunting pack on, add some weight, and simply get moving. This may be the best thing you can do to prepare for hunting season.

Twisting Lunges

Way back in my college football days, we utilized lunges to help develop lower body strength and shave some seconds off our 40 yard dash times. While speed is no longer something I focus on, having a solid base and stable core is. However, adding the “twist” to lunges really hits home when carrying a pack into places big bucks and bulls like to call home. You are bound to hit some uneven terrain on your way in or out. When this happens your core will be working overtime to stabilize your body and keep you balanced. Side-hilling that acorn ridge with 50 pounds on your back will find your back, side, and stomach muscles working in overdrive to keep you upright. Adding the twist to the lunge will assist with keeping you upright and injury free.

best exercises for hunters - Twisting-Lunges

Twisting lunges is probably the most difficult movement on this list due to the multiple facets of dynamic movements.


I added planks as a great backpack preparation exercise because it is going to help you keep a tight stomach and core when unforeseeable slips or weight shifting happens. The exercise itself seemed to have skyrocketed in popularity 10-15 years ago and after having added it my regime, I can see why.  Extending yourself into awkward positions while wrestling with a thicket of saplings, honeysuckle, or other obstacles with weight on your back can put your core into a serious bind. Executing the plank with strict adherence to proper form will help you be prepared, able to control the weight on your back, and avoid a trip to the ground.

best exercises for hunters - planks

Planks may look harmless, but hold this position for 60 seconds and then let me know what you think!

Sandbag Drag

I saw a meme the other day that made me chuckle, mainly because of the truth behind it.  It showed a hunter dragging a buck out of the woods with a statement along the lines of, “Nothing reminds you of how out of shape you are like dragging a deer out of the woods.”  So true.  With a little effort on your part, this year doesn’t have to be such a big reminder. Most treestands these days come with a safety harness.  Most bowhunters don’t own just one treestand, so you’ve likely got a pile of harnesses that you don’t use for one reason or another. Most of the time they have locations to fasten a rope or strap to around the hip area. Why not grab an old safety harness, some rope or strap, and duplicate the action of dragging a big old buck out of the woods?  About 200 yards into a 300 yard drag, you’ll be thanking yourself for preparing with this exercise.

best exercises for hunters - Sandbag-Drag

If you want to be more prepared to drag that trophy out, why not simulate pulling dead weight around? It’s not rocket science, but remaining injury free for the duration of the season will be well worth your time investment.

Best Exercises for Hunters Hauling Meat – Conclusion

While not everyone will be carrying a backpack of life sustaining equipment 10 miles into the Rockies this season, you will be carrying stands to the woods, or at least some gear to the blind. Prepping yourself to handle the rigors involved with a heavy pack could just salvage your hunting season by avoiding a season ending injury. I’ll give one example that I carry with me as a constant reminder of why I always carry a strong core into the woods with me. While packing an elk out in Colorado one year, I was crossing a downed pine tree. The limbs were busted off, forming an array of wooden daggers 360 degrees around the trunk. As I was attempting to climb over the top, the 80 pounds of elk meat shifted and pulled me with it. I remember as I was falling, I was envisioning myself becoming a human kabob.  Fortunately for me, I was able to throw myself just out of harms way, I remember thinking how lucky I was. It is so important for us to be in the best physical shape possible each time we head to the woods for a hunt. With time put in for physical preparation now, we can stack the odds in our favor for a safe and successfully hunting season.

Shawn Stafford
Owner of Hunting Fit at Hunting Fit
Shawn Stafford has been hunting for 30 years chasing game from Lake Superior to the Texas/Mexican Border as well as the Appalachians to the Rockies. He combined his love for hunting with his ever present desire to be physically up to any challenge that may present itself along the way. He is the owner of HuntingFit.com and does free lance writing for multiple outdoor related publications.
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